Despite an apparent thaw last month, relations between India and Pakistan remain frozen, poisoned by the bitterness and mutual mistrust carried over from their partition more than 34 years ago.
These suspicions and misapprehensions of each other's motives underlie India's cancellation of a second round of talks on a no-war pact between the two nations, which were due to open in Islamabad March 1. It is unclear when the talks will get started again, though both countries appear to be sending signals that they would like the dialogue to resume.
The reason behind the postponement, however, serves as a vivid reminder of how far New Delhi and Islamabad have to go before there can be an atmosphere of peace and harmony between the two.
India pulled out of the talks on a no-war pact to protest a Pakistani reference to Kashmir--the focus of two of the three wars the two nations have fought since gaining independence--during a discussion on self-determination at a Geneva meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Commission.
The dispute over Kashmir stems from the partition of British India in 1947, when the region, with its Moslem population and Hindu maharajah, was given the choice between staying in India or joining the newly created Islamic nation of Pakistan. The ruler picked India in contrast to what Pakistan felt were the wishes of his people.
The first Indo-Pakistani war was an attempt by Pakistan to wrest Kashmir from Indian control. When that failed, Pakistan turned to the United Nations, which has one of its oldest peace-keeping forces still patrolling a cease-fire line where heavily armed Indian and Pakistani troops face each other.
For the past three decades Pakistan has called for a plebiscite over Kashmir's future, ordered by a U.N. declaration that India now considers obsolete.
Pakistan is well aware that a public reference to Kashmir is a red flag for India, even more so because of a difference in the interpretation of the 1972 Simla accord that ended the last Indo-Pakistani war and is designed to provide a framework for the normalization of relations between the two countries.
New Delhi believes a provision of the Simla agreement precludes Pakistan from mentioning Kashmir in international meetings. Islamabad disagrees, although it generally states that it wants to settle the Kashmir dispute in the spirit of Simla--a town in northwestern India.
Thus a disagreement over what a 10-year-old accord really means has stalled talks on a no-war pact that had a rocky start to begin with.
India expressed grave doubts over Pakistan's sincerity, accusing Islamabad of making the offer last September to curry favor with the U.S. Congress, which was beginning consideration of the sale of F16 jet fighters to Pakistan.
But talks in New Delhi last month between Pakistan's then-foreign minister Agha Shahi and Indian Minister of External Affairs P. V. Narasimha Rao appeared to have cleared some of the mistrust.
Narasimha Rao, however, told the Indian Parliament that Pakistan's "objectionable" statements in Geneva had created a new freeze in Indo-Pakistani relations.
These minor diplomatic tweaks that characterize the history of the Indo-Pakistani rivalry have assumed greater importance since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan 26 months ago moved the front line of East-West confrontation to the Indian subcontinent.
The United States, for instance, traditionally has tried to draw India and Pakistan together and has applauded moves to reach a no-war pact. Moscow, on the other hand, was reported here by the Press Trust of India to have "ridiculed" in a Pravda commentary Pakistan's offer of such an accord "as a mere propagandistic strategy to delude the international public and achieve certain political advantage."
Furthermore, India has achieved the status of a small-scale nuclear power with the capability--until now believed unused--to build atomic weapons. Pakistan's nuclear program, while lagging behind India's, also is believed aimed at achieving nuclear weapon status.
Considering the high stakes involved, Western and nonaligned diplomats here have expressed surprise at India's sharp reaction to what a Pakistani Embassy counsellor here, Riaz H. Khokhar, called the "stock" reference to the settlement of the dispute over Kashmir.
This view now is gaining currency among some Indian political commentators and opposition politicians, who in editorial articles and speeches are pointing to the original reluctance of the government of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to accept Pakistani President Mohammed Zia ul-Haq's offer of talks that could lead to a no-war pact.
Syed Shahabuddin, a former top Indian diplomat who now serves as an opposition member of Parliament, said Gandhi entered the no-war pact talks only under pressure of public opinion here and abroad and then "sought the first available excuse to break off negotiations."
"The no-war pact talks, which had raised the hopes of millions in the subcontinent, had been torpedoed," he said in a long commentary in today's Hindustan Times.
The leader of the opposition Janata Party, Subramanian Swamy, also attacked the government's postponement of talks as a "gross overreaction."
Earlier, syndicated columnist Kuldip Nayar wrote: "The [Indian] government has given the impression that it was looking for a pretext to call off the no-war pact exercise."
A study of the transcript of the Geneva debate lends support to that view.
Shahabuddin pointed out that news stories based on information released here by the Indian Foreign Office "amounted to less than half- truths and may have been inspired to cover up what truly can be called diplomatic excess."
Rather than accepting conventional wisdom here that the two days of acrimonious discussion in Geneva were set off by Pakistan's ambassador, Agha Hilaly, Shahabuddin blamed "excessive zeal" and "unnecessary and intemperate language" by B. R. Bhagat, Hilaly's Indian counterpart, for muddying the waters between the two countries.
"While scoring debating points," Shahabuddin wrote, Bhagat "obviously failed to realize that what was at stake was nothing less than the future of the subcontinent."
There are indications here, however, that New Delhi is trying to use the leverage of promising to reschedule talks as a bargaining chip.
One point being publicly mentioned by commentators here is that India would like to force Pakistan to stop mentioning Kashmir in international meetings.
"In seeking an assurance from Pakistan that it will not resort to another diatribe on Kashmir, India is not trying to humiliate Pakistan, but only ensure that the no-war talks can proceed without interruption," wrote the authoritative political commentator G. K. Reddy of the Hindu, published in Madras.
India "is prepared to wait till Pakistan . . . is ready to adopt an acceptable posture on the Kashmir question," he continued in an indication of both New Delhi's attitude and negotiating posture.