Pak-India dialogue

Published April 28, 2016

ONCE upon a time, a mere several months ago, a meeting between the foreign secretaries of Pakistan and India was meant to herald the start of the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue. That meeting has yet to take place.

Instead, the foreign secretaries, Aizaz Chaudhry and Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, met on the sidelines of an Afghanistan-focused conference in New Delhi and, from competing official accounts in Pakistan and India, sounded every bit the politicians that they are not meant to be.

Clearly, Mr Chaudhry and Mr Jaishankar were sent into the meeting with orders to take a tough line. Both men obliged, at least when it came to the public component of the meeting.

Perhaps they also discussed the possibility of getting started on the CBD and suggested ways to deal with the hurdles in the way of a full-fledged dialogue. But it is not an auspicious day for South Asia when the senior-most Foreign Office bureaucrats engage more in brinkmanship than diplomacy.

What the Delhi interaction suggests is that both Pakistan and India need to rethink their turn away from dialogue. Consider the Indian demands that Mr Jaishankar presented.

The focus on terrorism is neither new nor surprising, but what the Indian side appears to have forgotten is that the logic of combating terrorism means continuing to talk to Pakistan. It is likely because the Pathankot air base attack occurred after the two countries had agreed to resume dialogue that Pakistan has extended unprecedented cooperation to India.

Dialogue offers incentives to respond to each other’s concerns as well as opportunities to do so. More than a year of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s insistence about talking first and only about terrorism yielded nothing — it was only when he spoke unexpectedly and strongly in favour of dialogue that anti-terror cooperation between the two countries became a possibility. If Mr Modi was bold once, he should again embrace the irrefutable logic of dialogue.

On the Pakistani side, the hawkishness of the security establishment that is once again growing uncomfortably visible needs to be rethought.

The concerns about external interference in Balochistan have existed for many years and are unlikely to have been exacerbated only in recent months. And there are ways and means to address those concerns, diplomatically and through counter-intelligence.

Moreover, the capture of an Indian spy has given Pakistan leverage that it can use to address the matter at the level it deserves. Surely, as the Pakistani side insists, with fundamental disputes yet to be resolved, the bilateral relationship cannot be held hostage to a single issue.

There are also the events in India-held Kashmir of recent days. The severe and dangerously repressive steps that the Indian government is taking there ought to be the real focus right now of Pakistan’s efforts to get New Delhi to be more responsive to legitimate concerns.

Published in Dawn, April 28th, 2016

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