Stalled Back-channel?

AFTER a period of some noise about a back-channel dialogue between India and Pakistan, things have gone a bit quiet. More so in India where senior ruling party leaders have stopped talking about the ongoing thaw in the relations with Pakistan. This could also be the result of the devastating third Covid-19 wave that has by now infected millions and killed thousands of people.

Pakistan, on the other hand, has taken a more overt stance about the putative secret dialogue with New Delhi. In an interview to Reuters on June 5, Pakistan prime minister, Imran Khan once again called on India to reverse the withdrawal of Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status for the dialogue between the two countries to resume. Short of doing that, Khan has sought “a roadmap” towards restoring the previous status of Kashmir. He called the move to repeal Kashmir’s autonomy illegal and against international law and United Nations resolutions.

Significantly, there has been no response to the interview by New Delhi. Nor has there been a response to earlier effusive statements by Khan and Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa who conspicuously advocated burial of the past between the two countries.

But after re-affirmation of the 2003 ceasefire agreement in February, the two neighbours have failed to build on the goodwill. There have been no further measures, nor does it look likely there will be in the near future. New Delhi seems in no hurry to do this. If anything, this only goes on to show that India feels little pressure to relent. Nor does it want to push the current engagement with Islamabad beyond a point. The unmistakable signal to Pakistan is to temper its expectation about the extent to which India can accommodate it on Kashmir. As always, India wants the terrorism to be the central issue and wants Pakistan to stop supporting militancy in Kashmir. Pakistan doesn’t accept it backs terrorism.

Anyways, if 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.

But the challenge once again for the two countries would be to sustain a dialogue should it start. In the past many such attempts have been aborted by a major attack in India traced to elements in Pakistan or sometimes due to the rigid negotiating positions of the two countries. It would be interesting to see how the two countries negotiate their respective conditionalities before reaching out to each other. The dialogue that will follow, as a result, will go a long to usher in peace in the region and turn the LoC into a line of cooperation.

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