Ambassadors to Pakistan

The Congress leadership has every reason to welcome the Pakistan visits by Badal and Nitish Kumar, for they open up much-needed political space for the UPA government on regional diplomacy. The PM must encourage other chief ministers to travel frequently to Pakistan and Bangladesh and widen the peace constituencies on both sides of the border.

While the chief ministers and local forces can generate a more conducive environment for trans-border cooperation in the subcontinent, the power to alter the structure of relations remains with the federal governments.

In the case of Pakistan, it is not clear how tolerant the army might be of cross-border, sub-national cooperation in the Punjab. But there is no denying that the civilian leaders in Pakistan are enthusiastic.

For its part, Delhi must bite the bullet and make the political case for moving forward boldly with Islamabad and Dhaka. Minor policy adjustments in Delhi could lead to massive changes in the lives of those who have had to endure the tragic consequences of Partition.

Nothing will demonstrate India's commitment to transforming its relations with its neighbours more than an early visit, however brief it might be, to Pakistan by the prime minister. Laying down no pre-conditions and seeking no deliverables, Manmohan Singh could use the visit to outline his vision for a very different subcontinent, of the kind that Badal and Nitish Kumar have begun to talk about.

If he does, the Congress might find that a forward-looking neighbourhood policy is also good domestic politics. After all, the millions of people living along India's frontiers are pressing for borders that are open and user-friendly.

The writer is a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, Delhi and contributing editor, 'The Indian Express'

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