The accord aims to open up new channel of communication between the two rival nations. It will encourage regular contact between India's military-funded Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis and Pakistan's state-run Institute for Strategic Studies.
MENON: Given the enormity of the problems since these two countries became independent in 1947, we have to realistically look at baby steps. So, for instance, the exchange diplomats and visits by heads of state. There have been a number of symbolic or small developments that have helped ease tensions between these two countries in the last five or six years, restoration of bus connections, the visit of President Musharraf. He's proposals for using detention in Kashmir. So this is yet another one of those steps, and I think it can gradually make a difference, however, not to attach too much significance to it.
It is welcome, in the sense, that both of the institutes concerned are closely connected to the government. So this is not something spontaneously done by a group of academics that I decide.
LAM: I guess the question also is how useful is it for both governments? How much insider access do academics have to official policy?
MENON: Hm, it can vary. I think both of these think tanks are consulted regularly by their governments. In the case of the IDSA, the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis in India. From its very inception, it has been led by former senior civil servants or retired military officers and it's well known to play a consulting and advisory role to governments, although it is a free standing think tank. More or less, the same is true of the other institution involved. So it's more than an academic exchange, but I think exchanges of this nature on multiple levels is always a good thing, given particularly the turmoil in Pakistan now and the fact that these two countries are nuclear weapons countries that have fought wars in the past.
LAM: Indeed, do you think that the regional climate in South Asia has changed so much that it's imperative that both India and Pakistan head towards rapprochement?
MENON: Without question, with the situation deteriorating in Afghanistan, with the turmoil in Pakistan, the last thing we need in South Asia is a confrontation between India and Pakistan, not only because they have nuclear weapons, but let's assume for a moment they didn't. That would really muddy the waters and make everything much, much worse.