Wickets and Wariness

NEW DELHI – India-Pakistan relations – a challenge at the best of times, and in the doldrums since the terrorist attacks on Mumbai of November 2008 – received an unexpected boost last month from an unlikely source: cricket. When the two countries became semi-finalists in the game’s quadrennial World Cup, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh invited his Pakistani counterpart, Yusuf Reza Gilani, to watch the game with him in Mohali, with talks over dinner. Though the resulting thaw has involved no substantive policy decisions, Singh has nonetheless changed the narrative of the countries’ relations, and seized control of a stalemated process.

Some Indian critics are less than enthused. India’s government suspended talks with Pakistan after the horrific attacks on Mumbai. By talking again at such a high level, despite there being no significant progress in Pakistan in bringing the perpetrators to justice, India, the critics charge, has in effect surrendered to Pakistani intransigence

Indeed, the critics point out that the wide-ranging and comprehensive talks agreed to by the two sides are the old “composite dialogue” under a new label. It was this very dialogue that India justifiably called off after Mumbai: there was no point talking to people whose territory and institutions were being used to attack and kill Indians.

The fear in some circles in India remains that Singh’s government has run out of ideas when it comes to dealing with Pakistan – or at least that it has no good alternatives to a counterproductive military attack on the sources of terrorism or a stagnant silence. Yet it is also clear that “not talking” is not much of a policy. Pakistan can deny its shared history with India, but India cannot change its geography. Pakistan is next door, and it can no more be ignored than a thorn piercing one’s side.