The restoration of democracy in Pakistan in 2008 did not result in an improvement in its relations with India. Despite the fact that some in the country saw President Zardari as taking a soft tone towards India and the prevalent view that New Delhi would engage more with civilian than military leaders. Dialogue remained hostage to terrorist activity. On 7 July there was a bomb attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul. Indian claims that this bore the hallmarks of the ISI do not appear far from the mark as leaked US cables contain an alleged admission by Mahmood Durrani, the National Security Advisor that the Pakistan Government while not directly involved, did, «Have some contacts with bad guys and perhaps one of them did it» (1). The much more serious terrorist outrage in Mumbai on 26 November 2008 in which Lashkar-e-Toiba ( LeT) was implicated, dealt a grievous blow to the faltering Composite Dialogue process.
The issue of terrorism dominated relations between the countries. In February 2011 at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) conference at Thimpu, however the “pragmatic” decision was taken by the Indian and Pakistan Foreign Secretaries to resume dialogue on “all issues” including defence, security and Kashmir. This was followed up the next month by a meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India and his Pakistan counterpart Yousuf Reza Gilani at the time of the 2011 World Cup Cricket semi-final between India and Pakistan which was held at Mohali. In April 2011 for the first time since the 2008 Mumbai attacks, trade talks began.
In important talks in September 2011 between the Commerce Minister, Makhdoom Amin Fahim and his Indian counterpart Anand Sharma, the announcement was made that India would withdraw its objection to the World Trade Organization concerning EU trade concessions for Pakistani products. Measures were also discussed that would remove non-tariff barrier trade restrictions such as visas and security clearances between the two countries. The goal was set of achieving a bilateral trade target of $6 billion within the next three years.(The current level is around $2.7 billion). The significance Islamabad attached to the visit was seen in the fact that the official delegation was accompanied by 85 leading Pakistani businessmen.
Sustainable progress on trade however, as has been seen in the past, is linked with stable political relationships. In addition to the Kashmir issue, the future of Afghanistan remains a source of potential conflict. Pakistan has been alarmed by the growing India economic, (around $2 billion has been ploughed into the country) and diplomatic presence in its neighbour which some strategists still see as providing ‘strategic depth’ in the eventuality of conflict with India. Islamabad has claimed that Indian consulates in Afghanistan have also been used to provide support for Baloch nationalists who continue to mount a low level insurgency in the resource rich but developmentally deprived province. The Pakistan desire to have leverage in Afghanistan by means of the Haqqani militants has of course created growing tensions with Washington. Many of the anxieties regarding the future of the region and of the competition for influence in Afghanistan between India and Pakistan were laid bare by the Pact signed between President Karzai and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi at the beginning of October 2011. The Afghan President’s visit came just days after the assassination of the former President Burhanuddin Rabbani who was heading talks with the Taliban. Karzai maintained that Pakistan was implicated in this act. The Pact established a regular strategic dialogue between Kabul and New Delhi and importantly allowed for Indian assistance in the training and capacity building of the Afghan National Security Forces.
The issues of terrorism and the future of Afghanistan as much as the long running Kashmir dispute will determine Indo-Pakistan relations in the period up to 2014. The continuing evolving nature of the latter is seen in for example the controversial Kishanganga hydroelectricity project on the River Neelum in Indian Kashmir. There is a whole range of complex issues to be addressed in the coming years if Indo-Pakistan relations are to be set on a more stable basis than in the past. It is certain however that the military’s overweening influence in Pakistan can only be scaled down if there is a normalisation of relations with India.
(1) See, http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/wikileaks-cable-pakistan-asked-fewer-drone... accessed 3 June 2011.