Talks De Javu

Pakistan’s surprise invitation to the Kashmiri separatist leaders to meet Sartaj Aziz during his visit to India for talks with Ajit Doval hasn’t provoked India to call off the dialogue. The talks will go ahead as scheduled on August 23 and 24. This is contrary to India’s stance last year when the country called off the foreign secretary level talks in a huff after Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit similarly invited separatist leaders and held talks with them.

Ironically, it was August last year when Basit met separatists which unravelled the then fledgling engagement between Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif. A year after the situation has turned a full circle. Islamabad has once again invited separatists ahead of another attempt at formal talks between the neighbours. But this time India has chosen to overlook it.  The reasons are not far to seek. After impulsively calling off the dialogue last year over the invite to separatists, New Delhi could hardly have afforded to be held responsible for nipping yet another process in the bud over what is deemed by the world as a non-issue. And Pakistan after failing to get Kashmir included in the Modi-Sharif joint statement at Ufa could have hardly afforded not to invite separatists before the start of fresh talks with India. More so, after New Delhi’s triumphant stand that the dialogue with Islamabad would be exclusively focussed on Pakistan sponsored terrorism in India.  Earlier in July, the top separatist leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Yasin Malik had refused to attend the Eid get-together at Pakistan High Commission in protest against omission of Kashmir in Ufa joint statement.

But the question that arises now is where do the two countries go from here.  With such contradictory positions and the race for point-scoring even about the process of holding talks, there is little hope that the fresh engagement  could yield any redeeming difference to the existing state of affairs.

In such a situation, the NSA level talks as aptly described by the former foreign minister Yashwant Sinha, will be a “dialogue of the deaf”.  Both NSAs will bring forth their respective dossiers to the table, match evidence for evidence of each other’s involvement in their respective countries and turn the exercise into a zero-sum game. Both will go to the town chest-thumping about how they stone-walled the other’s agenda. The takeaway from this is that even this process is headed nowhere – doomed from the word go.

The dialogue between the two countries follows a predictable pattern. It begins with an extravagant sense of hope and ends in a bitter showdown. The problem is that the neighbours approach the talks with contradictory goals in mind. While New Delhi seeks focus on terrorism, Islamabad hankers for the resolution of the long-standing issues, particularly Kashmir. Both countries have now vast constituencies that seek an agreement on their terms. And as the past 68 years would tell us, this kind of approach has taken us nowhere. Hence the need for a fundamental shift in the outlook. The  fresh  effort  at reconciliation would greatly benefit if it is pursued to sincerely resolve the festering, longstanding issues and as far  as  reasonably  possible,  kept  undistracted  by  the  efforts  to  derail  it. 

For,  not  only Kashmir but also India and Pakistan depends on this process to put the demons of partition to rest and also to usher  in an era of peace and prosperity in the region long held back by endemic poverty and the Indo-Pak antagonism.

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