Amid the growing tension over Kashmir, Home Minister Rajnath Singh is in Pakistan to attend a meeting of home ministers from the South Asian Association on Regional Cooperation. New Delhi has justified the visit as a multilateral trip, ruling out any bilateral with Pakistani interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan. The government has downgraded its contingent visiting Islamabad. For example, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval wont be travelling with Singh. The home ministers engagement in Pakistan would be thus of a multilateral nature. The idea earlier, it is said, was to make space for a bilateral engagement during the event. But the deteriorating situation in Kashmir has altered the context. New Delhi has backed out of any bilateral dialogue with the hosting country.
On the other hand, the situation in Pakistan is even more frigid. Jamaat-i-Islami, Pakistan, United Jihad Council chief Syed Salahuddin and also Hafiz Saeed have decided to oppose Singhs visit. Saeed has warned of a countrywide protest in Pakistan by his outfit if the home minister arrives in Islamabad. Besides, ever since protests have broken out in Kashmir after the killing of Burhan Wani, Pakistan, unlike 2010, has become very proactive in its support to the unrest in the state. Nawaz Sharif government has moved beyond the formal condemnation of the killings in Kashmir, and observed 19 July as a ‘black day in solidarity with Kashmiris’. Sharif held a special cabinet meeting to discuss the situation in Kashmir. What’s more, the country’s powerful army chief, General Raheel Sharif, also condemned the “brutal killings of innocent Kashmiri youth” by India in a statement issued at the end of the Corps Commanders’ Conference at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi. Similarly, leading Pakistani newspapers like Dawn, Daily Times and The News have devoted more editorial space to reports from Kashmir. Opinion pieces and editorials have appeared regularly in many newspapers.
In India, the public and the television debate over Kashmir has become toxic, leaving little space for a dialogue to be held any time soon. But one would certainly want that despite all this, the home ministers of the two countries meet in Islamabad and chalk out a way out to resume the engagement. This is all the more important in view of the SAARC summit meeting in November when the Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to travel to Islamabad. There can be no better opportunity to put the relations on an even keel. And to that end, home ministers visit to Islamabad can do the all-important groundwork and set into motion a process that can culminate into PM Modis visit to Pakistan. But as things stand now, the situation is unlikely to change. In India, the narrative remains the end to terror emanating from Pakistan and in Pakistan the government policy on Kashmir has once again taken on an aggressive tenor. So basically, there is little that will change. There is little that can be done unless there is a fundamental shift in the political paradigm which frames the existing situation in the region and the relations between the two countries. And in the given situation, one can only hope that a process towards this end is at least is set into motion.
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