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Zardari’s India yatra: Too little, too late

Published Apr 11, 2012 02:09pm


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Source: Pew Global Attitudes Project
Accompanied by a 40-member delegation and an 11 per cent approval rating, President Asif Ali Zardari visited India earlier this week where he met with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who, unlike Mr. Zardari, enjoys the confidence of 87 per cent of his fellow countrymen.*

Despite Mr. Singh’s personal popularity with the electorate, the Indian National Congress, India’s ruling party, is fast crumbling as is evidenced by its dismal performance in the recent State elections in Uttar Pradesh. This makes the Zardari-Singh rendezvous a moot point. According to the below survey, Mr. Zardari’s party is about to lose an election. Whereas Mr. Singh’s party has just lost one.

The political leadership in both countries is at its weakest and the ever-so-powerful armed forces in India and Pakistan surprisingly enjoy higher approval ratings, leaving even media and religious leaders behind. In this politically uncertain climate, where the leading parties are being hounded by the opposition and the armed forces, the Zardari-Singh dialogue was unlikely to make any meaningful progress on the core issues that divide India and Pakistan.

Given the lack of substance in the Zardari-Singh dialogue, political pundits shifted their focus to the gastronomical particulars of Mr. Zardari’s meal with the Indian Prime Minister. Details about  the lunch menu, from hors d'oeuvres to desserts, were headlined by the media in both countries. While the Indians and Pakistanis naively craved any news about the measures leading to peace and prosperity in the region, Zardari and his 40-member delegation devoured a rack of lamb, chicken kebabs, masala dosas, and blueberry mousse, to name a few.

Those digging for a greater meaning and symbolism for the visit skipped details of the menu and focused instead on the tweets by the Indian Prime Minister’s office and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. In their haste, Indian and foreign media made errors in decoding Bilawal’s tweet: “AOA India Peace be with you”. While Bilawal used AoA as an acronym for Assalam-o-Alaikum (peace be with you), Sandeep Joshi of The Hindu and Jim Yardley for The New York Times interpreted AoA as Allah o Akbar! A subsequent version of Jim Yardley’ online draft carried the correction.

More than six decades after independence, India and Pakistan remain continents apart on the future of Kashmir and Kashmiris, which has diverted hundreds of billions of dollars to warfare that could have been invested in improving the welfare of the very poor who remain destitute, illiterate, and malnourished. The resolution of the Kashmir issue has eluded even the most powerful political leaderships in South Asia in the past. Hopes of deliverance from the present lame duck leadership on either side of the Wagah border have been greatly misplaced.

And while the leading political parties in India and Pakistan are experiencing new lows in voter confidence, the masses in both countries indeed look forward to resolving the outstanding issues. More than 70 per cent of Pakistanis and Indians believe in improving relations between the countries. Almost 70 per cent of the people in both countries also feel strongly about improving trade ties. Pakistanis, however, are overly fixated on the Kashmir issue where 80 per cent of Pakistanis and 66 per cent of Indians believe it is important to resolve the Kashmir dispute.

The desire to improve relations and trade, and resolve outstanding issues exists in an environment of mutual distrust. A large number of Pakistanis (57 per cent) see India as the biggest threat to their future. In comparison, only 19 per cent of Pakistanis see al Qaeda as a threat. Even a larger numbers of Indians (70 per cent) remain wary of Pakistan. However, the Indians are more nuanced in their concerns about Pakistan. They are increasingly concerned (77 per cent) about Pakistan-based militants, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba.

One can sense the winds of change blowing across the political landscapes of India and Pakistan. The Pakistan People’s Party and the Indian National Congress are unlikely to hold on to power in the next elections. Even if the leadership of these parties is handed to their respective political orphans, Bilawal in Pakistan and Rahul in India, the inescapable reality remains that the two parties have squandered the political capital they had at the start of their tenure. In 2008, for instance, 64 per cent of Pakistanis had a favourable view of President Zardari, which collapsed to 11 per cent in 2011.

In Pakistan Imran Khan’s political fortunes have been on the rise. However, Mr. Khan's party indeed experienced a backlash after it welcomed in its ranks those who had sided earlier with military dictators, additionally many consider Mr. Khan to be the ISI’s Manchurian Candidate who is expected to side with Pakistan’s conservative right. Still Mr. Khan has been able to galvanise a large number of disillusioned urban youth leading  some to believe that his party may end up commanding majority in the forthcoming elections in Pakistan.

