It has run, more off than on, for nearly six decades now. Today’s episode will feature Pakistani President, Asif Ali Zardari, who is on a private visit to the holy shrine of Ajmer Sharif, and will be stopping for a lunch with the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at Delhi.
Even though it is a private visit by Zardari, it has been unduly hyped in the Indian media. While one commentator wants Manmohan Singh to resolve Kashmir, Siachen and Sir Creek in the luncheon meeting, another talks about the PM making a bold unilateral announcement to visit Pakistan.
PM Manmohan Singh with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari in this picture dated September 2008. The bonhomie aside, not much should be expected from his lunch meeting with the PM
Other voices have tried to nudge Dr Singh into using this occasion to leave his legacy because he won’t be the Prime Minister after 2014. Dr Singh’s former media advisor has gone on to compare this visit to General Musharraf’s ‘cricket diplomacy’ visit of 2005.
But Zardari is no Musharraf, and for all his bluster, even Musharraf could achieve little. Moreover, Musharraf stands so badly discredited in Pakistan today that no Pakistani politician will dare to pick up the pieces of his four-point plan on Kashmir. India and Pakistan may have been close to an agreement on Kashmir five years ago but that time is long gone.
Any solution to Kashmir will have to consider the ground realities of today. 2011 was the most peaceful year in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) since 1989 while Pakistan struggles with violence in Baluchistan, Gilgit-Baltistan, tribal areas and Karachi.
With Ghulam Nabi Fai convicted as an ISI agent in the US, there is little western support for Kashmiri separatism now. So dramatic has been the shift in Kashmir that long-standing pro-Pakistan separatist, Syed Geelani, has changed his tune to self-determination.
Can’t India at least offer more steps to increase cross-Line of Control (LoC) trade in Kashmir? Yes, but India has already done that. Besides supporting the expansion of the current trade list, India also proposed increasing trading days, using J&K bank and opening all five-foot crossing points on the LoC. These were stalled by Pakistan.
Similarly, India’s unilateral move to increase the stay period for persons visiting J&K from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) to six months with multiple entries hasn’t been reciprocated.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s foreign office, foreign minister, prime minister and parliament continue with their vituperative rhetoric over Kashmir while terror camps run freely in PoK, unremitting in their attempts to push jehadis into J&K.
Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind of the 26/11 terror strikes in Mumbai, continues to publicly incite violence against India. If you think it is only the ISI and Pakistan army supporting Saeed, you are wrong. The US decision to announce a $10 million bounty for more information to convict Saeed was openly decried by Pakistan’s parliamentarians, including Prime Minister Gilani.
With this kind of Pakistani attitude and beset with problems at home, Dr Singh can scarcely afford to unilaterally move on Pakistan. It takes two to tango, and Zardari, who has been unable to bring even his wife’s killers to justice, can deliver little without the assent of the Pakistan army.
To add to the mess, Zardari’s prime minister is fighting a losing battle in the Supreme Court and could soon be behind bars. Dr Singh is thus unlikely to invest his dwindling political capital in this visit.
Zardari’s private visit must strictly remain private, where he peacefully offers his prayers at Ajmer and enjoys the lunch in Delhi. The weighty matters can wait. For another episode of this unending India-Pakistan soap opera.
Sushant K Singh is Fellow for National Security at the Takshashila Institution and editor of Pragati — The Indian National Interest Review
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.