Relations between India and Pakistan

"Islamabad Wants to Improve Relations with India"

Last November's terrorist attacks on Mumbai continue to put a strain on relations between India and Pakistan. According to Thomas Bärthlein, however, it would seem as if the situation is changing for the better

Montage of the flags of India and Pakistan (photo: DW)
Relations between Pakistan and India have been frosty for decades. Is the world now seeing the first signs of thaw? It would certainly seem to be the case as regards negotiations about Kashmir and the fight against Islamist terrorists.

​​The terrorist attacks on Mumbai last November were a difficult test of endurance for the peace process between India und Pakistan. New Delhi responded by temporarily suspending regular consultations with Islamabad and called on its neighbour to take plausible action against the "Infrastructure of Terror" within its borders.

Irfan Husain, columnist for the Pakistani daily Dawn, is of the opinion that for the most part, the governments of both countries reacted responsibly to the crisis, especially when one considers that the Indian media incited negative sentiments against Pakistan once it was discovered that the perpetrators were Pakistani.

Restraint on both sides

Says Husain: "For a while, there was a serious threat that India would attack Taliban training camps on the other side of the border. In the end, however, the Indian government held back." Conversely, Husain feels that people should understand why the Pakistani government was reluctant to admit that the terrorists had connections to Islamabad.

Husain believes that the whole terrorism phenomenon in Pakistan is largely suppressed by the country's leaders. It wasn't until the Indians gave them proof of the existence of radical Islamic networks that the Pakistani government took action.

Police in front of the Taj Mahal hotel (photo: AP)
On 26 November 2008, Islamist terrorists attacked the Taj Mahal and Trident Oberoy luxury hotels and a number of other popular tourist centres in Mumbai; at least 101 people lost their lives in the attacks

​​Extremist organisations were banned and their members arrested; India, however, suspected that these actions were  as has so often been the case in the past  nothing more than a smokescreen. Irfan Husain believes there is a very different reason. He maintains that New Delhi's attitude has something to do with India's upcoming elections and hopes that the situation will calm down after the parliamentary elections on 16 April.

"The new Indian government no longer needs to make a show of strength and will be interested in another solution." After all, India has global ambitions and doesn't want to get bogged down in a regional conflict with Pakistan.

Pressure to reconcile

The international community, and in particular the United States, is insisting on a renewed rapprochement between India and Pakistan. President Obama's team has pointed out on a number of occasions that after 60 years, the time has come to end the Kashmir conflict.

"The USA wants a political solution to the India/Pakistan problem so that the Pakistani army can concentrate on the Afghan border," says Irfan Husain. "This is why there is such international pressure to reach a solution."

That being said, he doesn't believe that India is prepared to make significant compromises. However, "if India were to offer Pakistan some kind of a way out of the Kashmir problem and help it save face, a few people in Pakistan are bound to be receptive to that," explains Husain. "The current government in Islamabad would certainly like to improve its relations with India."

There are numerous reports that under Musharraf, Pakistan's former president, behind-the-scenes negotiations concerning Kashmir were already well advanced. If these reports are to be believed, the two countries agreed to put the political conflict on the back burner and focus on improving people's lives.

The intention was to soften the entrenched lines of division that exist in Kashmir. Perhaps the two countries can pick up where these negotiations left off the next time the frosty relations begin to thaw.

Thomas Bärthlein

© Deutsche Welle 2009

Thomas Bärthlein is the deputy head of the South East Asia Section of the Deutsche Welle.
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