AS the Pakistan-India peace process — or at least the shaky beginnings of the latest round — moves forward, several questions swirl over the direction it will take. Of course, in a relationship as complex as this, and with disputes going back over seven decades, peacemaking will not be easy, and there will be pitfalls aplenty before any workable agreement is reached.

Even over the last few weeks there have been many ups and downs, with the first positive sign in a long time coming in late February, when both sides agreed to silence their guns along the LoC. This was followed by an exchange of pleasantries and public pronouncements calling for peace in the region from the highest offices in both capitals, along with a decision by Pakistan to import Indian sugar and cotton. However, shortly afterwards, the trade plan was nixed.

Now, two fresh developments have posed further questions. Firstly, the Foreign Office has said the Saarc summit, due to be held in Pakistan in October, can take place if “artificial obstacles” are removed, in a thinly veiled reference to India. In the second, more ominous development, the US National Intelligence Council has said Pakistan and India may “stumble” into a large-scale war within the next five years.

Read: Pakistan-India backchannel move inches forward

Regarding the American assertion, while it has an alarmist ring to it, it is not without substance. After all, just over two years ago both states came close to conflict following India’s Balakot misadventure, while some of New Delhi’s top generals have been issuing combative statements against Pakistan. Be that as it may, for the time being it seems that temperatures are coming down, and the jury remains out on what and who has triggered the latest desire for peace. The fact is that the latest thaw offers both Islamabad and New Delhi a chance to show the world that they are interested in long-term peace. And more than creating a soft image for the international audience, both sides owe it to their people to forge a peaceful path based on coexistence and friendship.

However, beyond rhetoric, there are some very serious issues standing in the way of peace, namely Kashmir, as the FO has highlighted. For there to be long-lasting peace, the Kashmir question will have to be addressed in a manner acceptable to the people of the region. Experts note that everything — including Kashmir — can be resolved if there is a will in both capitals. Indeed some, such as Manmohan Singh’s special envoy Satinder Lambah, who was previously involved in backchannel talks and was quoted in the papers the other day, have endorsed this form of secret diplomacy. Perhaps the best option is to continue with such parleys in the hopes of achieving a breakthrough that can be publicised at the right time, while reiterating our stance that repression must end in held Kashmir.

Published in Dawn, April 12th, 2021

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