Basit’s sage advice

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Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit is leaving India shortly after completing his term. In an article he wrote for a leading national newspaper, Basit regretted that in his term the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue as agreed in December 2015 could not commence. He has expressed hope that India and Pakistan will “return to the negotiating table, without further ado and preconditions”. But he has also made it clear that the “talks are not a favour by one country to another”. Dialogue, he wrote,  is unavoidable. “Since it will happen sooner or later, why waste time?” he wrote in his piece. In Basit’s three and a half years as Pakistan High Commissioner, the ties between India and Pakistan have plunged to their lowest following a promising start. As noted by Basit himself,  after starting off on a good note with a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif during former’s swearing-in ceremony in 2014, India and Pakistan have struggled to get back to dialogue. New Delhi dramatically called off the scheduled foreign secretary level talks after Pakistan High Commissioner met the Hurriyat leader Shabir Shah. And ever since the escalating border skirmishes, the intermittent major violent incidents and the turmoil in Kashmir have ensured that there is no progress in the direction of a dialogue between the two countries.

India and Pakistan have positioned themselves rigidly on the opposite sides of the divide and ratcheted up their old rhetoric on Kashmir. Pakistan has returned to its historical stand on the dispute which makes the UN resolutions as the bedrock for Kashmir solution. This is a far cry from the former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf’s radically flexible position on the settlement of the state. His four point proposals which envisaged a Kashmir solution without any radical geographical modifications and New Delhi’s gradual warming up to the ideas have all but vanished from the discourse.

This has created a situation fraught with possibilities of a larger conflict between the neighbours, both nuclear armed. And if such a conflict does take place it would promptly bring the international community on the scene, a prospect which Pakistan cherishes but New Delhi has resisted for long. The best course available to the two countries is to resume their engagement. The dialogue is the way they can address their differences and move towards a resolution of their long-standing issues. Only such an outcome is a guarantee of a sustainable peace in the region.

But while the two countries take steps to resume the talks, there is a need to guard against the easy tendency to call off talks over every untoward incident, some as insignificant as the meeting with Hurriyat. As the two countries go back to dialogue, their resolve to continue on the path will again be severely tested. And their tenacity to carry on against all odds that will determine whether this phase of dialogue will succeed or not.

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