India, Pak Drifting Apart

The bitterest face-off between India and Pakistan during the just-concluded United Nations General Assembly has plumbed their relationship to a new low. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s almost hour-long speech which focussed mainly on the situation in Kashmir was strongly critical of New Delhi’s revocation of Article 370 which granted J&K its special status within Indian Union.  He attacked the RSS and the Prime Minister Narendra Modi personally. New Delhi has taken strong exception to the Khan’s language against the RSS and the PM, saying it “bordered on crudeness”. As things stand, the efforts by the US to get the two sides talking to each other didn’t succeed. On the contrary, the foreign ministers of the two countries boycotted each other’s statements at the SAARC function.

The political and media discourse in both countries has taken an extreme turn. In India, it has veered to retaking Pakistan Administered Kashmir through military means.

This has created an environment where space for any dialogue to address the issues of mutual concern has been greatly reduced. Together these noises have created a fraught environment which is unhelpful for the resumption of dialogue between the two countries. The frequent talk of exploring limited military options is gathering more traction. But this talk is self-defeating. One, because it would hardly serve to address the continuing violence and instead may only lead to further deterioration in the situation, risking also a larger conflict.

The solution is not “teaching Pakistan a lesson” as such threats might galvanize voters but would do nothing to usher in peace as the fallout of the surgical strikes would very much underline. Scores of killings of civilians and the soldiers have taken place along the LoC and the hinterland after surgical strikes and Balakot attack were launched with an intention to put an end to force a shift in Pakistan stance. So, if this vicious circle has to be broken, the central government has to rethink its policy towards its neighbour.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his second term will certainly contribute to his  legacy by instituting a meaningful dialogue process with Pakistan that looks to the larger process of settlement of long running issues rather than let his government get bogged down  by the electoral politics of day and the machinations of a section of television media out to make a TRP kill on continuing bilateral acrimony.

It is only hoped that New Delhi and Islamabad realizing the momentous changes sweeping through region will cooperate to not only steer the region through this fraught transition but also take concrete steps to mend their lingering differences which alone will be the guarantee for a sustainably peaceful South Asia.

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