Make a bold move

UPA has been far too timid on Pakistan. PM must plan a trip, set a date

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's special envoy, Shaharyar Mohammad Khan, was in Delhi last Friday conveying the new premier's determination to transform bilateral relations with India. Sharif was reciprocating Manmohan Singh's gesture of sending his special envoy, Satinder Lambah, to Pakistan a few weeks ago.

Lambah and Khan now form a credible channel of communication between Singh and Sharif, thanks to their long experience in India-Pakistan negotiations. Lambah has been PM Singh's back channel negotiator with General Pervez Musharraf and President Asif Ali Zardari since 2005. He was high commissioner to Pakistan and has known the Sharifs for more than a quarter of a century. Khan was foreign secretary of Pakistan in the early 1990s and helped initiate a dialogue with India under rather difficult circumstances — when Kashmir and Punjab were burning and military crises on the border were frequent. The heir to the royal throne of Bhopal and a former chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, Shaharyar Khan is the cousin of late Indian cricketer Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi. Few can match Khan's deep appreciation of the intimacies and intricacies of India-Pakistan relations.

Lambah and Khan are also fully conscious of the fragility of the bilateral relations and the difficulty of turning good intentions towards each other into practical results. The two envoys know better than anyone that India-Pakistan relations are accident-prone. They have seen minor incidents acquire gigantic political proportions and undercut carefully crafted agreements. What is worse, the political calendars in the two countries are rarely in sync.

With their deep knowledge of India-Pakistan diplomatic history, Lambah and Khan must convince the two prime ministers to act quickly and decisively on five important imperatives confronting them.

For one, they must remind Manmohan Singh and Sharif that time is of the essence. The current window of opportunity in India-Pakistan relations will not be open for too long. The extraordinary problems that confront Sharif will ensure his political honeymoon in Pakistan is short. Meanwhile, the approaching general elections in India will make it difficult to take new policy initiatives after the end of this year. Put simply, Singh and Sharif have just a few months to make some bold moves.

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