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Back to square one

Back to square one
Highlights

Back to square one. The roots of the failure to even hold the National Security Advisor-level India-Pakistan talks lay in their prime ministers’ meeting at Ufa, Russia, last month. They agreed to talk on terrorism, while Kashmir was left out.

monday 24 August 2015 Vol. 5 | No.40

The roots of the failure to even hold the National Security Advisor-level India-Pakistan talks lay in their prime ministers’ meeting at Ufa, Russia, last month. They agreed to talk on terrorism, while Kashmir was left out. Nawaz Sharif had erred. That compelled Pakistan to take tough postures, engage in provocative acts on the border and seek to change the goal posts by insisting on including Kashmir on the agenda.

Under pressure from the political class and the all-powerful army, Nawaz was like a chicken with head cut off. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had faced similar domestic music when he had failed to instantly counter Pakistan’s charge of Indian interference in Balochistan at a similar meeting at Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt.

Memories are short on both sides of the border. Diplomacy, when put in words, spoken or written, does create difficulties for its practitioners. Another recall is needed. India was under similar stress after inviting Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf to Agra summit without preparatory talks and a clear agenda. The good commando took control of the Summit through bluster and the media.

It required Sushma Swaraj to talk straight to send him packing. She repeated that role on Saturday to end the unseemly ‘pehle-aap’ syndrome. Her terror-only stance and the midnight deadline made Islamabad finally blink. Over 68 years now, the two neighbours, irrespective of who rules and in Pakistan’s case, who holds the leash, have perfected the art of posturing and talking – if at all-- without achieving anything.

Mutual distrust runs too deep. The take-away from Ufa is the same that previous attempts at talks yielded. The future holds the same for the blighted relationship. When Pakistan insists on talking Kashmir, it is euphemism for India making concessions that it will not. And when India insists on talking terror, it would have to talk and act on the same premise: this is Pakistan’s principle weapon that it will not throw away, even while bleeding itself from domestic militants.

It will still get billions in aid from the US, and support from China that must hold down India. The Narendra Modi Government seems to understand this logic, howsoever convoluted, and has taken to talking and acting tough. That explains its grandstanding on Dawood Ibrahim, as also Swaraj’s reminder that India holds Naved, the Pak militant caught alive in Jammu, in response to the ‘dossiers’ that Sartaj Aziz flaunted, alleging Indian meddling in Pakistan’s internal matters.

On the debit side, Islamabad’s existence seems India-centric, while New Delhi has no real answer to the Kashmiri separatists who played perfectly to the script written in Islamabad. This threatens to continue as both sides, held back by their respective handicaps, insist on running a three-legged race.

Not talking is not an option for the neighbours that are home to a large populace of the poor -- 1.45 billion. But neither internal crises, nor regional risks, have helped dim the chances of another round of acrimonious exchange. To use a South Asian expression, are we going to remain like that only?

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