Time to Repair Ties

IN his first speech as Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to come forward and address “the Kashmir issue” so that the two countries could concentrate on tackling poverty and unemployment. Sharif also attacked Khan for not making “serious and diplomatic efforts” when India abrogated Article 370 in August 2019.

The PM Modi congratulated Sharif on his election and said India desired peace and stability in a region free of terrorism. The newly elected Pakistan PM tweeted back that the resolution of Kashmir was “indispensable.”

Sharif, younger brother of former Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif was sworn-in as Pakistan’s 23rd Prime Minister on Monday after his predecessor Imran Khan’s government was ousted in a no-confidence motion on April 9.

The Sharif family is generally seen as friendly towards India and there is hope that the new Pakistan prime minister will take steps to restore some kind of a relationship with India. When PM Modi was sworn in 2014, Nawaz Sharif was among the invited regional leaders who had visited India for the ceremony. And later in 2015 Modi had made an impromptu visit to Lahore to attend the wedding of Sharif’s grand daughter. But the bonhomie between the two countries was cut short when the militants traced to Pakistan attacked an Army base in Pathankot. From thereon, the relationship went steadily downhill reaching its nadir when New Delhi abrogated Article 370 of  constitution in August 2019.

The neighbors tried to pick up the pieces with the surprise re-affirmation of the 2003 ceasefire along the Line of Control in February 2021. Ever since, however, they have failed to build upon the truce and restore the dialogue process between them.

Both the countries have been putting an onus on each other to take the first step towards resuming dialogue. Islamabad under Imran Khan had made any re-engagement with India conditional to New Delhi reversing the August 5 move. And New Delhi has been insisting on an end to cross-border terrorism before the talks could begin. Anyways if the last year's figures for infiltration and the killings of foreign militants in Kashmir are anything to go by, Islamabad seems to have held back to a large extent from supporting the local militancy. New Delhi is not going to reverse the withdrawal of J&K autonomy. It remains to be seen whether it restores statehood anytime soon following the holding of elections later this year or probably early next year. But 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. A new government in Pakistan offers a promise to reset the ties.

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