Promising first step

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:34 pm IST

Published - March 07, 2015 01:22 am IST

The Modi government’s decision to engage Islamabad can only be welcomed given the decision to open up to South Asia in a big way. Several key initiatives of the government are contingent on a peaceful South Asia. And, there is little doubt that a peaceful region will be key to realising India’s own growth potential. Even if there has been little change in the attitude of Pakistan’s permanent establishment towards reining in anti-India terror groups, talks held by Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar with his Pakistani counterpart Aizaz Chaudhry in Islamabad could hold the key to the future of the bilateral relationship. The two met after India abruptly cancelled what were billed as “talks about talks” between Foreign Secretaries last year following a meeting between separatist Hurriyat leaders and the Pakistani envoy in Delhi. As has become the norm in India-Pakistan relations, the cancellation came after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, along with other SAARC leaders, was invited to attend Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony last May, raising hopes for a positive engagement. Since then, Pakistani and Indian forces have been exchanging fire intermittently across the Line of Control and the international border.

So, the Modi government’s decision to send its new Foreign Secretary is a step in the right direction even as a full resumption of dialogue between the two countries is awaited. Both sides said little that departed from the customary exchange of political rhetoric. The Modi government has had enough time to understand the issues at hand and must now take a call on how to move forward with Pakistan. There are two options before the two governments — to pick up the threads of the “two plus six” structured dialogue agreed to in 1997 which has made little or no progress — or agree to a new structure more in line with 21st century realities. But given the track record of bilateral negotiations, it is unlikely that the latter option would be pursued. There is no reason the two sides should not try to frame a new structure of negotiations that jettison the past agendas. Sir Creek, Siachen, terrorism and Kashmir are all known and identified issues in bilateral ties; even the resolution of the “easier” issues has proved elusive given the blow-hot, blow-cold nature of the relationship. If the oft-repeated statement that countries can’t change their neighbours is to have substance, then both Mr. Modi and Mr. Sharif have a golden opportunity to take bilateral ties to a new level. Mr. Jaishankar’s Islamabad visit is a promising first step.

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