Delhi's turn

To put the India-Pakistan peace process back on track, seize the political initiative

Reports that India is actively considering Pakistan's proposals for a resumption of the formal dialogue between the two countries next month are welcome. Since the return of Nawaz Sharif as prime minister, hopes for imparting a new momentum to the stalled peace process have risen. After the tensions on the border between the two armed forces in January, the formal dialogue between the two countries had come to a halt. The attempts to reconvene the talks follow the recent contacts between the special envoys of the two prime ministers Satinder Lambah for Manmohan Singh, and Shaharyar Khan representing Sharif. The external affairs minister, Salman Khurshid, had the opportunity to speak to Sharif's top advisor on foreign policy, Sartaj Aziz, on the margins of an Asian multilateral gathering earlier this month.

It now looks likely that Singh and Sharif will meet in New York in late September, when they both attend the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly. Delhi and Islamabad, then, have a few weeks to ensure that the New York talks will produce meaningful results and set the stage for the Indian PM's long overdue visit to Pakistan. But the formal conversation that goes by the ungainly name, the "composite and integrated dialogue", is not the answer for those seeking peace in the subcontinent. To be fair, bureaucrats on both sides have done what they could at the technical level. They have negotiated a road map for deepening trade relations and covered much ground on resolving the long-standing disputes relating to Siachen glacier and Sir Creek.

The ball is clearly in the political court. For his part, Singh is looking for a gesture from Sharif on bringing the trial of the 26/11 accused to an early close. Delhi would also like Sharif to implement his predecessor's commitment to normalise trade relations with India. Singh has signalled his readiness to respond with big positive moves of his own if Sharif creates space for India on the question of terrorism and implements its promises on the commercial front. Islamabad, in turn, feels Delhi does not fully appreciate the intense desire of the civilian leadership for reconciliation with India and its limited room for manoeuvre with Rawalpindi, which controls the security policies of Pakistan. Unless they demonstrate considerable political will to overrule the perennial naysayers in their capitals, Singh and Sharif are in the danger of losing the small window of opportunity to put the peace process back on track.

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