No Time For Indo-Pak Talks

IN an interesting comment, National Conference president Dr Farooq Abdullah on Monday called on the union government to use its presidency of G20 to engage Pakistan to address the Kashmir issue. He also urged the government to help the world end the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war. Abdullah, who has been the former J&K Chief Minister, said he was tired of the media dubbing anyone making a case  for India-Pakistan dialogue as “anti-national.”

He is right. In recent years, advocating talks between the two neighbours has become a taboo subject in the political discourse of the country. And there are reasons for it. The union government under prime minister Narendra Modi has taken Kashmir off the table in any future discussions with Pakistan. This was also made clear by home minister Amit Shah during his visit to Kashmir in October. Addressing a well-attended rally in Baramulla, the home minister refused to engage with Pakistan, saying instead he would prefer to talk with Gujjars and Paharis and also with the youth of Kashmir. This has made the chances of any re-engagement between the two neighbours in the near future look very bleak.

The removal of Article 370 in August 2019 and the subsequent measures have fundamentally altered the ground situation in J&K in most of its aspects. It has also changed the complexion of the Kashmir issue as it existed before. The home minister’s rally in Baramulla was a testament to this reality.

But it is also true that the union government did engage with the neighbouring country informally for months after the withdrawal of Article 370. The back-channel talks were reported to have begun in November 2020 and by February 2021, the two countries reinstated the otherwise defunct 2003 ceasefire along the Line of Control. The truce was marked by a brief spell of bonhomie. 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. But there was no further progress on the back-channel making it difficult for the two neighbours to move to the front-channel.

And now, with the two countries due to hold their national elections in the next two years – Pakistan in 2023 and India in 2024 – the chances of an engagement have further ebbed. The ongoing turmoil in Pakistan has further complicated the matters.  Now, if at all, any meaningful talks can only happen after the new governments are formed in the two countries which would happen only after 2024. So Abdullah’s call for the resumption of India-Pakistan engagement is unlikely to find any traction in the current situation.

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