Javid Husain Former Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singhs recent visit to Pakistan to launch his book Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence was an important event in many ways. Perhaps the most important aspect of the visit was his assertion that he had come with a message of peace between India and Pakistan. During the course of his many public appearances he rightly pointed out that India and Pakistan had no option but peace between them if they wanted to save their people from grinding poverty. Equally important was his acknowledgment of the partition of the subcontinent as a reality and the need for India and Pakistan to deal with its consequences in a mature and good neighbourly manner. This was no small thing coming from the former foreign and defence minister of a BJP government, particularly as the right-wing BJPs ideology of Hindu supremacy and its extremist views are well-known. Those views were responsible for Jaswant Singhs expulsion from BJP soon after the publication of his book portraying the Quaid-i-Azam in a positive manner. However, to see the things in proper perspective one also needs to remember that it was Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a BJP Prime Minister, who undertook the historic bus trip to Lahore to start a promising peace process in February 1999 only to be derailed by the disastrous Kargil operation. It appears that Jaswant Singhs views have somewhat evolved since the time he served as the foreign minister of the BJP government under Vajpayee. Former US Deputy Secretary of State under President Clinton, Strobe Talbot, in his book Engaging India quotes him as saying in August 1998 that Pakistan had never really been a cohesive nation or a viable state and never would be; it was an artificial construct, structured out of hate, a stepchild of Uttar Pardesh (p 118). Talbot again referring to Jaswant Singhs views about Pakistan recalls in his book: He called Pakistan the 'avatar of all that was intolerant, aggressive, and terrorising about radical Islam. India, by contrast, was the avatar of all that was benign, inclusive, and tolerant in Hinduism - and Hindutva (p 134). Even Talbot was forced to remark despite his pro-India proclivities that here was the stuff of which vicious circles are made, especially now that both India and Pakistan had brought (nuclear) bombs out of their basements and were likely to brandish them at each other the next time there was a crisis. Despite the foregoing, the message of peace that Jaswant Singh brought must be welcomed for the simple reason that for India and Pakistan mired as they are in widespread poverty, there is no other reasonable choice. Peace between them is the dictate of their geography, their economic compulsion and a strategic imperative now that both of them possess nuclear weapons. The logical corollary of this conclusion is that they must continue to engage each other in a dialogue to build up mutual trust, promote mutual cooperation on a level playing field, overcome their differences, and resolve their disputes peacefully. Pakistan-India dialogue is not a favour that India grants to Pakistan or vice versa. It is simply an inescapable condition for enabling them to live like good neighbours which they must. There will inevitably be obstacles and hiccups in this process of dialogue especially, as some of the former foreign ministers of Pakistan and India pointed out after a meeting in Lahore on April 16, because there are hidden forces both in Pakistan and India that play their part to derail the peace process whenever Islamabad and New Delhi come closer. There is no dearth of bigots and extremists on either side of the border. It should be the joint effort of both Islamabad and New Delhi not to allow those forces to succeed by maintaining the process of dialogue despite the obstacles on the way. Any process of dialogue, to be sustainable and meaningful, must be based on realistic assumptions. Pakistan-India dialogue, if it is to be productive, must be based on sovereign equality and mutual respect. India cannot simply order Pakistan around. Further, India, being the bigger neighbour by far, carries the important responsibility of assuring Pakistan that it is not interested in imposing its wishes and preferences or hegemony on the latter, and that its main interest instead is in cultivating a friendly and cooperative relationship with Islamabad. In short, India will have to give up its past hegemonic mindset. This should logically reflect itself in increased Indian inclination to promote mutual cooperation with Pakistan on a level playing field and to resolve outstanding differences and disputes peacefully. On the other hand, Pakistan must adopt a balanced India policy based on realistic expectations. We must understand that the process of building up a good neighbourly relationship with India would be a long and arduous one. Adventurism sho-uld have no place in our India policy which should be squarely within the framework of recognised principles of inter-state conduct and cognisant of the regional and international security environment. We also need to understand that as the process of dialogue proceeds and mutual trust is built up, minor Pakistan-India differences and disputes will get resolved more easily and in shorter timeframe than complicated issues like Kashmir. To expect a satisfactory solution of the Kashmir dispute in the near future is unrealistic unless we want to settle it on the Indian terms as Musharraf appeared to be doing. That would be peaceful surrender by Pakistan and not peace between India and Pakistan. We should instead have a long-term strategy for the Kashmir dispute anchored in the right of the people of Kashmir to self-determination, the UN resolutions and Pakistans vital strategic interests. Sadly balance in our India policy has not been our strong point. In times of tension, we see in India an implacable enemy bent upon subduing Pakistan - an attitude which feeds jingoism and militarism in the country. In times of relative relaxation in Pakistan-India relations, we swing to the other extreme and start behaving as if we have no problems or disputes with India. In such an exuberant mood, some of our leaders and spokesmen do not desist from even supporting proposals like forming an economic union with India, which would rob us of our economic independence. Some members of our so-called liberal class go to the extent of questioning the very rationale for the creation of Pakistan. For them the following excerpt from a report on the Indian Muslims from the weekly Economist of March 6, 2010, would be instructive: They (Muslims) are among the countrys poorest and least educated people. According to a 2006 government-commissioned report, Muslims are almost as badly off as dalits, Hinduisms former untouchables. In short, while recognising the strategic imperative of peace between Pakistan and India, we must adopt a balanced India policy that avoids the extremes of a confrontationist approach which we cannot afford and acceptance of the Indian hegemony which would make us subservient to New Delhi. The writer is a retired ambassador. Email: javid.husain@gmail.com