Moving on the ground

Rehman Malik's visit, despite controversy, shows where progress can be achieved in India-Pakistan ties

Given that bilateral progress between India and Pakistan has always been a difficult matter, it is important to focus on the substance of Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik's visit to India, and not merely the atmospherics created by one controversial statement or another. India and Pakistan have, finally, operationalised the liberal visa regime they had agreed upon earlier a measure of both practical and symbolic import and the external affairs ministry is reasonably satisfied with the progress made in the 26/11 trial in Pakistan. On that issue, Malik did offer his assurances, irrespective of his asking India to provide more evidence and to allow a Pakistani judicial commission's visit to cross-examine witnesses for faster progress.

India will have to keep pushing Pakistan, and not just on fast-tracking 26/11 trials. There is a new dimension opening up in bilateral ties with the easing of trade restrictions, and both New Delhi and Islamabad must seize opportunities like this to improve things wherever possible. Without downplaying 26/11, India will have to keep working through the difficulties, regardless of whether these are Pakistan's own political or legal hurdles. An achievement of the current civilian government in Pakistan despite setbacks and delays and the occasional rhetorical outburst has been Islamabad's moving away from a maximalist approach and narrowing down on what can be done on the ground. Freeing up bilateral trade, as well as the easing of visa regulations, are hallmarks of precisely such movement. These offer more easily deliverable options, unlike the typically long-winded engagement on old contentions, such as Sir Creek.

Malik's visit has been positive on the smaller issues. However, India will also, hereafter, have to broaden its dialogue with Pakistan. Islamabad's re-emergence at the centre of diplomacy in Afghanistan makes it increasingly necessary for Delhi, with its own stake in Kabul that is not to Pakistan's comfort, to signal its interest in Afghan stability and closer economic integration with both countries. Bilateral progress with Pakistan calls for patience and looking past disappointment. With elections due in Pakistan, India will need more of that patience. But the distance they have come after the 26/11 reversal is evidence of the pragmatism that works.

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