Of all the embassies and high commissions I have wined and dined in, nothing matches the warm welcome one receives at the New Delhi residence of the Pakistan high commissioner. (I stress ‘residence’ because official entertaining, alas, is ‘dry’.) The food is outstanding, the mood cordial, the conversation candid, the alcohol world-class. Similarly, Pakistanis who are guests at the Indian high commission in Islamabad, however anti-India their politics, only sing their host’s praises. It has now become a commonplace for an Indian visitor to recount the red carpet rolled out for him by the Pakistani aam admi and officialdom. Surely, such over-the-top hospitality on either side of the LoC must mean something?
As a much-ridiculed Wagah candle-lighter, it pains me to see four years of growing friendship reduced to ruins, thanks to the Mumbai outrage. Some Pakistanis ask, why suspend the peace process, now is the time to pursue it even more vigorously. These well-meaning folk forget that any institutional effort at reconciliation must have the backing of domestic public opinion. If 10 LeT criminals saunter in by sea to deliver death and destruction on our premier city, public opinion will naturally be enraged. A pause in the peace process is essential to calm the national mood. It should be welcomed in Islamabad.
Will things ever be the same again? Unlikely, if we allow imperious and ignorant British ministers like David Miliband (first he eats our dal, subzi and roti and then spits on the thali!) to lecture us on terrorism, or hope that Uncle Sam will suddenly turn honest broker. Those in India who have high hopes from the Obama presidency should prepare themselves for shocks. The script on Kashmir and non-proliferation might throw up some nasty surprises.
For over 60 years, India and Pakistan have outsourced their conflict resolution to western nations. The results have been zero. When will we learn that our hatreds, enmities and historical disputes are strictly bilateral?