IN a surprise development, India has invited Pakistan foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) foreign ministers’ meeting in Goa being held in May. According to reports, the invite was sent through the Indian High Commission in Islamabad. Last week, Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said in an interview to an Arab television channel that his country had learnt its lesson from three wars with India and wanted to live in peace with its neighbour. The invite to Bilawal is an attempt to build upon Sharif’s overtures and see if relations with Pakistan can be normalized. No Pakistani foreign minister has visited India since 2011 and if the neighbouring country accepts the invitation, it can go a long way in improving their relations.
The relations between the two neighbours have fallen to their lowest since New Delhi withdrew Article 370 in August 2019. Before Sharif made his conciliatory remarks, there was an acrimonoius exchange between the foreign ministers of the two countries at the United Nations with Bilawal using uncharitable words against the prime minister Narendra Modi. After the bitterness of the exchange, it seemed hardly possible that the neighbours could reach out to each other let alone institute a dialogue. But here we are again. New Delhi has reached out to Islamabad despite Bilawal’s intemperate comments. And we can all keep our fingers crossed about the direction, the relations between the two countries takes from hereon.
True, there have been attempts by the two countries to engage over the last three years. They reportedly talked on the back-channel and went back to observing ceasefire along the Line of Control since February 2021 which has since been holding. According to the defence ministry figures, only three minor incidents of “violations” have been recorded along the LoC since then. In comparison, 4,645 ceasefire violations were recorded during its peak in 2020.
The LoC truce holds out a hope that the two countries are in a position to resume their long-stalled dialogue. However, it won’t also be easy. Pakistan wants to only discuss Kashmir and also seeks a reversal of the withdrawal of Article 370 which is not going to happen. India desires normal neighbourly relations with Islamabad in an environment free of terror, hostility, and violence. The positions of the two countries have thus become too irreconcilable to start a dialogue. But it is still possible that PM Modi and Sharif could take steps to break ice. 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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