Indo-Pak Talks Stalemate

When attack on Pathankot airbase on January 2 nipped in bud the spell of Indo-Pak bonhomie brought in by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s impromptu visit to Pakistan, New Delhi exercised restraint in its reaction to the incident. And after Pakistan moved swiftly against the alleged perpetrators on India’s urging, the foreign ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup affirmed that the deferred foreign secretary level talks will resume in near future. But a month and a half since the two countries are finding  it difficult to find mutually convenient dates to resume dialogue. Swarup is already on record to have said that the two countries had not been able to arrive at any new dates. The talks were earlier scheduled to be held in Islamabad on January 15. 

Swarup also pointed out that New Delhi continues to view the trial of those responsible for the 2008 Mumbai terror attack as a test of Islamabad’s sincerity in combating terrorism directed against India from its soil. On the other hand, the Pakistani high commissioner to India, Abdul Basit, indicated in an interview to a news channel that the foreign secretary-level talks could be held in the first fortnight of February.  He said that the  National Security Advisors of the two countries were in constant touch with each other and monitoring the progress. The talks are aimed at drawing up a roadmap for future peace talks billed as a “comprehensive bilateral dialogue”.

But as things stand, the two countries are not getting any closer to engagement. The reason for this is New Delhi wants quick progress in action against the alleged perpetrators of Pathankot attack. Though Pakistan has put the Jaish-e-Mohammad chief, the alleged perpetrator in the “preventive detention,” New Delhi doesn’t see it enough and wants his immediate arrest. New Delhi also suspects the hand of the parts of the Pakistan establishment in the attack. This has thrown up a frighteningly complex situation. The talks have been confronted with the same old question: why do strikes on targets in India invariably take place following  the India-Pakistan detente. 

And the questions like whether these attacks are carried out by the autonomous militant actors or egged on by Pakistan’s military or intelligence apparatus. And if later is the case, this puts a big question mark over the entire talks exercise. Thus we can, in effect, conclude that the two countries are in no position to hold a sustainable dialogue unless all alleged parts of the Pakistani state are aligned in their policy towards New Delhi.  But at the same time, the engagement between the neighbours is essential for the peace and stability not only in the two countries but also in the war-torn post-US Afghanistan.  It is tragic that just when India and Pakistan are required to step up and steer the region through this fraught transition, they have returned to their old standoff, And if the situation continues like this, there is every possibility that the complete US exit from Kabul would disturb the arrangements that had stabilized the region for the past fifteen years and push it back over the edge.  We hope that New Delhi and Islamabad realizing the momentous changes sweeping through region will cooperate to not only steer the region through this fraught transition but also take concrete steps to mend their lingering issues which alone will be the guarantee for a sustainably peaceful South Asia.

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