This month has seen significant developments in the hope for peace and stability in South Asia. President Zardari traveled to Delhi for one-on-one talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Both sides reported that the meeting went very well, and Prime Minister Singh has accepted an invitation from the Pakistani president to visit Pakistan soon.
The bilateral meeting preceded an unrelated trade fair in New Delhi where Pakistani businesses showed off their products to Indian buyers and investors, and India opening up to foreign investment from Pakistan “to deepen our economic engagement.”
But it isn’t just economic ties that have improved recently. President Zardari’s trip almost didn’t happen after an avalanche buried over 100 Pakistani soldiers stationed on the remote Siachen glacier a few days prior.
The tragedy at Siachen served as a stark reminder of the decades-long military standoff that has dominated security concerns in the region, diverting vast resources to defense budgets in both Pakistan and India. From Delhi, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari Tweeted, “It is such a shame tht 2 countries w/ such large segments of our population live in desperate poverty must spend so much on weapons” – a sentiment soon echoed by Pakistan’s military chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
“Peaceful coexistence between the two neighbours is very important so that everybody can concentrate on the well-being of the people,” he told reporters…“We in the army understand very well that there should be a very good balance between defence and development. You cannot be spending on defence alone and forgetting about development,” he said.
“Ultimately the security of a country is not only that you secure boundaries and borders but it is when people that live in the country feel happy, their needs are being met. Only in that case will a country be truly safe.” He said national security should be a comprehensive concept.
In a further sign of progress, India’s Defense Minister, M.M. Pallam Raju, welcomed Gen. Kayani’s remarks.
With general elections expected in Pakistan next year and the year after in India, either government could change hands. Fortunately, the political environment appears to have changed to such an extent that even President Zardari’s biggest rival, Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) President Nawaz Sharif praised Zardari’s visit to Delhi and encouraged further efforts to improve bilateral relations.
Looking back over the past four years of democratic rule, Pakistanis are asking themselves what democracy has delivered. With the economy and internal security situation suffering from the effects of terrorism, it is a complicated question for many. A breakthrough on resolving longstanding differences with India, however, could lay the foundation for a new era of peace and prosperity in the region. That’s a success many long believed unachievable.