Lest they catch the evil eye, India and Pakistan appear to have thought it fit to inch forward in modest degrees rather than make bold strides for sane neighbourly relations; arrangements taken for granted in more amenable parts of the world, like a liberalised visa regime, have to be extruded and extracted out of laborious and protracted bureaucratic processes spanning months and years, and then consummated with solemn summitry to convey a sense of achievement. Not exactly having lived as countries-next-door, the duo can be forgiven lip-smacking satisfaction at the foreign minister-level talks now underway and the fruits thereof, but even this unaccustomed cosiness will take a little getting used to in systems brought up on hidebound traditions. The process underway has rightly been termed normalisation for the abnormal state of affairs existing between nations sharing thousands of miles of border, centuries of history, and roots of culture and civilization embedded deep in their psyche. Their founding fathers had envisaged none of the chronic attrition, acrimony and mistrust now sought to be dismantled with such painful slowness. Given the fact that they had parted vowing to live as brothers, the grotesque path their relationship took immediately afterwards flies in the face of everything Gandhi and Jinnah had aspired for their peoples. Neither survived long enough to see the enmity they loathed and despised take hold so tenaciously as to define their relationship for more than half-a-century. And there is no foretelling, even now, whether their respective and distinct quarrels with history will be put to an end.
It must not escape notice that fields which they have now identified for mutually beneficial cooperation are as basic and natural for neighbours to pursue as agriculture, education, environment, health, information, IT and telecom, science and technology, and tourism. It is a measure of the absurdity of the gulf between them that the neighbours, living literally within earshot of each other, have begun taking tentative steps on these logical fields only after six long decades and more. Even in a far less-than-ideal world, such cooperation should have been long achieved and built upon into other arenas rather than still being the subject of reactivation of Joint Commissions and deliberations of Technical Level Working Groups. It would have been imprudent to expect any more than ritual and customary platitudes on Kashmir when slightly less contentious issues like Sir Creek, Siachen and the Tulbul Navigation Project merited nothing more than the time-tested phraseology of further discussion. Surprisingly, another incremental step related to expanding cross-LoC travel to pilgrimage and tourism has not attracted much attention in Kashmir, particularly when both sides have agreed to reduce the clearance time for applications to not more than 45 days. The moot question, therefore, is whether to evaluate the emerging Indo-Pak relationship through the incremental progress in prosaic fields or the lack of it in ticklish issues. It could be that the two sides are finally in accord on their engagement being a graduated process and unhampered by issues on which agreement would be difficult.
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