Closing window for India, Pak dialogue

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In an indication that India, Pakistan relations are unlikely to improve anytime in the near future, the recent past has witnessed a certain hardening in their stance against each other. In response to the Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s statement that the window of dialogue with Pakistan was “slowly closing,” Pakistan Prime Minister’s  Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz has said that Islamabad was “not desperate” to resume peace talks with India which has never opened a window of opportunity for dialogue and goodwill with it.  “Pakistan was not desperate for talks and there is no restlessness on the Pakistani side for dialogue,” Aziz said to a Pakistani television channel. If anything, this reveals that far from arriving at a meeting ground, the  two countries have drifted further apart.

Some recent geo-political developments have only widened the gulf. The two countries are becoming a part of  the two disparate regional blocks. India’s Chabahar port deal with Iran which allows it access to Afghanistan and the other Central  Asian states bypassing Pakistan is being touted as an alternative to 46 billion dollar China Pakistan Economic Corridor.  This has effectively created a new geo-political split in the region, reducing the incentive for India, Pakistan to engage. Both countries are searching for and creating economic and strategic alternatives.  And there are also signs of incipient rivalry between these two blocks, now respectively headed by China and India.

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani has termed the Chabahar deal “not only an economic document but also a political and a regional one.” He also  added that with joint investments in Chabahar, Iran can connect “India through a reliable route to Afghanistan and countries in Central Asia.”

China, on the other hand, has shown some unease over the deal, painting it as part of India’s nefarious design for dominance in the Middle East. “Although New Delhi ostensibly highlights economic considerations, such as facilitating trade along the International North-South Transport Corridor and extracting minerals, natural gas and oil from the region, its larger geostrategic calculations and ambitions are obvious,” said an article today in the state-run Global Times.

A direct fallout of this growing regional rivalry has been the India, Pakistan equation.  The relations between them have once again gone into a deep freeze. Alienating Pakistan further is the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s  opening of a US$290 million hydroelectric dam that will help irrigate thousands of hectares of farmland and stand as a symbol of the strengthening ties between the two countries. It has been named  Afghan-India Friendship Dam. What is more, Afghanistan conferred Modi with Amir Amanullah Khan Award, the country’s highest civilian honour.

 India’s growing role in Afghanistan has always been opposed by Pakistan. Pakistan sees it as an attempt by  New Delhi to encircle it. Islamabad has also blamed India for using Kabul and its consulates in the country to foment insurgency in Pakistan. And the closer Kabul-New Delhi ties will only push Pakistan to seek to bolster its own political influence in Afghanistan. No wonder that Afghanistan has become yet another theatre of the proxy war between the neighbours.

Does this scenario with the deepening bilateral differences between them offer a hope for a sustainable engagement between the two countries? Unlikely. But the best course for them remains the dialogue. This is not only important to build a partnership for a stable and prosperous region but also to resolve issues and bring peace to a festering troubled spot like Kashmir.

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