VISAS, peace accords, even trade treaties between India and Pakistan pale into insignificance without the icing on the cake, a visit by Dr Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India, to meet the President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari.

Normally, a prime minister from another country ought to meet his counterpart in Pakistan, but not only do we not know who the prime minister of Pakistan might be some weeks from now, we should also not fool ourselves about which of the two is the more important office in Pakistan’s current political dispensation. This might change after the elections next year, but for the moment, there is no ambiguity. Hence, a Singh-Zardari meeting, along with meetings with some other equally important Pakistanis, is what will shape all other small steps forward.

For President Zardari, getting Manmohan Singh to visit would be nothing short of a coup — and for once we can use the term ‘coup’ differently in Pakistan. It would consolidate his position in Pakistan’s current politics, but more importantly, emphasise to the Indians that he, personally, is actively committed to moving forward on issues on which one can. While commerce secretaries and even foreign ministers can sign agreements, such a meeting in Pakistan would give the right signals of a commitment at the highest level of public office in Pakistan. From India’s perspective, more importantly, it would also show India’s willingness and commitment to come to Pakistan despite serious outstanding issues and to move forward again. If India is interested in a stable Pakistan, one which also evolves into a democracy, then given Pakistan’s internal political economy, a visit from the Indian prime minister would also be of much use to the political parties and groups that are hoping to see the first democratic transition in the country. By showing confidence in the civilian government — in the last 13 years, there has only been one visit by an Indian prime minister — Pakistan’s civilian political arrangement will be strengthened.

Although while it has been said that Indians prefer a ‘general in power in Pakistan’, it has also been said by academics and scholars that India needs a stable Pakistan for its own progress, a neighbour which comes to terms with its internal and domestic issues rather than one which interferes across the border. Importantly, India also has to get used to the idea that Pakistanis prefer democracy. To show that the Indians are committed to moving forward as much as are the Pakistanis, the Indian prime minister should also meet Nawaz Sharif and other members of the civilian and military leadership and demonstrate that this is an investment well into the future, beyond incumbent politicians.

Even at a very personal level, Dr Singh is said to embody many qualities which ought to go down well on such a visit. By all accounts, he is considered to be an individual with a great deal of humility and is the old-school scholar-gentleman with a lot of sharafat. He is an economist who is responsible for taking India from the 19th century to becoming a power-house, and a global player, today, and can offer some insight into Pakistan’s sluggish economy. He was also born in what is Pakistan.

The next generation of Indian leaders may have fewer of these personal qualities, born into a different generation, with values very different from their forefathers’. To be sure, some of those more materialistic values might even benefit Pakistan-India relations, but it might be better to take a chance on someone who is much closer to Pakistan in many ways than the unknown entities who will replace him.

Although the Indians keep arguing that his visit has to be able to make some major progress and show ‘tangible results’, this is very improbable. He will not take back with him very much from Pakistan’s leaders except promises but his visit will bring a closure to the current round of issues and might be the ‘new beginning’ that Pakistan’s foreign minister was trying to indicate in her press conference.

We cannot forget, and, of course, nor will the Indians, what happened immediately after the last time an Indian prime minister visited Pakistan. The peace process was stabbed in the back by an adventurous chief of army staff at Kargil, who subsequently gave Pakistan a decade of military dictatorship under the guise of ‘moderate enlightenment’ which, as we now know, was neither.

A visit from Dr Manmohan Singh ought to reassure the many sceptics, in Pakistan and in the rest of the world, that 13 years later, it is not just South Asia or India which has changed for the better, but Pakistan’s internal political economy with regard to India as well. It might just be the only empirical evidence we have at the moment to make such a claim.

The writer is a political economist.

