He tried his best

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SummaryBut Manmohan Singh will leave the Pakistan relationship in greater flux than he found it.

on the Siachen and Sir Creek disputes were within reach. But the PM was unwilling to either overrule the sceptical bureaucracy or persuade the conservative leadership of the Congress party to go ahead. By the time he was ready to go to Pakistan in early 2007, Musharraf’s power had begun to erode rapidly.

Singh’s persistent efforts to revive the peace process with Pakistan paid some important dividends again in 2012, when the two sides successfully negotiated a road map for the normalisation of trade relations and a liberalisation of the visa regime. Yet, when reports on the mutilation of Indian soldiers on the LoC came to light in January, a panicked establishment overreacted. That, in turn, brought an end to the engagement with Asif Ali Zardari, who had been more eager than most previous leaders to normalise relations with India.

As the Congress becomes more nervous about talks with Pakistan and UPA 2’s political stock begins to evaporate, Singh’s New York encounter with Sharif was bound to be tentative. While some small steps may yet be possible under Singh, it will now be up to the next government to develop a coherent strategy towards Pakistan.

Singh’s successor, however, might find the going even tougher, as our northwestern frontiers become more volatile in the months ahead. Posturing for domestic audiences on Pakistan in election year is easy. But dealing with the challenges emanating from an increasingly unstable Pakistan will not be. And if we don’t draw the right lessons from Manmohan Singh’s failures, there will be no end to the tragedy of India’s Pakistan policy.

The writer is a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation and a contributing editor for ‘The Indian Express’

express@expressindia.com

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