I am a man of peace, God knows how I love peace; but I hope I shall never be such a coward as to mistake oppression for peace. Kossuth By and large, the SAARC Summits were nothing more than talk shops where the attitude of successive Indian governments impeded the desire for progress in the region - a proposition that can only be achieved if there was peace between India and Pakistan. However, this time more than half of the members present at the 16th SAARC Summit, hosted by Bhutan, were quite optimistic about the prospects of peace between the two nuclear power neighbours. Nevertheless, after 62 years of animosity both India and Pakistan should have learnt that the negotiating table was the best option, whereas in the present times war would mean total destruction of the two neighbouring states. Indeed, successive democratic governments in Pakistan have tried to move forward with India on the critical issue of Jammu and Kashmir but failed because of a particular group in India that exerts immense pressure on its administration forcing it to back pedal on the issue every time the talks begin with Pakistan. For example, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto tried his best to talk to Sardar Swaran Singh, and then Benazir Bhutto with Rajiv Gandhi. Similarly, Mian Nawaz Sharif also made an attempt to improve relations with New Delhi when he invited Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Lahore. Unfortunately, all the efforts of the Pakistani democratic leaders have failed to bear fruit just because the Indians did not have the political will, and their weak governments could not afford to jeopardise their political future by striking even a fair deal with the Pakistani government. Thus, it was no surprise when Manmohan Singh came under severe criticism, after he met with PM Yousuf Raza Gilani, that he was left with no choice but to renege on the promises he had made with Pakistans PM at the NAM Summit. Surprisingly, this time the Indians who had been shying away from talking with Pakistan on various flimsy grounds succumbed to the pressure exerted by the US administration and the European Union. Needless to say that the Indians have substantial economic interests with the US and EU, and therefore were unable to withstand the leverage that exists with them. While it will be prudent to adopt a policy of wait and see with the Indian government, keeping in view their past track record of lies and deception, yet it would be sagacious for the Pakistani government to take two steps forward for every step taken by the Indians in the right direction. The Indian PM has, once again, agreed to start negotiating with Pakistan on all contentious issues, including the outstanding problem of Kashmir. Yet some Indians have tried to drag their feet by claiming that they were not ready to resume the composite dialogue between the two countries. The mere fact that Mr Singh has agreed to visit Pakistan on the invitation of the Pakistani PM has raised a glimmer of hope for those who believe in peace as being the only option for the two countries. Moreover, it is expected that before Manmohan Singh visits Pakistan he will try to convince his people about the gains that both the neighbouring states can achieve by resuming the peace talks. There is still tremendous potential for trade between the two countries and the present visa regimen, which is coercive in nature, can also be relaxed that will help to establish the much needed trust lacking mainly due to Indias anti-Pakistan policies. At the same time, the Government of Pakistan can also relax certain conditions that will help to establish the mutual trust essential to resolve the issues that have dodged India and Pakistan for such a long time. Nevertheless, to establish mutual trust leaders of both countries will have to make concrete efforts to educate their citizens, instead of fanning the fires of animosity. It would be much better if the Indian administration was able to rein in the extremists in their country. Delhi should remember that a vast majority of the Indians are still living without the basic amenities of life, and peace with Pakistan would mean that they could divert the resources to areas like provision of clean drinking water, sanitation, education and basic health. The same formula could be applied by the Pakistanis who could divert substantial amounts of money for the betterment of the poor who live below the poverty line. Only if the leadership in both the countries could realise the dividends that peace will provide to their citizens, it should be an incentive to move towards a goal that would lead to a peaceful settlement on all outstanding issues. It must also be remembered that peace between India and Pakistan will also provide immense economic opportunities to the other six member states of SAARC. During the SAARC Summit, several heads of states have expressed their views on this issue and tried to nudge both India and Pakistan so that they should move faster on the road to peace. They were willing to play any role that was assigned to them for this purpose. This does not mean that peace was round the corner, but it sent a very loud and clear signal to both Singh and Gilani that the demand for peace was not only gaining ground in India and Pakistan, but it was also a demand by their regional neighbours that could help alleviate the sufferings of the poor. However, the question will remain that whether Gilani and Singh were listening attentively, the coming weeks and months will provide the leaders of SAARC with the answer. The writer is a freelance columnist. Email: zarnatta@hotmail.com