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India’s Neighborhood Watch

NEW DELHI – Like monsoon flurries, recent events in the Indian subcontinent have sent conflicting signals. Has Indian diplomacy finally awakened after its long summer siesta, or is this just an illusion?

In late July, after lower-level ministerial officials from India and Pakistan had prepared the ground for their respective foreign ministers to meet, the two finally did so, in New Delhi, on July 26 and 27. This was remarkable in itself, given the bomb blasts just a fortnight earlier in Mumbai – a terrorist attack that claimed 26 lives and left 130 people injured. Even more remarkably, given many Indians’ suspicions that that the attack was, in some way, authored in Pakistan, there were no mutually accusatory diplomatic blasts.

Instead, the two foreign ministers met on schedule and agreed to meet again, after issuing an encouragingly meaningful joint statement, which spoke of enhancing trade and implementing more confidence-building measures. For other neighboring countries, that may sound humdrum; for India and Pakistan, merely maintaining a structure for dialogue counts as notable progress.

But farther to India’s west, in Afghanistan, things are far grimmer. Afghanistan is witnessing a surge of violence accompanying the beginning of the withdrawal of US and NATO forces. Besides the recent deaths of 30 American soldiers when their helicopter was downed, seven top Afghan officials – including President Hamid Karzai’s step-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, a key power broker among the Pashtun, Afghanistan’s largest tribe, and Ghulam Haider Hamidi, the influential mayor of Kandahar – have been assassinated in the last three months.