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Message of good faith

July 29, 2012

INDIAN Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has received yet another invitation to visit Pakistan — and this time it could just do the trick to work around the opposition of the hawks in both countries. President Asif Ali Zardari’s invitation to the Indian premier to come to Pakistan for the birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak in November and visit Mr Singh’s ancestral hometown in northern Punjab ensures that the trip will not be an official state visit. That could help defuse the criticism in establishment circles here that Pakistan has embarrassed itself by inviting Mr Singh to visit Pakistan time and time again, to no avail. In India, meanwhile, Mr Singh faces opposition from within his party and from the political opposition on visiting Pakistan while no real movement has taken place on the Mumbai attack investigations and trials inside Pakistan. So if Mr Singh were to visit Pakistan in his private capacity — albeit as a very high-profile visitor — the Indian premier and his civilian counterparts in Pakistan would be able to send a powerful message of bonhomie and good faith in the full glare of the media without invo-king the stiffest of opposition from hardliners in both countries.

That something forceful has to happen at the highest political levels in both countries if Pak-India ties are to be genuinely stabilised and pushed toward normality is quite obvious. This paper has long regarded Mr Singh as a genuine partner in peace, a leader who understands that the old paradigm of hate and suspicion only hurts both countries and prevents them from reaching their full economic, political and diplomatic potential. Similarly, on the Pakistani side, there is an important consensus across the mainstream political parties that better relations with India — if not outright peace — is not just desirable but achievable. Clearly, in both countries there are power centres that are reluctant to buy into the language of peace. Not all of that is mindless hostility — Pakistan and India do have genuine issues to resolve that are complex and somewhat understandably complicated by decades-old history. But the old paradigm does need to be shed. While it will be a long road towards achieving that, gestures such as a visit by Mr Singh could prove to be a significant step in that long journey.

Here in Pakistan, to complement the invitation, perhaps the political government can bring together the key principals on relations with India — the army, the foreign office and the political opposition — to work out where the opportunities for forward movement with India exist, particularly if Mr Singh agrees to the most recent invitation from Pakistan.