The >Paris handshake between Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is indeed a welcome, and unexpected, moment that could ‘change the climate’ of the relationship. They had >last spoken in Ufa in July — though they shared the same stage at the UN in September, they only managed a wave across the room. This is far from the vision that Mr. Modi had himself laid out at the start of his tenure, one where neighbours would try to meet without occasion, and engage to sort out bilateral issues, when possible. The stop-start nature of the Prime Ministers’ meetings have had an impact on talks at every level of engagement, and even the meeting of the Directors General of Military Operations they agreed to five months ago has not yet materialised. Other issues on which a resolution is required remain, and which have now been pending for three years. These include the implementation of a liberalised visa regime, upgradation of trade checkpoint infrastructure at the international border and the Line of Control, and other measures such as bank facilities to further trade that Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Sharif have spoken of. India’s concerns about Pakistan giving free rein to terrorists like Hafiz Saeed and establishment support to terror groups, too, remain. While Delhi has stuck to its principle of not taking substantive talks ahead until it sees action from Pakistan on terrorism, it is heartening to note that basic trade between the two countries, business visits and civil society conferences have not been barred. The Prime Ministers met in Paris even as the government must make a decision on whether to allow their cricket teams to play in Sri Lanka. It must be remembered, that like the other issues, playing cricket too is a commitment already made by Indian officials, and India stands to be penalised if it does not keep the BCCI’s contract with the Pakistan Cricket Board.
All these steps will be particularly important in creating an atmosphere for a productive visit by Mr. Modi to Islamabad in 2016, when he has accepted an invitation to attend the SAARC summit. However, none of it will be possible without a sustained and transparent process of engagement. Since this government took office, India’s Pakistan policy has been marked by stealth, surprise and secrecy — whether it was the invitation to SAARC leaders, the cancellation of Foreign Secretary-level talks, the confabulations between the Prime Ministers in Kathmandu last November, dispatching the Foreign Secretary to Islamabad this year, the Ufa engagement, or everything else that followed. It is time to unveil what the government plans to do on Pakistan. If non-engagement was an option, the Prime Ministers would not have shaken hands or talked confidentially in Paris. If engagement is the only way forward — as it most certainly is — then it must be done by taking the people into confidence, not by keeping them in the dark about each new initiative, that seems to evaporate as soon as it is brought to light.