Loveless hugs

It was no awesome picture. That would leave one guessing. For past many years newspaper in India and Pakistan have been splashing pictures of India and Pakistan leaders hugging each other and warmly shaking hands on the sidelines of international events. On Thursday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Asif Ali Zardari met on the sidelines at 16th Summit Conference of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). The newspaper in the two countries once again published on front-pages the two leaders hugging each other and warmly shaking hands.

After much orchestrated luncheon meeting in April at New Delhi they were meeting for the second time. The meeting at Tehran was fifth such meeting during past two years between India and Pakistan leaders. The meeting between Dr. Singh and former Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani on the sidelines of the SAARC summit in Thimphu in 2010 was significant in as much as it was a step towards resumption of the peace process suspended by India after the November 2008 Mumbai terrorist incident . In 2011, these leaders met in Mohali during World Cup semifinals, n November 2011, they met at Addu Maldives and in March 2012 in Seoul.

The Pakistan leaders during all these meetings have been entreatingly repeating invitation to Dr. Singh to visit Islamabad. On Friday , at NAM summit Mr. Zardari once again renewed the invitation. Dr. Singh has been “agreeingly-disagreeing” to the invitation by asking “ conclusion of the trial of the Mumbai terror suspects” before the visit. He sees punishing of perpetrators of the Mumbai terrorists as a major confidence building

measure for bridging the ‘trust deficit’ between the two countries. Many see it as Dr Singh’s ‘conditional diplomacy.’

It seems that the meeting between Dr Singh and Zardari has generated no hope in Islamabad for substantive and meaningful improvement in the relations between the two countries. The leaders of two countries hugging each other have so far been loveless. No tangible results have come out of such meeting. A leading Pakistan newspaper ‘Dawn’ called the meeting as a “mere ritual”. In its editorial commenting on the meeting and Dr Singh looking for an ‘appropriate time for the visit’ it commented, “Mr Zardari still spoke of Dr Singh’s ‘vision’ but hit the nail on the head when he called upon the two parties to move beyond reiterating their known positions to try and achieve more substantive results. As the stronger of the two sides, will it be too much to expect New Delhi to show flexibility and desist from the temptation to apply pressure on Pakistan at a time when it finds itself in a nutcracker situation?” A former Pakistan diplomat and columnists M. Saeed Khalid in his column on Saturday (Sept 01 in the News) commented, ‘Mr Zardari reiterating the invitation to Dr Singh that there was a lobby in India suggesting that New Delhi exert pressure on Pakistan to extract concessions before the dates are confirmed for the expected visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. To them Pakistan badly needs the visit since both the president and prime minister of Pakistan have staked their prestige in paying unofficial visits to India.” If the concession could be in freezing Kashmir.

Seen in right perspective, for past couple of years the Pakistan diplomacy is zoomed in on making Indian Prime Minister agreeing to visit Islamabad. In the diplomatic history of Islamabad, there is hardly any such precedence when total focus has been on inviting a foreign dignitary to the country. In the words of Abdul Sattar, former High Commissioner to India, Pakistan’s foreign policy has been dominated by security and development concerns. It was to be molded in the crucible of interaction with its neighboring India.’

The question is why the PPP leadership is so enthusiastic about the visit of Dr Singh. Is this fervor for the President Zardari recognizing India “emerging as supreme regional power and eventually a global power to rival China”? Is it an expression of Islamabad’s worry over India’s growing role and influence in Afghanistan and its “utilization of Afghan territory”. or, is it because the PPP led government believes that during the coming elections New Delhi will be able to influence the electoral process in the country and the visit will improve the fortune of the ruling alliance.

India’s influence in Pakistan during past few years ostensibly has increased. True, many in Islamabad continue to see New Delhi as a “pervasive challenge”. They continue to believe that “the hostility between the two countries has deep historical and popular roots. Despite cultural, linguistic and cultural and ethnic affinities, the mutual hostility between the Muslims and Hindus of the sub-continent is real and endemic—The history of last sixty years has, if anything further intensified this hostility and given it structural expression in the relationship between the two states. The Kashmir dispute, in essence, is but one expression of this divide and hostility”. (Pakistan beyond the Crisis State, page 287, Oxford and Rupa). It is also a hard reality India’s support base in Pakistan is now no more but just confined to some human rights activists and journalists only. But if one goes by the elitist opinions published in Pakistan English newspapers these voices have multiplied. The list includes some former Pakistan Generals also who during the Chaophraya Dialogue from 28th February – 3RD March, 2012, organized by the Jinnah Institute (JI) and the Australia India Institute (AII) were more vocal than delegates from India for not allowing Kashmir holding relations between the two countries hostage. Some also have been advocating unilateral withdrawal from, Siachen and forgetting about Sir Creak or water disputes. Trading community after Pakistan granting India MFN status is more vocal than ever before for improving relations with New Delhi. Nevertheless, there is an opinion in the neighboring country as articulated by Mr Khalid, “No voices have been publicly raised in India to suggest that greater interaction with the government of Pakistan can actually strengthen the Pakistani government’s hand against groups working to raise tensions between the two neighbors”.

The visit of Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh may or may not help Mr. Zardari during the coming election but his party will project as major milestone in otherwise sour relations between the largely estranged neighbors. Ironically Manmohan Singh is in mood to oblige Mr Asaf Zardari.

Z.G.Muhammad is a noted writer and columnist.