Talks After Truce

A month after agreeing to observe the 2003 ceasefire agreement, India and Pakistan have taken some more steps towards engagement by holding talks on water sharing and restoring sporting ties. But as is palpable there’s also a degree of caution in the way the two countries are approaching each other. So far there has been no visible effort to institute an open dialogue. There’s also some doubt over the meeting of the foreign ministers of the two countries at the ‘Heart of Asia’ conference at Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe today. According to Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi such a meeting has so far not been “finalized or requested”.

Jaishankar last week also had not given a specific reply to questions on whether he will meet Pakistani counterpart on the sidelines of the conference. The participation of both the ministers has sparked speculation of a possible meeting between them amidst recent peace overtures from the Pakistan. Both Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and the army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa offered olive branches to India in their recent speeches at Islamabad Security Dialogue. This was reciprocated by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, first by wishing Imran Khan a speedy recovery and then a letter on Pakistan Republic Day that called for ‘atmosphere of trust, devoid of terror and hostility’ between the neighbours.

But as is apparent there are some reservations as for as conducting an open dialogue. The reasons for it are both historical and the recent. The relations between the two neighbours have plunged to their lowest low since New Delhi withdrew Article 370 on August 5, 2019. The article granted J&K a semi-autonomous status under India’s constitution. Until before dramatic re-affirmation of the ceasefire agreement a month ago, it appeared unthinkable that the two countries would come anywhere near to resumption of dialogue. But they have done it, even moving a few baby steps further towards talks.

Now, both countries are putting onus on each other to take the first step towards resuming dialogue. And what that step would be is still unknown. Islamabad had earlier made any re-engagement with India conditional to New Delhi reversing the August 5 move. But Pakistan seems to have given that up, so has New Delhi its insistence on end to cross-border terrorism before talks begin. Anyways if the last year’s figures for infiltration and the killings of foreign militants in Kashmir are anything to go by, Islamabad has held back from supporting the local militancy. New Delhi, it seems, is unlikely to reverse the revocation of J&K autonomy. It remains to be seen whether it restores statehood anytime soon. A sustained, meaningful dialogue between the two countries has the potential to lead to a positive outcome. So, the neighbours should restore it sooner than later.

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