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Indo-Pak Watch: Mr Singh's problems

India's PM pays a political price for a happy moment.

Almost everyone in India sees the inclusion of Balochistan in the joint statement as an enormous faux pas. “If, as the PM claims, India is doing nothing in Balochistan, why give it away?” Karnad asked.

It’s widely believed in India that Indian intelligence action in Pakistan ended in 1997 when Inderjit Gujral, then prime minister, ordered a cessation of activities conducted by the Research and Analysis Wing, or RAW, India’s prime intelligence agency.

Pakistan’s accusation is seen here as propaganda. Moreover, Indian analysts insist that RAW is incompetent next to its much more powerful counterpart, the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence, or ISI.

“Over the years, the entire India-Pakistan situation has been simplified to the good guys wear white hats, the bad guys wear black hats,” said Jug Suraiya, a political commentator and op-ed columnist whose liberal views earn him plenty of hate mail. “We consider ourselves pure martyrs. It’s a very juvenile attitude.” India and Pakistan have gone to war three times already, in 1948, 1965 and 1971. Three border conflicts over land and water have remained unresolved 62 years after partition and independence.

The Indian prime minister has often expressed his desire to see a change in the angry, sub-continental relationship. In early 2007 he famously stated that he dreamt of a day when “one can have breakfast in Amritsar, lunch in Lahore and dinner in Kabul.”

Has the recent commotion weakened the prime minister? Unlikely.

“He is deeply committed to India’s economic and social development,” Suraiya argues. “He does bring in fresh ideas. I think he realizes that one of the problems India faces is its obsessive relationship with Pakistan, and he feels it should be a more constructive engagement.”

Outside the brouhaha over Sharm el Sheik, the prime minister is likely one of the most respected citizens of India, and one of the most respected Indian citizens in Pakistan. He has seen India through its greatest economic reform yet, signed a commercial nuclear energy deal with the Unites States and is on the hunt for a solution to a conflict as old as modern India.

From Amritsar to Delhi to Kabul on a one-day food binge isn’t likely to happen in Manmohan Singh’s lifetime, but it’s a goal future generations of South Asians will likely applaud.