Walking the Talk

THE Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s  letter to his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan on the occasion of Pakistan’s Republic Day, calling for “cordial relations” between the two neighbors has pushed the renewed bilateral engagement a bit further. The PM called for creation of an environment “devoid of terror and hostility”. Earlier, the PM had wished Khan a speedy recovery from the Covid-19 infection.  These messages have added to the credibility of the ongoing attempts to institute a fresh dialogue between the two countries. After the re-affirmation of the 2003 ceasefire agreement, the two neighbours have restored sporting ties and also held talks on sharing of waters. Now there’s talk of holding a cricket tournament and planning a SAARC summit in Pakistan. That will be a major boost for the ties between the two countries. A summit will also give a chance to the PM Modi and Khan to meet on the sidelines and take the dialogue forward.

There are huge expectations on both sides of the border about the talks. At the same time, there is a huge constituency that is not happy with the engagement. There’s also a significant population that is cynical about the prospect of dialogue leading to some positive outcome. There’s a reason for this: India and Pakistan have so often engaged and so invariably failed to take the talks to their logical outcome that it seems improbable that they can do it this time. More so, when the differences and the bitterness run deeper than they ever did before. Following New Delhi’s revocation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019, the relations between India and Pakistan have fallen to their lowest. But as the reiteration of the ceasefire along the Line of Control has shown, the two countries have shown a capacity for returning to engagement sooner than later. Between 2003 to 2007, the neighbours had engaged sustainably and nearly worked out a framework agreement to resolve the issue of Kashmir. This framework for solution came to be known as the Four Point formula. But the Mumbai attack in 2008 and the exit of the then Pakistan president General Parvez Musharraf aborted the dialogue. Could the two countries go back to this framework agreement this time around? There’s very certainly a possibility for this. But for that to happen the two neighbours will need to build confidence and safeguard the engagement from the spoilers. And this is very much possible if there’s political will and honesty on both sides.

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