In a welcome development, India and Pakistan engaged for the first time after the recent military skirmishes to discuss the proposed Kartarpur Corridor that will facilitate the visa-free travel of Indian Sikh pilgrims to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan. The meeting took place on the Indian side of the Attari-Wagah border. The two countries had last year agreed to open a special border crossing linking Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan’s Kartarpur – the final resting place of Sikh faith’s founder Guru Nanak Dev – to Dera Baba Nanak shrine in India’s Gurdaspur district. Now an Indian delegation would visit Islamabad on March 28 for the follow up meeting.
However, as of now, there is little chance that this engagement would lead to restoration of the proper dialogue between the estranged neighbours. The foreign minister Sushma Swaraj has already made it clear that the Kartapur dialogue would not lead to talks with Pakistan. Speaking at a think tank on Wednesday, Swaraj said India cannot have dialogue with Pakistan unless it ends support to terror. She also said that if there was another attack in India traced to Pakistan, India will not remain silent.
But should this happen, Pakistan is likely to retaliate again. This is a fraught prospect and could trigger a full-fledged war should the two countries follow the lead of their bellicose rhetoric. One is scared to think of what might happen should another major terror attack take place in the country which is blamed on Pakistan. Or there is an outrage along the border like Uri which earlier led to surgical strikes albeit denied by Pakistan. Besides, a long break in the engagement has deprived the neighbours of the crisis tools they could have made use of in case of a major atrocity.
So, we are in a very uncertain territory. And the leadership of both the countries are responsible for putting their countries in such a situation. More so, when war is never an option between two nuclear-armed neighbours. In fact, war even against a non-nuclear country is not option as the US has learnt to its detriment in Iraq and Afghanistan. So, there is no option for the two countries but to talk, whether sooner or later. But the talks cant be a repeat of the drawn and pointless processes so far. The neighbours have to ensure that the factors that have invariably aborted the previous dialogues are taken on board and the engagement guarded against them. Unless that happens, no dialogue between the neighbours can succeed.