Oneupmanship is an ageold, and perhaps, therefore, an accepted game in politics. But it appears to have become the all-important feature of Indo-Pak relations. India made a dozen proposals seven days ago to Pakistan to create a thaw in the relationship. The novelty of those proposals lay in their attempt to engage directly with Pakistanís civil society. It avoided the more heated issues like defence, terrorism, security and so on. It created a pressure on the Pakistan government to allow a greater interchange between the people of the two countries while keeping the more controversial issues at a different level of diplomacy. The government, it could be said, was appropriating the success and the agenda of what has come to be known as track two diplomacy. After a week of anxious waiting, Pakistanís response to the proposals are now at hand. They can at best be described as lukewarm. There is also an overt attempt to tell the Indian government that many of the proposals were first suggested by Pakistan. On some others, the Pakistan government has merely reciprocated Indiaís proposals without trying in any way to build on or advance them. There is something juvenile about a government telling another that it had suggested something first. But, as is well known, most exchanges between India and Pakistan are seldom, if ever, marked by maturity.
It is possible that the Pakistan governmentís response as well as the tone of the reciprocal offers were influenced by a thoughtless remark from Indiaís foreign minister. Speaking to the foreign affairs cell of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Mr Yashwant Sinha made the startling comment that Indiaís latest clutch of peace proposals was nothing more than ďa tactical moveĒ. Mr Sinha may have been trying to please his audience but the timing could not have been worse. To say that the proposals were tactical is merely to overstate the obvious. All moves in foreign policy are made to gain tactical advantage. This is the essence of realpolitik, the mantra of foreign policymaking. But to say this openly when a thaw is being sought to be created is to bestow on the proposals an air of insincerity which only succeeds in arousing the suspicion of the other party. Mr Sinha did this only too well and Pakistan may have played tit for tat.
The Indian government can lament that its gestures of goodwill towards Pakistan are never really reciprocated in equal measure by Islamabad. This has now become par for the India-Pakistan course. This absence of goodwill is remarkable in its contrast to the warmth that the people of Pakistan shower on visiting Indians. The attempt made by India to engage Pakistanís civil society, genuine or tactical or a bit of both, will succeed in increasing that warmth. But whether the proposals will bring about a thaw between the two governments is another matter altogether. There exist enough grounds for scepticism about a stable peace between India and Pakistan. Gestures may create goodwill but not peace.