Elusive Talks

PAKISTAN foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has said that the dialogue with India has become difficult following the withdrawal of special status of Jammu and Kashmir in 2019. Bilawal also said that there were no plans for any meeting between Pakistani and Indian Prime Ministers on the sidelines of the annual SCO summit to be held in Samarkand, Uzbekistan on September 15-16. He, however, said that Pakistan has no option but to get used to living with India as no one can change their neighbours, mouthing a line made famous earlier by the former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.  Bilawal didn’t make clear what living with India for Pakistan meant. For Vajpayee, this became a rationale for instituting one of the most durable dialogue processes with the then Pakistan president, Pervez Musharraf that nearly pulled off a Kashmir solution.

Vajpayee  had begun the negotiations with his then Pakistani counterpart Musharraf which were later followed up by the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The process had nearly culminated into a  solution to Kashmir by the end of 2007 when Musharraf sudden loss of power and later on the Mumbai attacks aborted it. The proposals unveiled by Musharraf in 2006 had set out a four stage incremental process for Kashmir resolution. The steps were: identification of the regions in Kashmir for solution, demilitarization, self governance and a joint management or a consultative mechanism between India and Pakistan on the state.

However, there is a lot that has happened since then. The dynamics that had made the engagement possible then no longer obtain. After revocation of Article 370 in August 2019, the complexion of Kashmir issue has changed beyond recognition. Several new factors are at play in the regional geo-politics and in the relations between the two countries that have made it increasingly difficult to go back to the formula. New Delhi has also taken Kashmir off the table in future discussions with Pakistan, considering the issue settled once and for all. The only issue that New Delhi wants to discuss now are terrorism and the return of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. The refrain in India is that it desires normal neighbourly relations with Islamabad in an environment free of terror, hostility, and violence. But Pakistan wants to only discuss Kashmir and also seeks a reversal of the withdrawal of Article 370 which is not going to happen. The positions of the two countries have thus become too irreconcilable.to make it easy for them to re-engage.  But, in the interest of regional peace, the two neighbours need to transcend their differences and talk to each other. This alone will change the situation in the region for the better.

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