The last SAARC summit was cancelled at India’s behest because Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee did not want to shake hands with General Pervez Musharraf, who had just staged a coup’. It had to do with the bad blood of Kargil.
India and Pakistan are jockeying for advantage in the continuing fallout of the Second Afghan War, and seem unable to see this crisis without the blinkers of their own bilateral lack-of-relations. Still, the events of 9/11 have transformed the region’s geopolitics, and it must be eerie for the leaders of India and Pakistan to find themselves on the same side in the mother of all battles titled USA vs. Osama.
Regardless of an Afghan denouement of one kind or another, the bottom line goal is still the same as far as the rest of South Asia is concerned: the de-Talibanisation of Pakistani politics and an India willing to countenance Kashmiri self-government. Obviously, the first is a short-term objective, and the second more of a medium term one. The general is Islamabad needs to put the lid on the bottle from which the ISI genie escaped, and India must find a way to help him out. For New Delhi to see this as a point of weakness and drive the dagger in would be a foolish and costly mistake that will only bring the Afghan war drifting eastwards.
Here from our Himalayan perch, we often wonder whether the stewards of policy in Islamabad and New Delhi realize how narrow-minded and self-serving their bilateral bickering appears. Do they not know that the rest of the neighbourhood, the world, and the ‘lesser’ regions within their own borders are laughing at them? Two impoverished neighbours, the twins of partition, locked in a fierce embrace. Spending billions on a cold, semi-covert war that neither can afford.
What will it take to unlock India and Pakistan? The Afghan debacle provides an excuse, and the imperative: the need lik ensure that Pakistan becomes a Malaysia and not another Afghanistan. The Kathmandu Summit may be the perfect opportunity to work towards making this happen. There is little doubt that the summit is going to be a photo-op, a formality with pomp without substance. But symbolism counts in these trying times, and it would be good if we did not have Indian and Pakistani officials behaving like teenagers having a tiff and refusing to talk to each other in the hotel lift.
Let us have some open back-slapping, not secret back-stabbing. Let them break into Hindustani and Urdu, and not glare at each other stonily at the banquets. The smaller neighbours, for once, would not mind if this summit was hijacked by the India-Pakistan bilaterals, and if it got all the media attention. This time, they will not complain. Just promise to patch up.