The foreign ministers of India and Pakistan, Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna and Hina Rabbani Khar, offered some hope of a détente between the two countries on Wednesday – the first public sign of such progress since the terrorist attacks in Mumbai bombings in November, 2008, brought to a violent, spectacular end a period of about five years in which an Indian-Pakistani settlement began to seem possible.
Ms. Khar and Mr. Krishna mostly just agreed to agree, but there were also a few practical, concrete and liberalizing measures on commercial crossings of the Line of Control, the ceasefire line between India and Pakistan in the former princely state of Kashmir.
The disputes between India and Pakistan have broad implications, most unnervingly because they both have nuclear weapons. But the more immediate difficulty is that the whole region is destabilized by the Pakistani military's habit of interpreting the world in the light (or shadow) of the conflict with India. In Afghanistan, India favours the northern groups and the Karzai government, while the Inter-Services Intelligence of Pakistan, and the Pakistani military more generally, equivocate between the Taliban and the United States in their wavering support.
For all his faults, Pervez Musharraf, the military dictator of Pakistan from 1999 to 2008, appeared to understand the Indo-Pakistani rivalry – with its concomitant attitudes – as a problem to be overcome. The Pakistani foreign minister at the time, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, has spoken to the eminent Indian journalist Saeed Naqvi (a Muslim) about the peace negotiations with India while he was in office, saying, “We had agreed on 80 per cent of the issues.”
The civilian politicians who succeeded General Musharaf have not changed the Pakistani military's worldview – either not wishing to do so or not feeling strong enough to try. But Ms. Khar's visit offers a promising hint of a turn for the better.
Almost 64 years after the partition of India and Pakistan, the two countries still have great cultural, linguistic and even religious affinities – indeed, Ms. Khar touched on a shared enthusiasm when she raised the prospect of restoring bilateral cricket series on her visit this week. (She herself prefers polo, but may have been influenced by her 11-year-old son, a cricket fan who came along on the trip.)
The two South Asian powers would both be much stronger if they acknowledged their closeness and lived in harmony.