In India, Gujrat’s chief minister, Narendra Modi, who was accused of conspiring in the riots that resulted in 2,000 Muslim deaths, has been found innocent of the charges against him by an investigation team appointed by the Supreme Court of India. He is also being touted as BJP’s candidate for the office of prime minister in the next elections in 2014, especially after last year when a US Congressional research paper praised him for effective governance.

Like Imran Khan, who is at least perceived as pandering to the right-wing conservatives in Pakistan, Modi is also viewed as a representative of the right-wing conservatives in India. Some dread the very prospect of supposedly hard-line, right-wing conservative governments assuming power in Islamabad and New Delhi. However, one cannot ignore the lacklustre progress made by the left-leaning parties currently in power with their coalition partners in Pakistan and India.

If the next elections in Pakistan (expected in 2013) and India (2014) result again in split mandates, which would force the leading parties to form coalition governments, the prospects for peace will remain bleak regardless of a left or a right leaning party occupying the prime minister’s office. A strong mandate is a prerequisite for the next governments in India and Pakistan to have the confidence necessary to negotiate on matters that have failed to resolve in the past 65 years.

*Approval ratings and other figures reported in this piece are quoted from various publications produced by the Pew Global Attitudes Project.

Murtaza Haider, Ph.D. is the Associate Dean of research and graduate programs at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in Toronto.  He can be reached by email at

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


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Murtaza Haider is a Toronto-based academic and the director of

