India’s relations with Pakistan are inching towards normalization. There are, however, still no signs that stability in bilateral relations can be sustained over the long term. Achieving a real breakthrough in India-Pakistan ties requires not just a determined political initiative, but unprecedented bureaucratic imagination and public support. Civil aviation authorities of India and Pakistan will meet this month to discuss the modalities for resuming direct air travel between the two countries. The authorities will discuss also the issue of overflights and the need for rationalization of aeronautic charges. By next month, therefore, air travellers, flying from Delhi to Lahore, for instance, will not have to break journey in a third country. Road links have already been revived and the bus service will undoubtedly prove to be as popular as it was before it was suspended the last time. In addition, the two high commissioners, Mr Shiv Shankar Menon and Mr Aziz Ahmed Khan, have taken their places in Islamabad and New Delhi respectively. Besides these, there has been an unusual growth in people-to-people contacts. Parliamentary delegations from both countries have visited each other and a collection of Indian political leaders, journalists and social activists will be visiting Islamabad soon for a conference. A well-known Pakistani leader from the far right of the political spectrum, Maulana Fazlur Rehman of the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam, visited India earlier this month. The maulana, who was once popularly described as the “father of the taliban”, met the prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and the leader of the opposition, Ms Sonia Gandhi, and a range of other political leaders. He consistently gave the impression that he was someone whom New Delhi could do business with in the future and, more significantly, rejected the use of violence as an instrument for achieving political ends in Jammu and Kashmir.
These are all positive changes, but they do not suggest that India-Pakistan relations have turned around. The fact remains that there is still no timetable for an official dialogue. And while the prime minister has signalled that he would visit Islamabad for the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit, it is not clear whether any bilateral talks will take place in Pakistan. India is still insisting that no formal talks will take place until cross-border terrorism ends. Meanwhile, terrorist attacks continue to take place in Jammu and Kashmir. The peace process between India and Pakistan, if it can be so termed, is still very fragile and needs to be carefully nurtured if it has to survive.