Through 2007 the Pakistani street simmered with protests, unrest and agitation, there was one question that those in the thick of it unfailingly asked when they came face to face with an Indian: Whose side is your country on? Ours or General Musharraf’s? Mostly, the perception was that India was in love with Pervez Musharraf, then still a President in uniform. In the Supreme Court, as a battery of lawyers argued Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary’s case in court, and later challenged President Pervez Musharraf’s candidacy, they constantly held up the example the vibrancy of the Indian democracy despite its many flaws. At street protests, lawyers would come up to shake hands and express their admiration for India, Gandhi and Nehru. One young lawyer quoted reams from Glimpses of World History to prove his ardent love for Nehru. In contrast was democratic India’s silence on the events in Pakistan. The explanation that keeping quiet was the best diplomatic option for a neighbour with which Pakistan had at best a problematic and complex relationship did not convince many. Anyway, that explanation fell and broke its nose after Indian National Security Adviser M K Narayanan – people here take him as seriously as they do his counterpart Tariq Aziz, secretary of the National Security Council – lavished praise on Gen. Musharraf for riding the storm and confidently predicted that India hoped to be back in business with him in early 2008. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s statement in Parliament on Wednesday congratulating the people of Pakistan for their democratic choice may help to set the record straight. Critics will point out that now the writing is on the wall, this is nothing but grudging acknowledgement that it has to do business with the new leadership or at best, damage-control spin. Still, Dr. Singh’s assurance to the new leadership that India wants to live in peace with Pakistan, and that New Delhi was prepared to meet Islamabad “halfway” on the peace process has been welcomed. But democratic Pakistan would be looking at more than just atmospherics. It is nothing short of a miracle that in the tumultuous year that led to the February 18 anti-Musharraf vote, the India-Pakistan peace process was perhaps the only feature of his rule that escaped the brush with which Pakistanis tarred everything else that had the slightest association with him. The peace process could have easily gone the same way, so closely had Gen. Musharraf become identified with it, and India with him. There was enough criticism about the “concessions” he was perceived as making to India on the Kashmir issue only to get nothing back in return. He was accused of charting an independent course with India without taking the people into confidence about his intentions. Pakistani commentators tore their hair out when he seemed to change decades-old policies in the course of television interviews – to Indians. For instance, it wasduring one such interview that he said the UN Security Council resolutions were no longer relevant in the search for peace in Kashmir. But the day President Musharraf attempted to remove Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary last March, India became a sideshow. Kashmir, Siachen, even the Samjhauta Express firebombing that had taken place only a few days earlier receded into a far corner of Pakistan’s collective consciousness as the judicial issue overtook the nation by storm. India did not drop from the radar completely. There were plenty of statements about the Indian hand in the near daily bomb attacks in the North-West frontier. There were attempts to link the lawyers’ agitation with India. But the country remained riveted on the crisis as an internal issue, something that Gen. Musharraf had brought upon himself and the nation. There would be an occasional lament about the slowdown in the peace process, but meetings of the “composite dialogue process” went almost unnoticed. So when the elections came, it was no surprise that India and the peace process figured nowhere. If at all India got mention, it was not to dump the peace process as another of Gen. Musharraf’s flawed projects, but to claim credit for setting the ball rolling. Nawaz Sharif flagged the Lahore summit that saw Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee arriving over the Wagah border in a bus as the turning point in relations with India. Benazir Bhutto, before her assassination, talked about her own efforts to improve the atmosphere between the two countries. Mr. Sharif must feel vindicated that Mr. Singh’s statement to Parliament acknowledges his contribution and Mr. Vajpayee’s so generously.In their manifestos, both Mr Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League(N) and the Pakistan People’s Party commit themselves to improving relations with India. In the “charter of democracy” that Benazir and Mr. Sharif signed to forge an alliance against President Musharraf way back in 2006, the two parties pledged to resolve Kashmir in accordance with the UN Security Council Resolutions. But in interviews, neither Mr. Sharif nor PPP leader Asif Zardari has harped on this. Instead Mr. Sharif has reiterated that he stands for a peaceful resolution of all outstanding issues with India, including Kashmir. Mr. Zardari has gone much further ahead than even President Musharraf to state that both countries should “agree to disagree” on Kashmir, and focus instead on building trade interdependence. After an angry reaction from sections of Kashmiris, the PPP clarified that the party was committed to the resolution of the issue and to normalization of relations with India on the basis of “respect and honour”. Given the lightning rod nature of the Kashmir problem, let us not be surprised if in the days and weeks to come, the initial untutored responses change and move closer to the standard Foreign Office formulation.Democratically-minded Pakistanis believe that if India is serious about working with the democratically elected dispensation in their country, New Delhi must move swiftly to strengthen the new government not just with words but with a solid gesture on the peace process. Even for Pakistanis opposed to Gen. Musharraf, India’s perceived non-responses to his “flexibility” rankled deeply. Mr. Singh’s statement to Parliament asking the new government in Pakistan to grasp the peace process and “move quickly on it” makes it seem as if the political uncertainty in Pakistan was the only reason for the glacial speed at which the process was moving. Pakistanis see it differently. They believe India dropped the ball on the process long before that as it focused its energies on the civil nuclear deal with the United States.Through 2006 and early 2007, Pakistan awaited a long-promised visit by Mr. Singh to breathe much needed political life into the “composite dialogue” process. But that did not happen, reinforcing the view that Gen. Musharraf was making all the gestures, and India none. Pakistanis who want their country’s latest experiment with democracy to survive, and also want the peace process to continue, believe that an early visit by Dr. Singh – after a new government takes charge in Islamabad — would help both. They also think a quick resolution of what they see as “soft issues” such as Siachen and Sir Creek would help the democratically elected government consolidate the peace process, and sell it better to its constituents as well as help it to keep the “establishment” – the entrenched civil-military bureaucracy that is traditionally opposed to political governments – at bay. Gen. Musharraf had nothing to fear from the establishment because it was he who controlled it. But now there is fear that the establishment, which for the first time finds itself with no role in government formation, may strike back by trying to trip up or slow down the peace process to discredit the new dispensation. There is also concern that the same establishment may stoke the flames of militancy in Kashmir once again. Conventional wisdom in India’s strategic community is that it is better to do business with the military than with politicians, as an elected representative has to anyway get clearance for all decisions from the military. In that sense Gen. Musharraf was seen as the ideal, providing a single-window clearance in his double role as president and army chief. With Pakistan’s new dispensation, New Delhi has to navigate the “troika” of prime minister, president and army chief. The possibility of the tense relations between the president and the prime minister is not ruled out. With the way the election result has turned out, possible partners of the new government such as the PML(N) also need to be taken into account as e additional power centres. But the flip side is the broadening of the peace process to include all those with a stake in it, instead of dealing with just one man, however convenient that might have been. From the beginning of the peace process, India emphasized contact between the peoples of the two countries as the best way forward on all issues, including Kashmir. With a people’s government about to take charge in Islamabad for the first time in several years, there is now an opportunity to give new meaning to that worn down phrase “people-to-people contact”.