De-Escalate And Engage

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A day after  promulgating a law to streamline the procedure for the implementation of the UN sanctions against individuals and organisations indulging in jihadi activity, Pakistan on Tuesday took into preventive custody 44 members of the banned groups including Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar’s brother Mufti Abdul Rauf and son Hamaz Azhar. The move came days after India handed a dossier on Pulwama attack to the country.  This is a step in the right direction. It should go someway to calm the prevailing tense stand-off between the neighbours. Contributing further to de-escalation,  Pakistan is sending  a delegation to India on March 14 for talks on the Kartarpur Corridor. The scheduled  meeting will see both the sides finalising the draft agreement for the corridor, which will link Baba Nanak village in Punjab to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Narowal in Pakistan. 

But  these developments have so far made little difference to the belligerent rhetoric against Islamabad  emanating from the ongoing election campaign in India,. In his rallies across the country, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has indicated that the airstrikes like the one on Balakote may happen again. Pakistan has also said that it prevented an Indian submarine’s attempt to enter  its waters, a claim rejected by New Delhi as propaganda. Also, the armies of India and Pakistan have continued to exchange heavy fire and shelling along the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and recently along Uri in Kashmir. This has led to killings on both sides, both of civilians and military personnel. The LoC firing has also caused widespread displacement of the people from the border areas. 

India being in an election mode, an aggressive rhetoric against Pakistan is being used to mobilize voters.  However, with time this is expected to change. Islamabad’s steps against the banned groups and a possible agreement on Kartarpur is likely to moderate the anti-Pakistan stance of the BJP and its electoral discourse is likely to shift back towards the issues that directly touch the lives of the people. Indian eonomy is in bad shape. Unemployment is unacceptably high. Farming distress has deepened. The spotlight on these issues earlier had helped the opposition to hurtle to the centre stage. But after Pulwama attack the PM Modi seized back the initiative. As of now, the BJP campaign is riding high on the fallout of the Pulwama bombing and the subsequent skirmishes with Pakistan. This can change if the two countries de-escalate whose chances are brightening with every passing day. Here’s hoping that elections are not influenced or overshadowed by the Indo-Pak stand-off but fought on the issues that affect everyday lives of the people. It is only when India, Pak animosity loses its appeal for the politicians as a handy issue to fire-up their support base that the situation will become conducive for a sustainable engagement between India and Pakistan.

 


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