Indo-Pak talks should resume to pre-empt more Pathankots

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In the so far clearest signal that India, Pakistan talks are going nowhere, the foreign secretary S Jaishankar  has said that for the dialogue to resume, Islamabad must act on Pathankot. “In the aftermath of a terror attack, if you ask me what is the priority, dealing with terror or diplomatic dialogue then the answer is obvious,” Jaishankar said while addressing the Raisina Dialogue — the first big international conversation on geopolitics, organised by Ministry of External Affairs and think tank Observer Research Foundation. Jaishankar said that the Pathankot attack has set back the foreign secretary dialogue as well as other high-level exchanges.  India, he said, wanted a “modern relationship with Pakistan” but there had to be a change in attitude inside Pakistan, and terrorism was central to the bilateral engagement.

Pakistan, on the other hand, has bemoaned that India was giving “veto power” to the non-state actors. On March 1, addressing a press conference in Washington DC with John Kerry, Pakistan PM’s foreign policy advisor Sartaj Aziz  said New Delhi should not hold the talks hostage to one terror attack. “There is one incident and the whole relationship collapses,” Aziz said. He said it was difficult for any country to control non-state actors, saying “these kinds of incidents would always take place”.

US has also chimed in, urging the two nations to resume dialogue for peaceful resolution of the outstanding issues including Kashmir. A US-Pakistan joint statement, issued a day after the two countries concluded their sixth Strategic Dialogue, emphasised the importance of the meaningful dialogue and called on the two countries “to act with maximum restraint”. 

The bilateral engagement, as a result, is precariously placed: not looking to resume any time soon and also not suspended. National Security Advisors of the two countries are in constant touch, the foreign secretaries and even the Prime Ministers have talked on phone. Pakistan has initiated some demonstrative action against the alleged perpetrators of the Pathankot attack. Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar is in custody. An FIR has been lodged against unknown persons. Now a Special Investigation Team probing the attack is visiting Pathankot to carry out further probe.  All these measures point to a degree of seriousness in taking the investigation to its logical conclusion. But New Delhi wants some fast track action which is unlikely to happen considering the drawn nature of the legal process in our part of the globe.

Does that mean that until legal process is complete there is no chance of the resumption of the dialogue? This is what appears to be the case. That is, if we go by the words of S Jaishankar. True, Pathankot has made things a bit more complicated. Now the apprehensions in Delhi are not only about the involvement of the non-state actors in the attack: Pathankot has raised larger questions about the renewed dialogue and whether there is a consensus between civilian leadership and the military in Pakistan on the dialogue with New Delhi. One hopes that the two countries get over this hurdle very soon and continue dialogue. The neighbours need to break out of the predictable pattern of the on-again off-again relationship. Calling off talks now will only help forces who don’t want the neighbours engage and resolve their long-standing issues including Kashmir. If the dialogue collapses after every attack, there will be such attacks after every dialogue.

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