He tweets @regionomics

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (32) Closed

Raza Haider Apr 11, 2012 05:33pm
Good article.... You said 64% of Pakistanis had favorable view on Zardari. This looks a fairly inflated number. I don't think Zardari has ever enjoyed anything in excess of 25%.
Abbas Apr 12, 2012 03:52am
I do not understand how a change in leadership in India will effect Pakistan?? Pakistan troubles are far bigger and serious to be influenced by India or USA. Moreover it is a little irrelevant to keep comparing political leadership of secular democracy and an islamic country. The article does not convey any message other than misguiding the already confused electorate of Pakistan. What is far more important than Zardari or Gilani is that Pakistan almost is completing first five years civilian rule in many many decades. Such state is not where India is at present.
AA Apr 12, 2012 03:38pm
Looking at the inflation numbers in the country, the common man does not give a damn about any politician.
nomaan Apr 12, 2012 12:32am
When the total voting in 2008 election was 30%, then how come it be assumes that at that time 65% had a favorable view of Zardari? Need to improve your analytical skills.
Agha Ata Apr 12, 2012 05:34pm
"Too little, too late,” IF that is all what was going to happen, or is going to happen. But all great journeys start with a single step. Doesn't a single step seem too little, too late, too?
Murtuza Babrawala Apr 11, 2012 10:14pm
Government of India and Pakistan should sign a permanent peace pact silencing few but vocal extremist and fanatics that exist within their borders. The dividend of peace is properity for people of both countries.
good2rely Apr 11, 2012 09:21pm
Bankruptsy on both sides is the only solution Buy ammu & pay for army....more & more Arrogance and False pride will never let u decide right...
ali Apr 12, 2012 11:10pm
i dont know zardari visit to india is fruitful or not i have all my doubts bt atleast tht time when our brave 135 soldiers are under snow he would have visited there ......atleast consider it as a sad day in history of army ....i request to our president tht atleast visit our soldiers funerals bcz u r our so called leader and president supreme command of pak army so if u feel like and u consider ur self free from ur very very busy politics plz do visit soldiers funeral bcz atleast plz prevail sense of little bit respect in ur heart for ur soldiers mr president.............
A.Bajwa Apr 11, 2012 06:06pm
What ever the external circumstances Pak/India relations are frozen and a thaw is not possible without both sides radically change their stances.
NASAH (USA) Apr 11, 2012 08:24pm
An unecessarily pessimistic article -- both centrist parties, PPP and Congress, will form yet another coalition after the elections in Pakistand and in India.
Nate Gupta Apr 11, 2012 05:50pm
Mr. Murtaza, the Gujrat riot resulted in a number of death of non-Muslims as well. It might have been a bit more balanced to cite them as well. I expected more neutral stand from you.
Akaash Apr 11, 2012 07:49pm
Although it is desirable but not essential for India and Pakistan to have good relations. Instead of oscillating between emotions of extreme dislike to being best buddies, why cant we just have neutral blunted indifferent state between two countries. It is quite clear that we might have similarities but our differences in ideologies and outlook and attitude towards life, religion etc far outweigh any similarities we have. India and Pakistan have their own chosen destinies and their is no need to intertwine and have a clingy relationship.
Rashid Apr 11, 2012 07:40pm
Even then " Dair aay Darust aay" Zrdari's decision is right up to much extent and it is also dependent upon the briefing by foreign office and the Chief Pervaiz Kyani. Asif zrdari is not the front decision maker as it solely comes from GHQ and foreign office. But a little credit goes to Asif. The key to progress in today's world is peaceful co-existence and we are ardently needed for this.
arpan Apr 11, 2012 07:24pm
Your analysis of Indian political scenario is inaccurate. If BJP announce Modi as their Prime Ministerial candidate they are sure to lose the elections. Nobody outside hindi belt likes Modi. He has no support base in south. Even in north, Nitish Kumar, the CM of Bihar, didn't want Modi to campaign for him. BJP at large is so fractured that it may be difficult for it to form government even if it wins more seats than Congress.
Akbar N. Apr 11, 2012 07:05pm
40 members delegation that too when Zardari was going on a personal visit. A visit to Ajmer Sharif but 40 minutes meeting with Indian leader Manmohen Singh was a ploy to justify public funding of his trip. I bet free loaders traveling with Zardari had a good time in India especially Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.
A.Raja Rao Apr 11, 2012 06:35pm
A fanciful article - another by a Pakistani comfortably settled abroad who has a 'solution' and who continues to 'equate' India and Pakistan
NITESH Apr 11, 2012 06:29pm
i agree because there are some people who really wants fight between different communities in India but yes there are many people in INDIA who are trying trying and trying to make UNITY in India and there are many examples.In India when we live with each other we never think that who are Muslim,Christian,Parsi ,Sikh there is no communal boundary. No one is perfect but Yes some people are trying to destroy us but they will not be succeed .
A.Bajwa Apr 12, 2012 05:25pm
It is always good to keep contacts warm and sizzling.
Truth Teller Apr 12, 2012 08:56am
India can afford to be stubborn for truth and resources are both on its side . Pakistan has no such options left.
Tarun Apr 12, 2012 08:27pm
It is at last a start by Pakistan to make relationship better. A long way to go a good gesture from the pak govt. will be to educate Pakistan awam with the reality of history and to promote love in media. We are tired of hate speeches from Zaid, mullah regime and now many politicians too. Shame on all anchors who preach hatred. Like Jawaid chodhry quoating mahrashtra events totally fals. He forgets to mention first the train was burnt with hundreds of passenger trapped and burnt in. After 65 years of hate preaching we archived nothing, at least preach love see how far we come.
R.Kannan Apr 12, 2012 10:35am
The article also claims 87% of Indians have confidence in Dr Singh. If that is the case, why is Dr Singh unable to win a Lok Sabha election from any constituency in India ? Mr Murtaza's articles are readable but suffer from incorrect statistics and are rarely balanced.
Mustafa Apr 12, 2012 10:41am
Excellent article by Murtaza Haider.
Shankar Apr 12, 2012 11:20am
Very good article. The political atmosphere both in India and Pakistan are not conducive for any break through in bilateral relationship. As the srvey indicates the hatred for India in Pakistan and mistrust for Pakistan in India are too high for anything good to happen.
GKrishnan Apr 12, 2012 11:23am
The heading " Too little, too late" does not present the correct picture. It should have read as " Better late than never ". The Indian media, both print and visual, have generally reported the event as one really bold step taken by Zardari to find a way forward, beset as his government is with overwhelming domestic issues.
A/A Apr 12, 2012 11:26am
Does it matter if AOA reffered as Allah-O-Akbar?
sja Apr 12, 2012 11:56am
Yes,you are so right and that reminds me the good old saying " doooor kay dhooool suhaanaaay."" Ha Ha Ha
Mandeep Vaid Apr 12, 2012 12:09pm
He meant 64% of Pakistani inmate population.
Horses Mouth Apr 12, 2012 01:26pm
I wonder where did author take his statistics for the quote "More than 70 per cent of Pakistanis and Indians believe in improving relations between the countries. Almost 70 per cent of the people in both countries also feel strongly about improving trade ties." In India still remain less than 25-27% Indian interested improving relation between two country Since Mumbai terrorist attack. Authors upbeat simply music to Pakistani population rather Indian side readers.
farazac Apr 13, 2012 01:12pm
arey sain, dosti with india is always too much
Animesh Apr 13, 2012 02:54pm
You need a better understanding of the complex Indian politics. Your two assumptions, on Congress's loss and Modi's rise reeks of armchair journalism. Nevertheless an okay blog.
M H goradia Apr 13, 2012 03:03pm
Dr. Midnight Jul 24, 2012 02:42pm
because those 13% are in the constituencies where he plans to stand for election ;-)