NEW DELHI: Top intelligence officers from Pakistan and India held secret talks in Dubai in January in a fresh effort to calm tensions over Kashmir, according to people with close knowledge of the matter in New Delhi.
But the two governments have reopened a back channel of diplomacy aimed at a modest roadmap to normalising ties over the next several months, the people said.
Kashmir has long been a flashpoint between India and Pakistan, both of which claim all of the region but rule only in part.
Officials from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India’s external spy agency, travelled to Dubai for a meeting facilitated by the United Arab Emirates government, two people said.
Attempts to get confirmation of the reports from Pakistan’s military and India’s foreign ministry drew a blank.
But Ayesha Siddiqa, a defence analyst, said she believed Pakistani and Indian intelligence officials had been meeting for several months in third countries.
“I think there have been meetings in Thailand, in Dubai, in London between the highest level people,” she said. Such meetings have taken place in the past too, especially during times of crises but never been publicly acknowledged.
“There is a lot that can still go wrong, it is fraught,” said one of the people in Delhi. “That is why nobody is talking it up in public, we don’t even have a name for this, it’s not a peace process. You can call it a re-engagement,” one of them said.
“It’s better for India and Pakistan to talk than not talk, and even better that it should be done quietly than in a glare of publicity,” said Myra MacDonald, author of a book on the Kashmir hostilities.
“But I don’t see it going very far beyond a basic management of tensions, possibly to tide both countries over a difficult period. Pakistan needs to address the fallout of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, while India has to confront a far more volatile situation on its disputed frontier with China.”
Published in Dawn, April 15th, 2021