A short video of the Shanghai summit doing the rounds of social media shows the Prime minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan separated by other world leaders. While PM Modi is seen looking straight ahead and flanked by Afghanistan president and a Central Asian leader, the PM Khan is seen busy in conversation with the Russian president Vladimir Putin. Also, Putin, according to a press report, is said to have prevailed on Khan to shake hands with Modi when the two leaders briefly met at dinner. Khan is said to have been upset after Modi chose not to fly over Pakistani airspace despite seeking permission from the neighbouring country to do so. And if the body language of the two leaders in the viral video is anything to go by, there is little hope that the two countries will resume dialogue anytime soon. This comes as an anti-climax to the hope generated in the run up to the Shanghai summit. It was expected that if not the meeting, the two leaders will have a pull-aside and hopefully initiate steps to resume dialogue. But such hopes have been bitterly betrayed.
Going forward, there are little indications that the neighbours will get back to engagement, albeit, the PM Modi and the foreign minister S Jaishankar have constructively replied to Khan and Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s letters. The PM Modi has sought building of trust between the neighbours. So far, however, the BJP 2.0 at the centre seems in no mood to reach out. In fact, its approach towards Islamabad has become even more hardline. It has shown little inclination to climb down from its tough conditionalities about resumption of dialogue, one of them being that talks and terror won’t go together. But if things have to change for better, New Delhi will have to review its multiple redlines and Pakistan will have to ensure that the dramatic militant attacks do not follow the resumption of talks.
All seemed to be going well in the previous BJP term before it was unravelled by the Pathankot attack in January 2016. The ties have remained frozen ever since. Shanghai summit had therefore created some hope. But the outcome has been disappointing. However, there is still some possibility to hope against hope. It is possible that Modi and Khan exchanged more than pleasantries during their handshake. Replies to Khan and Qureshi’s letters have followed soon after. And we might soon witness a follow-up action. And if not then we can only hope that the current climate of distrust and antagonism doesnt lead to further escalation of tensions. The intermittent exchange of fire along Line of Control and the lingering turmoil in Kashmir has created a fraught situation with a potential to further worsen the bilateral ties. More so, when due to suspended talks, the two countries lack the diplomatic tools to manage the fallout. It is therefore important that the two countries get back to the dialogue and work towards resolution of their longstanding issues for a durable peace in the region.