Deepening Acrimony

IN yet another acrimonois exchange at the United Nations, India slammed  Pakistan on Tuesday after its foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari raised the issue of Jammu and Kashmir at a Security Council debate on women, peace and security. India’s Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Ruchira Kamboj termed Bilawal’s statement as “baseless and politically motivated.” She said it was “unworthy” to even respond to such “malicious and false propaganda”. Earlier, Bilawal referred to Jammu and Kashmir in his remarks to the Council debate held under Mozambique’s Presidency for this month.

India has continued to reiterate that it wants to have friendly relations with Pakistan on a normal basis and that Islamabad has the responsibility of fostering such a relationship in a setting free from terror and animosity. The relations between the two neighbours have fallen to their lowest  since New Delhi withdrew Article 370 in August 2019. Ever since it has become impossible for the two nations to restore dialogue.  And the recurrent bitter exchanges such as the one at the UN push the prospect of engagement further away.

In January, in a surprise development, India invited Pakistan foreign minister to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) foreign ministers’ meeting in Goa being held in May. The invite to Bilawal is an attempt to try  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.  But there are fewer signs of this happening anytime soon.

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.

But this hasn’t brought the countries any closer to dialogue. This is because there are fundamental differences in what they seek from dialogue. 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 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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