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Pak-India peace: one step back

Updated April 09, 2016


High Commissioner to India Abdul Basit has spoken plainly, but sensibly about the state of Pak-India relations.

As Mr Basit acknowledged, the dialogue process is effectively suspended, the fallout from the Pathankot attack having derailed plans for a rapid resumption of talks.

Perhaps if tragic events had not intervened and prevented Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from travelling to the US, a prime ministerial meeting with Narendra Modi could have been a catalyst to the resumption of dialogue.

Instead, now the Pathankot investigation and new demands for a reciprocal visit to Pakistan by Indian investigators threaten to further entangle the two sides.

Editorial: Pak-India peace process

The good news is that both Mr Sharif and Mr Modi have proven that they are willing to take risks and can do the unexpected. The bad news is that the bilateral relationship is slipping back into a familiar and unwelcome pattern: going round in circles.

For dialogue to resume, the foreign secretaries need to meet and the political leaderships of both countries need to provide the necessary impetus.

Inside Pakistan, Prime Minister Sharif has clearly lost some of the momentum he had created on the India front.

From furious debate over the role of Indian spies inside Pakistan to the constant reassertion that the Kashmir dispute must be the centrepiece of any talks around which all other issues must resolve, the political environment inside Pakistan is not dialogue-enhancing at the moment. Yet, as Mr Basit said in New Delhi, there is a national consensus here that a normal and peaceful relationship with India is desirable.

Examine: ‘Pakistan has backtracked on NIA visit’

The key for Mr Sharif will be to find space for bilateral dialogue while reassuring the security establishment and hawkish elements in society that he intends to pursue talks on the basis of equality.

The mutual interests of India and Pakistan are many — the political leadership here needs to do a better job of finding a way of articulating that through its policy and public relations, too.

Over in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi needs to re-embrace the inescapable logic of dialogue.

Having baulked at talks for over a year after taking office, Mr Modi appeared to recognise the futility of his approach. Not talking to Pakistan was never going to address India’s self-confessed immediate concern — terrorism.

If that was true in the lengthy wake of the Mumbai attacks, it is doubly true of Pathankot.

Pakistan has demonstrated an unprecedented willingness to investigate the roots of the attack inside this country and to address India’s concerns.

The Pathankot investigation can be accommodated inside the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue and the 10 bundles of that dialogue can begin to move.

No one expects an overnight solution to the Kashmir dispute or for terrorism to be defeated immediately. But not talking now only puts off the day peace can be realised — and allows spoilers to appear.

Published in Dawn, April 9th, 2016