Elusive Dialogue

PAKISTANI Prime Minister Imran Khan has said he would like to have a televised debate with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to resolve differences between the two neighbours. He said this in an interview to a Russian television channel on the eve of his visit to Moscow where he will meet the Russian president Vladimir Putin. This is the first visit by a Pakistani leader to Russia in more than 20 years. Khan said it would be beneficial for the 1.7 billion people in the subcontinent if differences could be resolved through debate.

India, hasn’t responded to Khan’s offer yet. Bur one change that has happened in both the countries is that the mutually antagonistic rhetoric has reduced. New Delhi’s demand, now used with a little subdued force, is for Pakistan to stop terrorism in Kashmir. There is hardly anything that has been said beyond this. But there has been one redeeming difference: the anti-Pakistan rhetoric has drastically reduced in the country, and that too during ongoing Assembly elections. Ditto on Pakistan’s side.

If anything, this alone is an indication that something has been brewing between the two neighbours. Or one could say, was brewing. There hasn’t been any statement from either country recently that indicates some form of an engagement is ongoing between them. Instead, Islamabad that has been so far most vocal about outreach to New Delhi has also gone silent.

But after re-affirmation of the 2003 ceasefire agreement in February last year, 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. 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 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 is not going 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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