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A glimpse of hope

January 3, 2018

A grim year in India-Pakistan relations, 2017 has ended at somewhat at a positive note. Pakistan National Security Adviser (NSA) Gen (retired) Nasser Janjua and Indian NSA Ajit Doval finally met, though in a third country, to arrest the downslide in the relations between the two countries. They are reported to have met in Bangkok on December 26. It was not a chance meeting but, according to reports, a pre-decided one. The two security wizards are thought to have maintained contacts through ‘back channels’ despite a continued slide in bilateral ties between the two neighbours. Besides the offices of the NSA, reports indicated that the top hierarchy of the foreign ministries of the two countries was also in the loop about the meeting. The India-Pakistan NSAs have met in Bangkok in December 2015 also as a part of efforts to resume the dialogue process between the two countries. That time their meeting, which was officially confirmed by the two sides, eventually led to the announcement of resumption of bilateral dialogue, leading Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to visit Islamabad a few days later. However, officials this time are not hopeful of any major breakthrough given the current level of hostilities between the two countries. It is for this reason that the meeting was kept a close secret. There is no official confirmation of the meeting either from Islamabad or Delhi. But the meeting in itself is a significant development. It is presumed that the meeting had a specific agenda. Kashmir, terrorism and situation along the LOC are likely to have featured in talks. If the violence along the Line of Control can be quelled and Pakistan and India take up unexpected confidence-building measures on the Kashmir issue, a window of opportunity for a wider dialogue may again open. Pakistan Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif recently wrote a letter to his Indian counterpart Suhsma Swaraj seeking political intervention from the top by the two sides to reduce border tensions. That gives one the sense that the two sides are very keen to see peace on the borders. While it needed to be appreciated as positive development, a section of media, more particularly TV news channels, are trying to play spoilsport by opposing any initiative for dialogue. It is quite sad to note that a small but vocal constituency led by mad-media has high-jacked the agenda of the government and they formulate the foreign policy in TV studios. This is a reflection on the thinking and wisdom of the people in office that they get affected by this jingo-brigade. Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj’s latest statement that no dialogue with be held with Pakistan till the borders fall silent can conveniently called as ‘media-influence’. It would not be exaggeration to say that the central government is holding back from dialogue with Pakistan for the fear of this warmongering group. It is time that saner voices be heard and understood sans preconceived notions. The domestic squabbles and internal political exigencies have relegated the once vaunted India-Pakistan peace process to the proverbial square one. Not that the bilateral talks ever appeared to be more than a diversionary tactic of sorts. It is rather the domestic compulsions that make India and Pakistan to tread on hostile path. If the drift in Indo-Pak relations is not arrested it would appear that in the not too distant future the process may well be denuded of the proverbial fig leaf that has afforded it a semblance of respectability of sorts. Government of India might have a genuine case when they say that talks could be held only after Pakistan stopped ‘exporting terrorism’. But India is not the only country which faces terrorism. Pakistan has faced the wrath of terrorism more than India. Pakistan has publicly accused India of supporting and sponsoring terrorists in Pakistan. A former officer of Indian navy is in custody of Pakistan, who, the Pakistani authorities say, was on a terror mission in Pakistan. The allegations and counter-allegations would go on indefinitely unless some reasonable steps are taken to get people out of the caged mentality. The first step, in this regard, is to restart the dialogue process. That is the only way forward.

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