On Tuesday, the leaders of India and Pakistan met on the sidelines of a regional summit in Russia. It was their first face-to-face meeting since the terrorist attacks in Mumbai (Bombay) last November, when Pakistani-based militants murdered nearly 160 civilians.
India's recently re-elected Manmohan Singh, arrived at the summit buoyed by his Congress Party's sweeping victory in India's May elections. Pakistan's Asif Ali Zardari arrived at the meeting tempered by the rapid Talibanization of his country – a civilian leader in control of less and less in a country traditionally managed by its armed forces. The meeting, even after Pakistan's government once again feebly looked the other way this month and released the head of the militant organization that claimed responsibility for the Mumbai attacks, underscored the fact that the Taliban are now everyone's problem.
What happened in Mumbai in November is the most recent reminder of the dangers that emanate from Pakistan's raging Islamic militancy problem. That is why India must seize this moment with its politically united electorate to take away the jihadists' raison d'être for destabilizing India – Kashmir.
Riddled with insurgent violence, corruption, and official intimidation, the region has long been disputed by the two countries, including two wars over its status.
Historically, the moments at which peace was most possible between the nuclear-armed neighbors were when hawkish leaders were pragmatic enough to see the mutual benefit in making peace without compromising security.
Atal Behari Vajpayee, India's prime minister in 2000, and Pakistan's military strongman, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, nearly reached a framework for ending the Kashmir dispute. Mr. Singh and General Musharraf almost did so again in the back-channel diplomacy that took place between 2004 and 2007 before the general embroiled himself in domestic controversy.
The conditions for making peace could not be better.
Mr. Zardari does not see India as an existential threat. Singh has a political mandate strong enough to overcome Pakistan's repeated failures to control its home-grown extremists. Zardari sees an advantage in commercial ties that rise far above the importance his Army places on using jihadists as a foreign-policy tool to maintain a grip on Afghanistan or to intimidate India.
Singh and Zardari need to strike a bold compact to solve their problems – now. Tuesday's meeting in the Urals, which will be followed up by a meeting between the foreign secretaries of the two nations, should lead to a peace summit that demands both sides prepare major positions as opposed to taking incremental steps to solve their myriad problems.
Incrementalism will not work in South Asia's political atmosphere anymore. The terrorists are too well armed, too well paid, and too many to leave well enough alone.
If this moment to make peace is not seized with the same gusto with which the terrorists take innocent life, they will strike yet again in a way that ensures peace is not allowed to mature.
Singh and Zardari need to understand that their worst enemy in making peace is not the terrorist – it is time itself.
The Indo-Pakistani summit should have a three-point agenda.
Security & counterterrorism cooperation
India and Pakistan should resume the high-level intelligence cooperation that existed in 2004 when unprecedented personal trust between the intelligence chiefs of both countries allowed critical data feeds to counter planned terrorist attacks.
Today, an institutional approach that builds confidence at all levels of the military and intelligence bureaucracy is needed – sort of an equivalent of America's IMET military education program, which trained Pakistan's Army officers in the United States and created sustainable relations between the two countries. This though, would involve the intelligence agencies.
India needs to clarify its objectives in Afghanistan, which it says are aimed at stabilizing a country beset by extremism and which Pakistan says is a strategy aimed at encircling it on its eastern and western borders. If India's motives are pure, it should invite Pakistan to monitor such efforts transparently.
Pakistan needs to muster some courage and send the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to India to stand trial – no ifs, ands, or buts.
Singh is an advocate of creating economic empowerment zones. He and Zardari should cross-pollinate their border with mini free-trade zones designed to trade those goods and services that each country produces for valuable trade in the other. The list of goods is long, and the amount of trade could be large enough to stabilize Pakistan and give India another important market for its goods.
Afghanistan would also eventually benefit from such trade flows, and if American diplomacy succeeded in Iran, that large marketplace could also be brought into the network.
Singh is an expert in microfinance. He should therefore expand microfinance's role in the entire region by creating an India-Afghanistan-Pakistan joint venture with the World Bank that provides microfinance at a slightly larger scale ($1,000 per loan as opposed to less than $100) to improve employment ratios. Creating jobs is the key harbinger of success in combating extremism throughout South Asia.
If India wants to play in Afghanistan, this is what it should be doing. Pakistan should use its US government aid to mirror Indian efforts aimed at creating jobs that enable increased trade activities with India.
Resolution of this seemingly intractable problem lies in economically empowering the Kashmiri people enough to determine their own political fate. This process will take time but could result in a smoother transition to permanent peace than the perpetual standoff between Indian security forces and Kashmiri militants imposes on daily life in the Kashmir valley.
Self-determination was the historic platform on which Pakistan diplomatically supported, and militarily manipulated, the Kashmir impasse until now.
It could become the skirt behind which Pakistan withdraws in dignity. Two things need to happen: India needs to be prepared to systematically reduce its troops' presence, replacing military might and intimidation with economic growth and opportunity. And Pakistan must be prepared to end support for the jihadists.
In any discussion on Kashmir, India and Pakistan need to agree on a larger framework for the reduction of tensions along their eastern border – from the Indian Ocean to the Siachen Glacier. Troop reductions will encourage trade flows and enable Pakistan to divert the much-needed resources of its embattled Army to fighting the Taliban and other domestic terror groups on its own soil.
Rarely does history offer second and third chances to men of goodwill to resolve intractable problems. Such an opportunity has been afforded to Singh and Zardari. A durable framework from previous negotiations exists, the atmosphere between India and Pakistan is improving, and the timing could not be more opportune.
They must rise to the occasion, for the sake of their peoples' dignity and prosperity, and for the sake of durable and lasting peace in a region that is home to nearly a quarter of humanity.
Mansoor Ijaz jointly authored the blueprint for a cease-fire between Indian security forces and Muslim militants in Kashmir in July and August 2000.