Time To Engage For India, Pak

It has been almost two weeks since new government is in place in Pakistan but there have been no signs of  any effort towards a dialogue with  India. The new Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan hasn’t extended any fresh offer of dialogue. Similarly, there has been no fresh overture from India after the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s letter to his Pakistani counterpart indicated his willingness to reset bilateral ties. There have been some positive developments though. During the recent military drills organized in Russia scores of Pakistani and Indian soldiers danced together during a function marked as Bharatiya Diwas. Pakistani commanders were welcomed with a ‘tilak’ and ‘arti’. India and Pakistan were participating in the drill for the first time since becoming full members of the SCO in June 2017. However, such occasions can only generate a feel-good environment. But over the past four years, India, Pakistan ties have  soured to an extent where an occasional friendly event between them hardly makes any difference. It will take the leadership of the two countries to act statesmanly and re-establish a serious engagement.

So far the dialogue between the two countries has followed a predictable pattern. It begins with an extravagant sense of hope and ends in a showdown. The problem is that the neighbours approach the talks with contradictory goals in mind. While New Delhi seeks focus on terrorism, Islamabad hankers for the resolution of the long-standing issues, particularly Kashmir. Both countries have now vast constituencies that seek an agreement on their terms. And as the past 70 years would tell us, this kind of attitude has taken us nowhere. Hence the need for a fundamental shift in the approach. Any attempt at fresh  effort  at reconciliation would greatly benefit if it is pursued for its own lofty end and as far  as  reasonably  possible  kept  undistracted  by  the  efforts  to  derail  it.  For  not  only Kashmir but also India and Pakistan depends on this process to put the ghosts of partition to rest and also to usher  in an era of peace and prosperity.

But the problem is that basic premises on which the engagement is based is inherently flawed. The process is hardly ever designed to solve issues but to relegate them to the backburner. Now that Modi and Imran have expressed their wish to restore the engagement, let us hope the two leaders also take steps to safeguard the process from the familiar dangers attendant on this course. There is no other but this way to make the dialogue between the countries purposeful and productive in the long run.

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