Both nuclear armed, and with one of the most militarised borders in the world between them, India and Pakistan have one of the most entrenched of modern rivalries. But as high-level diplomacy recommences, there’s hope now that the subcontinent’s two largest nations may just be back on the long road to normalised relations.
Yet while few question the necessity of normalisation, the road ahead is riven with obstacles to lasting peace between two nations that have fought four wars and countless indirect skirmishes.
India’s main gripe has long been that Pakistan is not, in its view, doing enough to remove a jihadist infrastructure that it says is used to target Indian interests in Kashmir and Afghanistan. According to Indian Defence Minister AK Antony, Pakistan has yet to close 42 ‘terrorist training camps’ that it says fuel attacks against India in both regions. Senior Pakistani officials, for their part, have responded with vocal public claims of an Indian hand in the recent spate of bombings that have rocked major cities (India vehemently denies this, and the claims are treated sceptically outside Pakistan).Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
With such a climate, it has become easy for politicians in both countries, particularly those on the right, to score easy political points with jingoistic diatribes against their neighbour—hardliners and political opportunists are eager to ‘remind’ a frustrated populace that their neighbour is the root of all evil.
It doesn’t help, of course, that there’s strong anecdotal evidence to suggest India and Pakistan have supported violent insurgencies in each other’s territory. Although militancy in India emanating from Pakistan is what hit the headlines again following the Mumbai attacks, several Indian commentators speaking off the record to The Diplomat claimed Pakistan had anyway also been supporting a widespread Maoist insurgency in India’s rural heartland.
Pakistan, too, is insecure over India’s alleged involvement in recent bombings, and its long time support for indigenous separatist militancy in the restive province of Balochistan, a large and resource rich area that borders Iran and southern Afghanistan. In an apparent admission of sorts, Indian authorities agreed to a reference to Balochistan in a joint statement issued by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari at Sharm el Shaikh. The reference was condemned by many sections of the Indian press and right-wing opposition parties as a costly ‘blunder.’ In neighbouring Pakistan, in contrast, the reference to Balochistan was celebrated as a welcome admission.
‘[Indian Prime Minister] Singh wanted to give something to [the civilian government of Prime Minister] Gilani,’ says Indian analyst Kanti Bajpai, who believes Singh’s acknowledgment over Balochistan was an attempt to build confidence with Pakistan’s democratically elected government, rather than an admission.
Singh’s approach has been widely heralded by less impassioned observers like Bajpai and journalist Kamran Shafi, himself a trenchant critic of Pakistan’s military excesses who routinely receives death threats. ‘Dialogue must remain spearheaded by the elected governments of both nations,’ Shafi says.