India and Pakistan, Talking

As reported by The New York Times

With a relationship as combustible as that between India and Pakistan, it’s progress just to get the two sides in a room. Last week’s meeting was better. Their foreign ministers announced modest, but very welcome, agreements concerning the bitterly disputed region of Kashmir.

They promised to double the number of days when cross-border trade between the two parts of Kashmir — one controlled by India, the other by Pakistan — is allowed and to expand and expedite travel permits for Kashmiris who want to cross the border for family visits, tourism and religious purposes. India and Pakistan have fought three wars since 1947, two over Kashmir. Even these small steps could help chip away at their visceral mistrust.

Three weeks ago, some doubted the meeting would even happen after three explosions ripped through Mumbai, killing 24 people. The Mumbai attacks in 2008 that killed 160 people were blamed on Pakistani terrorists and sent relations with India into the deep freeze. So far, suspicion for the recent attacks has fallen on Indian terrorists.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India deserves huge credit for staying engaged despite Pakistan’s failure to prosecute those responsible for the 2008 horrors. And he deserves credit for not shooting first and asking questions later after the recent attacks.

We wish we could say the same of Pakistan’s leaders. Before there can be a true reconciliation, and stability in the region, Pakistan’s Army must realize that using militants to try to counter Indian influence in Kashmir and Afghanistan is self-destructive — and that homegrown extremism, not India, is the real threat to Pakistan’s survival.

India and Pakistan have more to talk about, including cooperation on water, expanded trade and their joint stake in a stable Afghanistan. President Obama’s drawdown of American troops will go easier if India and Pakistan are part of the solution, not fighting over the spoils. New Delhi insists that it will accept no outside mediation. Washington needs to keep pressing the two to work together.

The United States and its allies are planning a conference in Bonn in December and hope to rally international support for a broad regional strategy that includes a peace deal for Afghanistan, trade agreements and ambitious energy projects. India and Pakistan need to be full participants. The payoff could be huge if their leaders muster the courage to resolve their differences.

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  1. August 2nd, 2011

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