Bitter Rivals Show Signs of Diplomacy:
India, Pakistan Seek Improved Relations

Sanjay Paul

Patriot News
April 4, 2004

For a country long associated in the West with tigers and elephants, colorful spices and curry powder, and sages of dubious merit, India has of late come under the international spotlight for decidedly different reasons.

In a recent online poll conducted by a British magazine (no doubt unscientifically), an Indian actress was voted the most attractive woman of 2003. Ms. Aishwarya Rai, a former Miss World and rumored to be in the running for the next Bond flick, beat out the likes of Nicole Kidman, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angelina Jolie.

A few years ago, India came to the attention of the West for entirely unwelcome reasons - its decision to develop nuclear weapons. Opprobrium from the rest of the world rained down, but India was adamant, maintaining that it needed them to counter potential threats from a nuclear-armed China.

Pretty soon Pakistan (India's bitter rival over the disputed territory of Kashmir) followed suit, claiming that India's decision to acquire nuclear arms left it no choice but to develop its own capability. With two nuclear powers facing off in South Asia, the global arms race had suddenly acquired a more ominous tone.

While the nuclear peril lurks in the background, recent diplomatic moves by India and Pakistan have been encouraging. Previously bellicose politicians have begun displaying admirable tact in discussing the vexed Kashmir issue, and links between the two nations in the areas of transportation, sports and trade are being strengthened.

A number of factors have led to the emerging rapprochement between the two countries. In recent months, the objective of economic growth, often given scant attention during the drive to bolster their military strength, has started to find favor with the governments. India's economy, used to trailing woefully behind the more dynamic Asian counterparts of South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia, has shown tiger-like tendencies, growing at 6-7% per year and unleashing a consumption-driven middle class. Foreign investment is increasingly finding its way into India (although China, by far, remains the favored destination of foreign investors and multinational corporations in the region). And its home-grown companies are enjoying success in software development and pharmaceuticals in global markets.

Pakistan, also seeking to energize its economy and attract foreign capital, has concluded that continued hostility with its larger neighbor is impeding its own development. Furthermore, Pakistan, an ally of the U.S. in its war against terror (and specifically against the Taliban who have found sanctuary in the ungovernable North-Western provinces of Pakistan), has been wracked by a surge of terrorist attacks within its own borders. In recent weeks, President Musharraf has survived two attempts on his life, lending an urgency to his efforts to deal with terror.

The U.S. has also played a crucial role behind the scenes in effecting a change in the stance of the governments of India and Pakistan. Intent on destroying the remnants of Taliban and Al-Qaida, the U.S. government does not wish to be sidetracked by military developments on the Indian subcontinent and has quietly pushed the two countries toward establishing better relations.

But worries remain. Should the more hawkish anti-India elements in Pakistan's army (and intelligence services) begin to assert themselves, the process of normalizing relations could grind to a halt. A tentative move toward democracy in Pakistan has resulted, disturbingly, in political power going to certain fundamentalist groups with pronounced sympathies for the Taliban and the militants in Kashmir. And Mr. Musharraf's longevity remains in doubt - the last attempt on his life was a bomb attack orchestrated, according to some reports, by terrorists in cahoots with Army and intelligence officers opposed to Musharraf's overtures to India. The road to peace in the subcontinent is a rocky one.

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