Talks again on table

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Pakistani Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has affirmed that India has agreed to receive Pakistan Special Investigation Team to probe “the involvement of any group or people from Pakistan” in Pathankot airbase attack. Only condition,  Khan said, India has made is that it should be informed at least five days before the visit of the Pakistani investigators. Pakistan has already filed an FIR against unknown persons in the attack. Some people have also been taken into custody, one among them as advisor to Pakistan Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz has revealed is Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar.

Over the past week, the two countries have showed signs of moving towards resumption of the stalled dialogue process – albeit the situation is still largely iffy. The National Security Advisors of the two countries are understood to be in constant touch through “phone”. Pakistan premier Nawaz Sharif has also made some right noises from India’s point of view. In a recent speech he said that the former prime minister Vajpayee was right in thinking that Kargil was a “stab in his back”. New Delhi was quick to term it a vindication of its stand on the 1999 war.

Looking forward there are a few multi-lateral meetings where the leaders of the two countries are likely to run into each other – right from foreign secretaries through foreign ministers to the prime ministers of the two countries. Foreign Secretaries are travelling to Nepal on March 14 and 15 for the SAARC Standing Committee Meeting. They could either meet there or carry on their meeting in Islamabad as scheduled on January 15. Similarly, Sushma Swaraj and her counterpart Sartaj Aziz will be in Nepal for SAARC ministerial meeting on Match 17. They could also meet. Similarly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif may meet next month in the US on the sidelines of a nuclear summit being hosted by President Barack Obama. Both Modi and Sharif have accepted Obama’s invitation to attend the nuclear summit in Washington on March 31 and April 1.

The series of these meetings, if they come through, are likely to put the bilateral relationship on the upswing. That is, before a possible another attack subverts it again. The endless cycle will go on. That is, if the two countries don’t take a fairly longer view of things.  Already a precious enough time has been wasted after the NSAs of the two countries met in Bangkok. Modi government has just three years left in power and Sharif around two. And as the two governments get closer to their respective elections, their ability to steer talks and take bigger decisions will correspondingly be circumscribed.

So, there is an urgent need to resume dialogue and see to it that it is continued in the face of the repeated provocations. As Sartaj Aziz told Karan Thapar in a recent interview, India and Pakistan can’t afford to indefinitely stall dialogue  over one attack while the world and the geo-politics moves on, leaving the two countries behind. The talks also need to be comprehensive, spanning not only terror and trade but also the gamut of political issues which are at the heart of the bitterness between the countries. Kashmir remains one of the abiding issues.      

 

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