End of Dialogue?

WITH union home minister Amit Shah making it clear that India will hold no talks with Pakistan during his visit to Jammu and Kashmir, the chances of any re-engagement between the two neighbours in the near future look very bleak. This is the second time that the home minister has rejected dialogue with Pakistan over the last year – earlier he had ruled out any such possibility during his visit to the union territory in October 2021. The statement once again confirms that India has taken Kashmir off the table in any future engagement with Pakistan. The removal of Article 370 in August 2019 and the subsequent measures have fundamentally altered the ground situation in Jammu and Kashmir in most of its aspects, changing the complexion of the Kashmir issue as it existed before. The home minister’s rally in Baramulla which was attended by a large gathering of people was a testament to this reality. Addressing the rally, Shah said the union government would rather talk to Gujjars, Bakerwals, Paharis and the youth of Kashmir than Pakistan.

Does this mean the end of future dialogue with Pakistan? Not necessarily. In fact, the two countries had engaged informally months after the revocation of Article 370. The back-channel talks were reported to have begun towards November 2020 and by February 2021, the two countries had reinstated the otherwise defunct 2003 ceasefire along the Line of Control. The truce was marked by a brief spell of bonhomie between. Both the then Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan and the Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa called for dialogue and resolving Kashmir in a peaceful manner. Bajwa even said that it was time for the two countries to “bury the past,” and move on. India, however, remained cool to these overtures. On a positive note,  the LoC truce has since lingered. The dialogue has not materialized though.

Shahbaz Sharif led coalition government in Pakistan which took over after the ouster of Imran Khan has also made no outreach to New Delhi as was expected. And expectedly so. Pakistan is so much hemmed in by internal turmoil and the economic problems that it is unlikely that Sharif would find time or in his interest to seek to rebuild the relationship with India. So, there is apparently not much in store on this front. The new government in Pakistan has just sixteen months before the national elections are called in the country. That is if no early elections are held. Similarly, in India, fresh general elections are due in one and a half years. So, there is no chance of a bilateral dialogue unless both countries see it in their interest to resume it, which looks unlikely.

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