PM to PM

Both India, Pak governments are weak at home. Both know they must keep talking.

Things have got so bad between India and Pakistan that when they talk peace it looks like war. Their prime ministers were to address the 65th annual session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York and then meet on the sidelines on September 29.

On Friday, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made some ill-advised, bellicose, Kashmir-related remarks against India in his speech at the UNGA. On Saturday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh lashed out at Pakistan in his speech. Before they met on Sunday, Sharif reportedly called Singh a “village hag” (sic) off the record and put paid to whatever diplomatic gains he had counted on. After that, the meeting could not be one-on-one.

Back home, the Indo-Pak media war was savage, sharpened by BJP leader Narendra Modi’s explosive reaction to the “village hag” remark. One channel pitted the notoriously visceral Pakistani politician Sheikh Rashid Ahmed against Hindu and Muslim Indians, scoring brownie points while anchors lost their neutral cool.

The New York meeting achieved nothing except a vague agreement on sorting out the recent Line of Control incidents through armies that hate each other. Pakistan’s reference to Indian terrorism in Balochistan was correct but not comparable to India’s globally accepted designation of Pakistan as the epicentre of terrorism, threatening the world, including the US, the EU, India, Russia and China, to say nothing of the Central Asian states, which cower before the Uzbek terrorists trained in Pakistan.

Manmohan Singh’s reaction to an act of terrorism in Jammu on the eve of his meeting with Sharif was brave and statesmanlike, given the negative press he has at home and the populist atmospherics of the coming elections in India. He said he would not be deterred by terrorism while talking peace with Pakistan. While in New York, he met President Barack Obama — who could not find time for his Pakistani counterpart — and agreed to meet Sharif, with caveats against pinning high hopes on the meeting.

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