An India-Pakistan Thaw?

NEW DELHI – India and Pakistan are enjoying one of the better periods in their turbulent relationship. Recent months have witnessed no terrorist incidents, no escalating rhetoric, and no diplomatic flashpoints. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari just made a successful, if brief, personal visit to India (mainly to visit a famous shrine, but with a lunch with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh thrown in). Sixteen years after India granted Pakistan most-favored-nation (MFN) trading status, Pakistan is on the verge of reciprocating. The peace process is resuming, and the two sides are talking to each other cordially at all levels.

And yet it is important to understand that the problems that have long beset the bilateral relationship will not be resolved overnight. Even if, by some miracle, the Pakistani civilian and military establishment suddenly saw the light, concluded that terrorism was bad for them, and decided to make common cause with India in eradicating it, the task would not be accomplished with a snap of the fingers. Extremism is not a tap that can be turned off at will. ­­­The proliferation of extremist ideologies, militant organizations, and training camps has acquired a momentum of its own. As Satyabrata Pal, a former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan, put it:

“These jihadi groups recruit from the millions of young Pakistanis who emerge from vernacular schools and madrassas, imbued with a hatred for the modern world, in which they do not have the skills to work. So while young Indians go to Silicon Valley and make a bomb for themselves, young Pakistanis go to the Swat Valley and make a bomb of themselves, the meanness of their lives justifying the end. Pakistan has betrayed its youth, which is its tragedy.”

This is not a counsel of despair. It is, instead, an argument to offer a helping hand. A neighboring country full of desperate young men without hope or prospects, led by a malicious and self-aggrandizing military, is a permanent threat to India. If India can help Pakistan transcend these circumstances and develop a stake in mutually beneficial progress, it will be helping itself as well. Therein lies the slender hope of persuading Pakistan that India’s success can benefit it, too – that, rather than trying to undercut India and thwart its growth, Pakistan should recognize the advantages that might accrue to it in partnership with an increasingly prosperous India.