Reluctance to talk

February 09, 2019


PAKISTAN and India have finally agreed on an itinerary of reciprocal visits to iron out details regarding the opening of the Kartarpur border for Sikh pilgrims. The visits are going to take place in March in the wake reminders and expressions of hope by peace-loving observers that the officials will be able to conclude the affair amicably and without too much hassle. These calls reflect concerns over the delay in finalising the details of an initiative that appeared within grasp when it was announced some time ago. It had been hailed as a crucial moment in history, a possible point of departure from old, enslaving positions. A few weeks later, it is quite remarkable how much effort has been put into proving just the opposite. Pakistan had been accused of not fully committing to talks in the past but now it is Pakistan which blames India for foot-dragging — and with reason. It is clear the Indians are not keen on expanding the Kartarpur opportunity. So often in the past, even the smallest thaw in Pakistan-India ties was followed by efforts to thwart progress. This approach is apparent in hawkish elements who oppose peace and clearly do not want too many thoughts of normal neighbourly ties collecting in impressionable minds on either side of the border.

Pakistan says it has been pushing hard for talks in recent weeks, but it has also predicted that the Indian side will not respond to the invitation positively. Only last Wednesday, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi reiterated the point in an exclusive interview with Sky News. Much of the interview, inevitably, was about the Kashmir cause and Mr Qureshi had little difficulty in highlighting it at a time when international concerns regarding the occupied valley have been rising as India continues to use violent force to silence the Kashmiri people demanding liberty. The minister quite rightly pointed out that the Kashmiris’ alienation from India had touched new levels and that the occupier forces were fighting a lost war.

It is the intensity of the war against a people long demanding their right to self-determination, the madness of it all, which lends instant credibility to Islamabad’s explanation of why India is not ready to open a wide-ranging dialogue with Pakistan at this time and why Delhi is so eager to contain the effects of its agreement to open the Kartarpur border. Apparently, the mood in the ranks of the ruling party in Delhi is that a strong-arm image in occupied Kashmir will help it in garnering votes in India’s general election due in a few months’ time. Indeed, it is primarily the election that does not allow the Narendra Modi government to acknowledge that ultimately it is only dialogue that can resolve all problems. A worse advertisement for democracy is difficult to find.

Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2019