IT is a sensible message at a time where good sense appears to be once again returning to most quarters in India and Pakistan. Once again Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has said that all regional issues should be resolved through dialogue and peaceful means — a message that chimes well with a discernible reduction in the hostile political and media rhetoric, particularly in India. Perhaps now is the time for other measures to be considered between the two countries to prevent a fresh spiral downwards in bilateral relations and give Pak-India ties some semblance of stability. The fundamental positions of both sides are clear. Pakistan regards the Kashmir dispute as central to relations with New Delhi, particularly with India-held Kashmir roiled by fresh repressive measures by the Indian government. India wants to put the issue of terrorism front and centre, to the exclusion of all else at first. From those seemingly irreconcilable positions, some middle ground can no doubt be found through creative diplomacy and high-level political input.
Ultimately, be it a return to the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue or some ad hoc measures taken in the near term to address both countries’ immediate concerns, dialogue is the only option. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government appear to have sold the so-called surgical strikes across the LoC to an unquestioning and enthusiastic domestic audience, but that has neither moved the central issues forwards or backwards. Meanwhile, question marks over the Uri attack still linger; would it, therefore, not be better to investigate those attacks more fully and share with Pakistan whatever relevant evidence India collects? The preliminary evidence India has publicly revealed is weak and circumstantial and in no way implies a role of the Pakistani state. Given clear indications from both the political and military leaderships that escalation is not the preferred option, there will surely be some willingness here to follow through on important evidence.
It is clearly possible for the ebb and flow of Pak-India relations to continue — it has done so for 69 years now and there have been far bigger conflagrations than the recent tensions. Yet, the more cycles there are, the greater the risk of uncontrolled and unmanageable escalation. The Indian response to the Uri strikes was wildly disproportionate and there is little doubt that the Indian government seized on an opportunity to deflect attention from the troubles in India-held Kashmir. But Pakistani policymakers cannot simply ignore an emerging pattern in India: the combination of a right-wing government, an increasingly nationalistic media and a disconsolate population could quickly push events towards a real crisis if attacks in India-held Kashmir are perceived as having emanated from Pakistan. Talking peace is sensible and necessary, even if quick results are not the intention. Not talking is simply too dangerous.
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