Khan’s Talks Offer

IN one more indication of Pakistan seeking to mend ties with India, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Wednesday that India and Pakistan can resolve Kashmir through dialogue. Khan said Kashmir was the only dispute between the two countries and “the way forward for the subcontinent is to resolve our differences through dialogue”. Khan reiterated how soon after taking over as the Prime Minister, he had approached India for dialogue but hadn’t succeeded. “I am optimistic that eventually sense will prevail,” he said while addressing the Sri Lanka-Pakistan Trade and Investment Conference.

Earlier last month, Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa had called for resolving the Kashmir issue in a “dignified and peaceful manner” between India and Pakistan, saying it was “time to extend a hand of peace in all directions”. He had said that Pakistan stands “firmly committed to the ideal of mutual respect and peaceful co-existence. Significantly, General Bajwa didn’t talk about a third party mediation but about a bilateral resolution of Kashmir issue.

Now Khan has made a similar statement in a third country. These statements are coming at a time when the relations between the neighbours have plunged to their lowest low in the wake of the revocation of Article 370 in August 2019. It has now been years since there has been no formal dialogue between the two countries. And there’s little hope of such a dialogue in near future. Earlier, Khan has said that there will be no dialogue between the two nations as long as India doesn’t reverse the withdrawal of Kashmir’s autonomy. But first General Bajwa’s and Khan’s statement reveals a certain change of heart in Pakistan on engagement with India.

Whether, it’s only a one-off statement will be known in the weeks and months ahead. In India, there has been no indication over the past two years that the government wants to reach out to Pakistan. Nor has Pakistan made any such effort. The reason for this is that the repeal of Article 370 has irrevocably altered the paradigm under which the two countries engaged. By integrating Kashmir, New Delhi has signalled that it no longer considers this side of Kashmir as disputed. Pakistan sees India’s withdrawal of Kashmir’s special status enshrined in Article 370 as a dilution of what it sees as the disputed status of the region. But New Delhi sees the changes to the constitutional position of J&K as its internal matter. Two positions look all but irreconcilable. But for a durable peace in the region, the two countries have to find a way to get together. This requires statesmanship on both sides. And this will only be possible if there’s willingness on the part of the neighbors to resolve their issues. Earlier this month, India said it desires normal neighbourly relations with Pakistan in an environment free of terror, hostility and violence. Here’s hoping that the two countries find some common ground to get back to dialogue.

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