Faltering Engagement

PAKISTAN prime minister Imran Khan has once again made it clear that diplomatic relations will not be restored with India until the latter rescinds the "illegal steps of 5th August 2019." Addressing the Pakistan's national Assembly. Khan said that "entire Pakistan stands by their Kashmiri brothers and sisters".

Khan's statement has come amid the signs that the "back-channel" between the two countries may have stalled, dampening the hope generated by the signing of the ceasefire agreement in February. Ever since, no further movement has been reported to normalise the ties. We are once again at a point where either the two neighbours could build upon the hard-won thaw or go back to square one.

Pakistan had downgraded ties with India and suspended trade after the Indian government revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019. Pakistan saw India's withdrawal of Kashmir's special status enshrined in Article 370 as a dilution of what it sees as the disputed status of the region. But New Delhi sees the changes to the constitutional position of J&K as its internal matter. Two positions look all but irreconcilable. But for a durable peace in the region, the two countries have to find a way to get along. This requires statesmanship on both sides. And this will only be possible if there's willingness on the part of the neighbors to resolve their issues. But if nothing is done, the situation looks set to go further downhill from hereon. That is, if the leadership of the two countries doesn't step back and seek to put their relationship back on rails.

In recent past there have been some very significant developments that reflect the changing geo-politics in South Asia. The war in Afghanistan is certainly the top priority for the neighbouring countries including the US. The US, as the president Joe Biden has also affirmed, is on its way out of Afganistan. This is likely to pave way for Taliban to regain power in Kabul, a development of profound import for the region. India-Pakistan detente assumes some significance in this context. A normal relationship between the neighbours would go a long way to usher in the regional peace. . 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.

Also, given the prevailing situation, it will be interesting to see whether the new US administration will play any role in improving the India-Pakistan ties. The two countries need some serious prodding by the world's only super power to re-engage and sort out their differences. Things, however, will be clear in the weeks and months ahead.

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