Updated Sep 23, 2012 10:04pm

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Comments (35) (Closed)


R.Kannan
Sep 25, 2012 11:02am
When the neighbour persisists on setting his house on fire hoping that you will get singed, you simply accept that the neighbour in unstable and take precautions. Very little else can be done.
Mandeep
Sep 24, 2012 01:17pm
Bravo !!! Who put your house on fire ? Why should your neigbhour help you when those who put your house on fire are your heroes ? If others do something wrong, than they should be punished, and if you do something wrong than again others are responsible. Nothing entitles any group to cross international borders and attack hospitals, hotels and community centres. Pakistan is only one step away from being labelled as a failed state. Your experts are no fools who are stressing need for better relations with India as they see what is coming their way. Normalisation of relations will help Pakistan more than India.
gp65
Sep 24, 2012 08:59am
What has Pakistan done that India has not already done? If Pakistan liberalized visa regime, so did India. If Pakistan is TALKING about MFN status to India, India already granted to Pakistan in 1996.
stuti
Sep 24, 2012 02:23pm
I think Hafeez Saeed has done more harm to Pakistan than to India
gp65
Sep 24, 2012 08:56am
"in the last 13 years, there has only been one visit by an Indian prime minister ? Pakistan?s civilian political arrangement will be strengthened." Ah and we remember what happened after that. The Indian Prime Minister was stabbed in the back with Kargill. You may have forgotten. We have not.
stuti
Sep 24, 2012 02:25pm
Yaa! But out of desperation.
Kamil
Sep 24, 2012 07:53am
Your arguments are certainly valid. However, taking a more nuanced look at the article tells you that Indian leadership's reluctance to engage the civilians as holistically as the generals has negatively impacted the nascent and precariously fragile democracy. Secondly, the successful democratic transition underway will be further emboldened if Singh visits Pakistan despite all the odds at play.
shashikhaanth
Sep 24, 2012 04:35am
He has promised to the indian public that he will see that 26/11 perpetrators will be brought to book by pakistan and without that happening he will not visit pakistan because he has to show some tangible results to the public for which he has promised.
Cricket
Sep 24, 2012 12:28pm
Key words 'Pakistans economy'. Heres some change, go fix it and NO I dont have smaller coins than this.
zoro
Sep 24, 2012 03:57am
Dont keep harping on the line that India being a big brother has to take a first step. India does need stable Pakistan ... but the back stabbing list is sooo long that 1974 debacle has still not opened the eyes of Pakistan. For a change Pakistan should try first to make it up with India ... and try hard not to back stab... again ...
Imran
Sep 24, 2012 04:49pm
What bubble? Can't you read English? I said there's no rush. Take your time. Eternity even.Nothing in Pakistan desperately depends on Singh's visit is what I am saying.
Imran
Sep 24, 2012 08:51am
Careful now. You should "want stability" in Pakistan. When your neighbours house is on fire some flames will definitely come your way. Thats what Mumbai was. If Mumbai has changed everything then thats a choice Indians have made. Thankfully, no aspect of Pakistan's economy depends on India. So by all means stick to your guns. We also are in no hurry.
Imran
Sep 24, 2012 08:43am
I think a touch of realism is called for. Its Manmohan Singh we are talking about not Obama. Singhs visit will not solve our poer shortage or law and order problems. We don't depend on India for anything. There is not much that will change immediately. We should first try to solve our own problems then think of someone else. At the moment the Indians will keep harping on about Mumbai and its perpetators. Let them get over Mumbai too. There's no rush.
shantanu
Sep 24, 2012 06:16am
to get singh to visit pak, just do two simple things hand over hafeez saeed to india for trail and prosecution stop terrorist activities aimed at India is that too difficult and ask ?
razaq
Sep 24, 2012 08:05am
The Indian PM's visit to Pakistan will benefit both countries. It will also support Indian leadership's claim that they really mean well for Pakistan and wish Pakistan to be a stable and progressive country. Pakisanis do not have to beg Manmohan Singh to visit them. Both countries can create goodwill and peaceful atmosphere by walking on a two way street. Indian leaders should walk the talk.
ip
Sep 24, 2012 12:19pm
"We also are in no hurry" It shows.
Bakul
Sep 25, 2012 01:05am
"Thankfully, no aspect of Pakistan?s economy depends on India." Pakistan's economy depends on aids. "Let them get over Mumbai too. There?s no rush" The day you will give up this attitude, Pakistans economy will start depending on trade (not just with India but entire world)
