After Dushanbe

SPEAKING at the 9th 'Heart of Asia' Conference at Dushanbe in Tajikistan, the foreign minister S Jaishankar made a rare direct reference to the Taliban and called for a “double peace” both inside Afghanistan and in the region. Jaishankar said "India has been supportive of all the efforts being made to accelerate the dialogue between the Afghan government and the Taliban, including intra-Afghan negotiations". He made it clear that for the peace process to be successful, it is necessary to ensure that the negotiating parties continue to engage in good faith, with a serious commitment towards reaching a political solution.

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi who was present at the conference said that Pakistan feared "that any space gained by ISIS and Al-Qaeda could accentuate the threat of terrorism”. He also cautioned against the role of “spoilers”, both “within and outside Afghanistan”. Unlike the recent past, Jaishankar and Qureshi were present for each other’s speeches during the conference.

The conference was attended by foreign ministers of 15 countries, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, Iran, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Central Asian states.

Significantly, Jaishankar and Qureshi didn't meet as had appeared likely earlier. In the run up to the conference, Qureshi had said that no meeting with Jaishankar had been "finalized or requested". If anything, the absence of the meeting has revealed, the countries are exercising some restraint as far as the dialogue. There's no haste about the open dialogue.

Meanwhile, the two neighbours have walked some more distance along the road to normalcy. On Monday, Pakistan partially reversed a two-year old decision to suspend all trade with India. It would allow the import of cotton and sugar from India. It is the latest Confidence Building Measure following the Line of Control (LoC) ceasefire announced by India and Pakistan in February. Pakistan’s had suspended all bilateral trade with India in August 2019 in the wake of the constitutional changes in Jammu and Kashmir, which Islamabad considers “illegal”. Earlier in 2018-19 Pakistan was among India’s top 50 trade partners.

But for the two countries to take the process forward they will need to go beyond the easy CBMs and do something that is deemed as a conspicuous concession as to the core issue of the either country. India will want Pakistan to hold back its support to militancy in Kashmir and Pakistan, on the other hand, will want India to do something conciliatory in regard to current situation in Kashmir. Both countries want another to help create an "enabling environment". This is something they are discussing in their alleged back-channel talks. Here's hoping this time round the engagement between the two countries reaches its logical conclusion, in an agreement that leads to an abiding solution to their longstanding mutual issues. This alone will usher in a sustainable peace in the region.

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