Gah, a farming community of 300 squat, mud-brick homes about 60 miles southwest of Islamabad, is remarkable only as the birthplace of Manmohan Singh, the prime minister of India. Last month Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardariinvited Singh to visit Gah in the latest round of so-called “soft diplomacy” between the nuclear-armed countries.
The offer comes as their relationship is slightly improving, at least on trade matters. India’s decision last week to allow investments from Pakistani citizens and companies was taken as another sign of progress, but there has been no lowering of the guard militarily by either side.
This is Pakistan’s second such goodwill invitation to Singh. He had planned to come several years ago at the request of then-military ruler Pervez Musharraf, who embraced a peace process with India in 2004, when Singh assumed office.
Under Musharraf, money flowed into Gah from the Punjab provincial government that was dominated by Musharraf’s party, funding roads, water projects and social service facilities. Pakistan permitted a team of Indian technicians from an energy institute to come to Gah to install solar-powered street lamps, lighting for homes and a hot-water system for the village mosque.
Then Singh’s visit was scrubbed in 2007 amid the political turmoil that led to Musharraf’s ouster in 2008. The attacks on Mumbai that November — which India blamed on Pakistan-sanctioned militants — severely strained a bilateral relationship already burdened by old enmities and suspicions.
Diplomats suspended regular talks on territorial disputes, including the central one of Kashmir, the Muslim-majority Himalayan region over which India and Pakistan have gone to war three times since both nations became independent from Britain 65 years ago.
Funds for Gah’s projects were cut. Already-constructed schools and other facilities were never staffed.
‘It’s all been a waste’
In the impoverished village, news of another invitation to Singh revived both hopes and lingering disappointments.
“We resent that there was no follow-through,” said Ghulam Murtaza, a 38-year-old primary school teacher, standing outside the shuttered health clinic. “As a result you see nothing here, and it hurts the poor people.”
His family donated land for the site of the boys’ high school, he said, when the Punjab government asked the community for help. “We kept our promises, and they have not. It’s all been a waste.”
To Abdul Khaliq, 51, a village leader who has long pushed for economic development, a visit by Singh would highlight a yearning among ordinary Pakistanis: “We very much want peace,” he said. “We believe that both countries need to sit together to resolve the issues, to spend more on the development side, not the defense side.”