Wishful thinking

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What will be new about 2011? Can it be possible that for an Indian passport-holder like me, going to Lahore becomes as simple as going to Lucknow? Can you be able to commute easily from Karachi to Kanpur? Can Kashmir uh, lets face it: Kashmir wont be solved in our lifetime. But is India-Pakistan peace possible? Readers, I have a New Year wish. Im not asking for the impossible. In 2011, I just want to see this report in my favorite daily, The New York Times written by somebody like Carlotta Gall.

Indian Premier Visits Pakistan to Reinforce Ties

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singhs 3-day visit to Islamabad, Pakistani officials said, was aimed at strengthening the strategic partnership and economic cooperation between the two neighboring countries, even if the Kashmir dispute festers on.

On Monday in a glittering ceremony, attended by President Asif Ali Zardari and army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Prime Minister Singh and Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, an agreement was signed to facilitate visa-free travel between India and Pakistan. Well do everything to assuage Indias apprehensions about its fears that terror networks in Pakistan are trying to create havoc in its cities, agencies quoted General Kayani telling to reporters.

On Saturday afternoon, Prime Minister Gilani and members of his cabinet welcomed Mr. Singh at Chaklala Air Base in neighboring Rawalpindi. A red carpet was rolled out and elaborate ceremonies were held to signify the importance Pakistan attaches to India, which, a year ago was considered a rival, but now a close ally.

Friendship with India is in the best interest of our nation, Mr. Gilani was quoted as saying by local media as he welcomed his Indian counterpart.

Apart from holding meetings with Mr. Gilani and President Zardari, Mr. Singh addressed a special joint session of the Parliament on Sunday.

Pakistans cultural ties with India are strong and Bombay movies are released in Karachi and Lahore the same day they open in Mumbai and Delhi. Similarly, Pakistani musicians enjoy rock-star popularity in India. Since January 2011, economic matters have gained importance. Trade and energy have taken precedence in Pakistans relations with India. The suspicions are fast receding. India is showing sensitivity towards Pakistans concerns about its strife-ridden Balochistan province, and Pakistan has agreed in principle to deport Mumbai-born gangster Dawood Ibrahim to India. Both nations have committed to jointly spend their resources in the peace and prosperity of Afghanistan. Leaders of both countries, however, agreed to disagree about the others position on Kashmir.

Mr. Singh was accompanied by 60 business executives, including some of his countrys richest industrialists such as Mukesh Ambani and Ratan Tata. Mr. Tata signed an MoU with the Sindh chief minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah. His company Tata Motors is to set up a factory in the outskirts of Karachi, which will manufacture the Jaguar cars. The factory will provide employment to about 10,000 people.

Pakistani officials say there is a need to enhance trade between the countries that stands around $2 billion a year. According to some estimates, after an unexpected blossoming of relations between the two hostile nations, trade between the two neighbours could increase to $42 billion annually by the year-end.

The relationship is undergoing a qualitative change, said Raza Rumi, a columnist based in Lahore. India now understands that a stable, peaceful and happy Pakistan is necessary if it wants to be a superpower.

While there are still issues to be sorted out between the two nations, most notably the Kashmir dispute, there is a growing realisation that too many lives and too many resources have been wasted in the hostility.

Addressing the Pakistan-China Business Summit in Islamabad on Saturday, Mr. Singh praised Pakistans sacrifices in combating terrorism and extremism, words that were in stark contrast to what Pakistanis were used to hearing from across the border as late as last year. Pakistan is paying a great price in combating terrorism, Mr. Singh said. But all Indians hope that Pakistan will emerge successfully and become great as was envisaged by its founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, he said as delegates burst into applause. Mr. Singh said the new partnership between India and Pakistan suits best the national interests of the peoples of the two countries.

Addressing the special session of Pakistans National Assembly, Mr. Singh said, From now onwards we will always be friends. A standing ovation followed. Mr. Singh spoke of the great Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan describing him as a household name in India.

On Monday night President Zardari hosted a lavish banquet of Kashmiri wazwan for Mr. Singh. Incidentally, all the dishes were vegetarian in keeping with the dietary sensibilities of Gursharan Kaur, Mr. Singhs wife. Besides a smattering of Pakistans most popular politicians, actors and writers, the banquet was attended by Indian tennis star Sania Mirza and her Pakistani husband, cricketer Shoaib Malik. Before the dinner started, Karachi-based poet Zehra Nigha, who was a special invitee, recited this composition, especially written for the occasion:

Mulayam garm samjhaute ki chadar

Yeh chadar mein ne barson mein buni hai

Kahin bhi sach ke gul boote nahi hai

Kissi bhi jhooth ka taanka nahin hai

Issi se main bhi tan dhak loongi apna

Issi se tum bhi aasooda rahoge

Na khush hoge, na pashmarda hoge

(Warm and soft, this blanket

Of compromise has taken me years to weave

Not a single flower of truth embellishes it

Not a single false stitch betrays it

It will do to cover my body though

And it will bring comfort too,

If not joy, nor sadness to you)

The columnist is a Delhi-based writer and photographer. He runs a blog called Pakistan Paindabad. He can be contacted at [email protected]