Making the Talks Walk

Ending speculations that  Islamabad was not happy with the agenda of the upcoming NSA level dialogue with New Delhi and might pull out of talks, Pakistan Prime Minister’s advisor on National Security and the Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz has confirmed his travel to India on August 23. Pakistan had earlier maintained cryptic silence about the proposed dialogue which will be first of its kind where the focus will be primarily on discussing the security issues. As things stand, New Delhi is interested in making the fresh engagement with Islamabad terror-centric while Pakistan seeks to broaden the scope of the talks to include political and territorial issues like Kashmir. For now, India is giving out an impression that it has succeeded in getting Pakistan to discuss terror to the exclusion of the political issues. This has generated some tension and unease with Pakistan finding the new agenda a drastically whittled down version of the earlier composite dialogue which spanned the full gamut of issues including Kashmir. As Aziz told media while confirming the date for talks,  the upcoming talks are not a breakthrough in terms of the composite dialogue on all issues. “But at least it is ice-breaking on some issues,” he said. 

The NSA level talks will be a formal resumption of the dialogue between the neighbours following the understanding reached between the prime minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in Ufa in June. The two leaders decided to revive the stalled dialogue process and speed up the Mumbai attack case trial. India  was expected to send additional evidence, including voice samples to Islamabad. But most significantly, Modi accepted SharifÂ’s invitation to visit Islamabad for SAARC summit in 2016. There were a slew of other measures that were agreed.  It was decided that the NSAs  of the two countries will meet to “discuss all issues connected to terror”. Military-to-military contact will become part of the India-Pakistan dialogue process and the top army officers from the two countries will engage. But if the NSA level talks are now going ahead, it shows a certain renewed resolve in New Delhi and Islamabad to engage despite the intermittent strains in the relationship. Though Ufa was followed by some escalation on the borders, and some high profile attacks in the hinterland including the one in Gurdaspur, New Delhi has chosen to stay the course. But for the dialogue to sustain and produce some result, it has to be expanded to all issues. Keeping it confined to terror alone will get the process nowhere. Pakistan will see little incentive to carry on with such a pointless engagement. And the talks sans Kashmir will be also opposed by the people in Pakistan making it increasingly difficult for the Pakistan government to pursue them. 

So, if the latest peace process between the  neighbours has to hold, it has to comprehend all pending issues, including Kashmir. Second, the process has to be safeguarded against the attempts to subvert it, like the big bang militant attacks. It has to be also designed to solve the issues, not to relegate them to the backburner. Now that the two countries have decided to restore the dialogue, let us hope they also take steps to safeguard the process from the familiar dangers attendant on this course. There is no other but this way to make the engagement between the countries purposeful and productive in the long run. And which alone can guarantee permanent peace.

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