Saudi Push

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IN yet another proof that Saudi Arabia and the UAE are playing a role in easing India, Pakistan tension and helping them reach some understanding on Kashmir, the Saudi-Pakistan joint statement has explicitly called for resolution of Kashmir through dialogue. The statement issued during Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan’s visit to the kingdom also welcomes the decision by the two countries to observe a ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC). Earlier, Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud had said his country could play a role in reducing tensions between Pakistan and India. Before him, the United Arab Emirates’ envoy to Washington confirmed the Gulf state is mediating between India and Pakistan to help the nuclear-armed rivals reach a “healthy and functional” relationship.

But the fact remains that all the talk about the thawing of the relationship between the two neighbours is emanating mostly from Pakistan. New Delhi has largely been tight-lipped about it. One could attribute it to the ongoing Covid-19 catastrophe in India that has overwhelmed the government, leaving it little bandwidth to respond or talk about the relationship with its western neighbour. Things could, however change in near future as India gets a handle on the runaway surge in Covid-19 cases. As and when that happens, the two countries are expected to announce more Confidence Building Measures to improve their relationship and may be take steps to institute a formal dialogue.

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. 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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