The new Indian government headed by Deve Gowda was offered an olive branch by Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto through her offer to meet and discuss all matters including Kashmir.
The Indian government's response to the offer has also been satisfactory. Improved relations between India and Pakistan are vital to the economic and social well-being of both countries. They also contribute to the security and stability of a region which has been plagued with tension over the past few decades.
The coalition government in India has many domestic problems to solve. It does not need any further problem, especially a foreign one. The fragile government has to hold together to work out a comprehensive program for the economic betterment of the masses. India is a large country with a huge rate of unemployment, illiteracy and a widening gap between the rich and the poor. On the other side of the border lives an equally poor population whose aspirations for a better life similar to their South Asian neighbors are held back because of the shenanigans of power-hungry politicians, babus, zamindars, pirs and fakirs.
Hysterical outbursts of jingoistic proportions are made by self-centered and power-hungry individuals. These affect the ignorant masses. The result is chaos.
The problem is compounded by the question of Kashmir. This landlocked area has been the bitter scene of struggle by the two countries. However, the Kashmiris themselves have woken up and decided to exercise their right of self determination free from the influence of the two sides. However, the clamp down on their just struggle has resulted in bloodshed.
Kashmiris are now openly demanding a voice of their own. It is important that Gowda hears this voice. It is equally important that he adopt a realistic approach to the whole problem.
India's rejection of extremism and the victory of the secular forces is a feather in its cap. A nation whose richness lies in its diversity of culture, myriad customs and religions cannot and should not be put in danger by the ravings and ranting of fascists like Bal Thackeray and L.K. Advani.
It is important that the Kashmir issue be looked upon as a problem of people rather than a religion. To do that will upset the Indian apple cart. On the other hand, the government in Pakistan should ease its rhetoric of liberating Kashmir. Let Kashmiris do that through their own means. Whether they use the bullet or the ballot depends on India's new government.
Enough blood has been shed in the Valley. Thousands of Kashmiri men, women and children have been killed or crippled for life by oppressive Indian army. Pakistanis have people nearer to liberate. There are the thousands of bonded laborers who have been reduced to a life of slavery.
An AFP report recently mentioned 70 bonded laborers who were recaptured by a landlord from a police station. This sad incident reflect the sorry state of affairs in the land of the "Paak." Corruption on both sides of the fence has dented the economy making it almost irreparable.
Both countries can learn a lot from each other. It is important that they seize this new found opportunity to get together to work jointly for the betterment of the people. South Asian countries have became economic tigers. Let these two be the cubs of Asia. But before that they have to be nurtured. And you can't do that through vitriolic juices such as were forced down the throats of the Indian masses by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and other extremists who painted Hitler as a saint!
The news that Pakistan has decided to open trade with India will be welcomed by well-wishers of the people of the sub-continent. Apart from trade, cultural and sport exchanges will help boost normal relations.
The thorny nuclear issue should be settled once for all. Both countries should seriously look into the matter. Rejection of this option is too simple a matter. However, stability cannot be brought about without removing the fear of a "first strike". It is unfortunate that many writers and media people contribute to the tension between the two countries. Unfortunately it is more so on the Indian side.
If the scribes of the two countries meet in a free and frank atmosphere much of the venom that goes for ink in their reports will go away.
As an close observer of the sub-continent for many years, I am pained by the large number of historic opportunities that have been let go by both sides. This has resulted in the adding of misery on the home front. While other countries speak of economic progress and development and make use of words like vision, reality and focus, the people of the sub-continent have to deal with words like bandh, gherao, jalao, morcha and strikes. It is high time they made a change in their semantics.
The one billion people of the sub-continent deserve that.