ip
Sep 24, 2012 12:18pm
" Let them get over Mumbai " Sorry to burst your bubble pal. Mumbai changed everything. Keep dreaming.
Naveen Kumar
Sep 24, 2012 01:54pm
"it has been said that Indians prefer a ?general in power in Pakistan?" I don't think Indians(atleast those in Govt) prefer Generals in power in Pakistan . It is in the interest of Generals in Power to maintain a hostile posture and cultivate adversarial public feelings towards India as otherwise they won't be able to justify their job's utility and why their position ought to be bestowed with a higher State power than those of popularly elected politicians . Generals are better at doing wars than making long-term peace.
Murthy
Sep 24, 2012 04:14pm
When the two meet, there will be some "blah, blah" and nothing significant is going to happen. The much hyped event will be proved a futile exercise!
Nina
Sep 24, 2012 09:08am
The author is reading too much into the ramifications of Dr Singhs possible visit. What will it change? Not much I think. I agree that it will help peace in the subcontinent but then conflict in South Asia was usually triggered by us and not the Indians, right? And so what if he was born in current day Pakistan. Musharraf was born in Delhi but that didn't stop him from planning Kargil.
Ash
Sep 24, 2012 06:45am
The author seems to suggest that, stability of Pakistan is a function of India. This is not the case. Stability of Pakistan is a function of its internal issues and how it deals with them. Pakistanis across forums fail to understand that Mumbai has changed everything. No longer do we 'want stability' in Pakistan. We more importantly want Pakistan to 'deal' with its internal problems. Hence, from now on, trade and business yes. But, anything else will need Pakistan to show progress in Mumbai case.
Rohan
Sep 25, 2012 01:28pm
Being an indian i think there is no need to have good relationship with pakistan. There is no benefit to india at all. Pakistan govt have no control over their Army and so even if we become brothers again the Pak army generals will never back that and they will always hurt india to maintain their importance. eventually we will keep getting back stabbed. Why is the idiot Manmohan wasting time on pakistan when there are bigger economic issues to tackle. We really need a BJP government under Narendra Modi leadership please.
Ahmed Rehan
Sep 25, 2012 01:53am
No peace without resolving Kashmir issue.
Rahul Bhardwaj
Sep 24, 2012 09:03am
Dear Arvind, Peaceful bilateral relationship between two neighbouring nation has been long awaited, but do you think the process of talks should start without any confidence building steps? (Here i am referring to fast trial of those who are accused in 26/11 case) This will be very disappointing if Mr. Singh visit's Pakistan without any satisfactory results in the case registered against the accused persons of one of the most condemned terrorist attack of the decade.
Imran
Sep 24, 2012 10:04am
Oh yaar don't send Singh over. Keep him there.
sraz45
Sep 24, 2012 08:20am
I agree, and yet I think the court proceeding against those who plotted the Mumbai attacks should be be brought to the courts sooner. It would clear the air of suspicion in the mind of Indians at large. It's time that Pakistan expedites this issue.
Arvind Das
Sep 24, 2012 04:18am
I must admit that Pakistan on its behalf has done a lot to initiate normalization of relationship between the two countries. India must reciprocate - this is what decency demands.
mOHINDER SANDHU
Sep 24, 2012 05:59pm
India will never get over with mumbai carnage.That was the most cowardly act executed by pakistani perpetrators.Your waiting for Dr. manmohan singh is futile.
Blazer_UK
Sep 24, 2012 12:21pm
As NFP said last week about Pakistan... "We as a nation have for long been staring into the abyss. But what many of us believe is a vision of some kind of a Muslim reawakening is in actuality just the abyss staring right back." Understand this and you might have a chance as a country, ignore this and prepare to reap the whirlwind!
Honest Babe
Sep 24, 2012 05:54pm
Thank you!
Krishna
Sep 24, 2012 11:16pm
Are you kidding? We may forgive but will never forget Mumbai.
Rattan
Sep 24, 2012 12:51pm
I dont care what the press makes of the peace deal.i dont care what the politicians on both sides do to bring peace.I only know one thing and that is India will never relax again at the borders.once bitten twice shy.we can afford another war but not under the disguise of friendship.The bone of contention will always be Kashmir.
mOHINDER SANDHU
Sep 24, 2012 06:03pm
we will never do that,remember it is not india that is sending mr. manmohan singh to pakistan,it is pakistan that is requesting over and over again for Dr. manmohan singh to visit
Ash
Sep 24, 2012 04:32pm
It will not benefit India at all. We don't want our PM to visit Pakistan who support terrorist against our country.