THE expectation that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization will provide yet another opportunity to India and Pakistan to resume engagement has been belied. Prime minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Shahbaz Sharif didn’t meet, as was the expectation. It is thus unlikely that the two countries will be able to resume dialogue during the ongoing terms of the two governments.
India and Pakistan were added as permanent members of the SCO in 2017, an upgrade from their earlier observer status. India’s formal entry into the SCO at the time had made some analysts in India question the wisdom of country’s stand against the Chinese Border and Road initiative. However, in South Asia, the real interest in the SCO summits has always been about the summit leading to a resumption of a long suspended dialogue between them. The people expected a pull-aside between PM Modi and Sharif but it didn’t come through.
This is a sad culmination to an engagement that had begun in 2015 with PM Modi’s surprise stopover at the Lahore residence of the then Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on his way back from Kabul. All seemed to be going well before it was unraveled by the Pathankot attack in January 2016. The ties have remained frozen ever since.
The just concluded Shanghai summit had therefore created some hope. But the outcome has been disappointing. However, there is still some possibility to hope against hope. And we might soon witness a follow-up action. And if not then we can only hope that the current climate of distrust and antagonism doesn’t lead to further escalation of tensions. More so, when due to suspended talks, the two countries lack the diplomatic tools to manage the fallout. It is therefore important that the two countries get back to the dialogue and work towards the resolution of their issues for durable peace in the region.
But it looks very unlikely that the two countries will be able to get back to dialogue. More so after New Delhi revoked Article 370 that granted semi-autonomy to J&K within Indian Union. Pakistan has since insisted that India reverse the move. India, on the contrary, has not only refused to do so but also sought to remove Kashmir as a subject of discussion between the two countries. 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. Will things change in near future? The prospect looks unlikely unless the leaders of the two countries act statesmanly and re-engage for the sake of peace in the region.
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