India, Pak ties again on the mend

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Pakistan’s probe team is in India for the investigation of the Pathankot attack. The team led by Punjab counter-terrorism department’s Additional Inspector-General Muhammad Tahir Rai and an ISI official  cross-examined the witnesses and also visited the Pathankot air base. India has allowed the visit as it doesn’t want the Islamabad to blame lack of cooperation from India for slow progress in the investigation. Pakistan has already detained Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar for his alleged involvement in the attack. Islamabad has also booked some more suspects. And with registration of an FIR against unknown persons, a process has been initiated to bring to book the alleged perpetrators. However, the law will take its drawn course. This could take years. Judicial processes in our part of the world drag on endlessly. The investigation in the Mumbai attack case is still going through its motions. Pakistani courts have acquitted Hafiz Saeed, the alleged mastermind of the attack, for lack of proof. For India, Pathankot probe has become the litmus test for Pakistan for its sincerity towards action against terror. But considering the terror trial will take a long time to complete, tying the progress in dialogue to it will hardly help the matters.

Meanwhile, Islamabad has also arrested an “Indian spy” Kul Bushan Jadhav in Balochistan. India has denied the charge but admitted that the arrested man was a former navy officer. This is the first time that an Indian has been held in Pakistan. Now Islamabad is using the catch to lend credence to its allegations that Indian Intelligence Agencies were operating in parts of Pakistan and fomenting trouble there.

Jadhav’s arrest comes at a time when the two countries have resumed the dialogue following its temporary suspension after the Pathankot airbase attack. Seven soldiers were killed in an 80-hour gun battle that brought to an abrupt halt the then promising bilateral engagement. Earlier, the two countries had had successive top level interactions followed by a dramatic visit to Pakistan by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to greet his counterpart Nawaz Sharif on his birth day.  Pathankot cut short this bonhomie. Now the neighbours are picking up the thread again. Dialogue has been resumed. Now the PM is likely to hold a meeting with Sharif in US on March 31 on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit.  But will the process go the distance? Unlikely. PM Modi had set the highest benchmark for the engagement when in December last he said that the talks with Pakistan were intended to “change the course of history”. 

Now that the ties between the countries are again on the mend,  let us hope they are informed by an ambition to fundamentally alter the existing state of affairs, which has been about a perpetual distrust and an entrenched animosity.   But to state the obvious, this will not be easy to accomplish. It will require a drawn peace process undistracted by the shenanigans of the spoilers. The best way out is to get back to the talks and work in good faith towards the settlement of all the bilateral issues, including Kashmir.  This is the best anti-dote not only to the lingering animosity between the two nations but also to the persisting violence by the state and non-state groups. 

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