India-Pakistan: Will they be third time lucky?

Amid threats, border tensions Modi meeting Nawaz at Ufa 

No major breakthrough likely but China says will mediate for truce  

SRINAGAR: Amid a fresh flare up across the borders and most feeble expectations, Indian Premier Narendra Damoder Modi will be meeting his Pakistani counterpart Mian Nawaz Sahrif in Russian republic Ufa on Friday. They will be meeting third time since Modi’s inaugural last november when Nawaz and other SAARC leaders attended the prime minister’s oath-taking ceremony in New Delhi. The relations between two countries have been strained ever since and the question that preludes the Friday Summit is this : Will they be third time lucky?  

In this week alone, over half a dozen Indian soldiers have died while fighting infiltrators on the Line of Control in Kashmir. The army has claimed to have killed more than eight militants in these gunfights. There have been a flurry of rhetorical threats from both sides. While India’s Defense Minister Manohar Parikar has been ridiculed for aspiring a proxy war against Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif’s cabinet colleague has threatened to use nuclear weapons if “our survival is endangered.” The mood this time around is, therefore, decidedly less upbeat. The only silver lining, however, seems China’s renewed interest to play a go-between for Indo-Pak détente.  

Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif have both traveled to Ufa so that they attend a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a China- and Russia-dominated group that India and Pakistan are a part of as observers. The two South Asian nations aspire to full membership of the organization, which also includes Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

The long catalog of disagreements in past year casts a shadow over the expectations, if any, of a breakthrough. New Delhi called off planned talks in August after Pakistan’s ambassador to India met with separatists from the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir. Tit-for-tat cross-border firing in the fall resulted in civilian casualties and provocative rhetoric from both sides.

The flare-up cast a shadow over a meeting in November of South Asian nations in Nepal, during which Mr. Modi held bilateral talks with some of his counterparts from the region but skipped a one-to-one with Mr. Sharif.

Frosty ties turned openly belligerent again in April when the alleged mastermind of a devastating 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai was freed from prison in Pakistan. India accused Islamabad of not pursuing his prosecution properly, an allegation Pakistan denied.

Inflammatory remarks have made matters ever worse. India’s cross-border raid on insurgent camps in Myanmar after its soldiers were killed in an ambush near the country’s northeastern frontier–and comments by Mr. Modi’s ministers afterward that the military operation should serve as a warning “to all those who harbor intentions of terror on our country”–irked the government in Islamabad. India has long accused Pakistan of supporting terrorism in India.

India has another growing strategic misgiving: a strengthening China-Pakistan nexus. The two countries, which are longtime allies and each have territorial disputes with India, recently took their relations a step further by inking a $46 billion deal for Chinese investments in building an economic corridor through Pakistan. The pact raised hackles in India, largely because it includes building Chinese-funded infrastructure on disputed territory that is governed by Pakistan but also claimed by India.

All that said, Modi and Sharif have tried to ease tensions with occasional telephone calls. In February, the two exchanged messages over the then-upcomingCricket World Cup. In June, Modi called  Sharif to wish him well ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and gave him the news that, as a gesture of goodwill, India would be releasing some Pakistani fishermen detained by Indian authorities.

The Friday summit is unlikely to result in a major breakthrough in ties. Still, when the leaders of two nuclear-armed rival nations meet the world watches with curiosity. But China today said the six-member SCO grouping will play a constructive role in the improvement of relations between the two South Asian neighbors. “We believe that India and Pakistan joining the SCO will play an important role in the development of the SCO,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunyhing said.

“The SCO will play a constructive role in the continuous development and improvement of relations between India and Pakistan,” she said in comments posted on the Chinese Foreign Ministry website. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif will attend the SCO summit at Russian city of Ufa where the BRICS summit is being held ahead of it. China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan are the regular members of the SCO.

Till now India along with Afghanistan, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan had the observer status in the organisation which mainly focussed on the anti-terrorism cooperation among the member states.

Belarus, Turkey and Sri Lanka are dialogue partners. The process of granting full membership to India and Pakistan was expected to be formally completed next year, according to SCO officials. 

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