A Familiar Script

India, Pakistan relations are once again a mess. New Delhi once again dramatically called off the meeting between the foreign ministers in New York after agreeing to them following a letter from the Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. The reason cited was the killing of three police men in Kashmir and issuance of the stamps in honour of the slain Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani. This despite the fact that the stamps had been issued before Khan became the Prime Minister.  And killings in Kashmir are now too routine a thing to become a reason for the cancellation of talks.

Having said that, the fresh turn for worse in the situation is of a piece with the pattern of Indo-Pak ties.  The new twist brings to mind the sudden cancellation  of the scheduled foreign secretary level talks in 2014 after the then  Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit met the Hurriyat leader Shabir Shah. And ever since the escalating violence in Kashmir and border skirmishes have ensured that there is no progress in the direction of a dialogue between the two countries.

The fresh cancellation of the talks between the two countries has been followed by a fiery rhetoric on both sides. The Army Chief  General Bipin Rawat has  called for taking stern action “to avenge the barbarism that terrorists and the Pakistan Army have been carrying out against our soldiers”. He said it was time to give it back to Pakistan in the same coin so that the other side “must also feel the same pain”.  General Rawat also underlined the need for a fresh ‘surgical strike” against Pakistan. In response, Pakistan Army has said it was ready for war but has chosen the path of peace.

Going forward there is little hope that the two countries will resume the dialogue. More so, when India looks forward to holding its general election early next year. The period is thus hardly conducive for a dialogue. But the continuing deterioration in the relations between the two countries is not a good thing either.  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. Such a prospect can be realized  only if the two countries take steps to detach their ties from the local electoral politics. The cancelled foreign minister level talks are a wasted opportunity. Here is hoping the neighbours get back to some kind of engagement in near future driven by a genuine urge to resolve longstanding issues. This is the only to end the perpetual hostility between the two countries.

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