June 23, 2022 8:49 pm

India-Pak Dead-End

PAKISTAN Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, in a recent speech at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad, advocated renewed engagement with India, a stance that took people in South Asia by surprise. He questioned the merit of past policies pursued by Pakistan with regard to India, asking if these had helped Pakistan achieve its objectives, “be it Kashmir, be it the rising Islamophobia,” He stressed that despite a “long history of war and conflict” with India, the disengagement is, however, not productive. Bhutto-Zardari acknowledged that Pakistan had been isolated globally due to its past policies adding that if his country had achieved economic engagement with India in the past, it would have been in a better position to influence Delhi’s policy and prevent both countries from taking extreme positions,

The speech has generated some buzz and also a controversy with the hawks in Pakistan seeing it as a climbdown from Pakistan’s hardline position on India. Nevertheless, Bhutto-Zardari’s speech indicates an intention to break from the past as far as relations with India. But whether this could actually lead to an engagement with India can be anyone’s guess.

True, the recent takeover of Shahbaz Sharif-led coalition government had generated some hope for a bilateral dialogue. But this has turned out to be a mirage so far. The new government in Pakistan has just sixteen months before the national elections are called in the country. But despite this, the exchange of letters between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sharif had created a faint hope of some engagement. PM Modi congratulated Sharif on his election and said India desired peace and stability in a region free of terrorism. Sharif tweeted back that the resolution of Kashmir was “indispensable.”

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 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 granddaughter. 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. But so far nothing has changed. Here’s hoping against hope.

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