Kashmir keeps turning up

There has seldom been a time when the domestic politics of India and Pakistan have not intruded into efforts to normalise bilateral relations. When Nawaz Sharif spoke at the United Nations about a plebiscite in Kashmir, the Pakistan Prime Minister was not so much addressing India as he was audiences back home. Mr. Sharif has not yet emerged fully from his battle for survival against Imran Khan. The cricketer-turned-politician is now planning to widen his protests for Mr. Sharif’s resignation. The doggedness with which Mr. Khan is seeking to topple Mr. Sharif, and the parallel demands for regime change by Tahir ul-Qadri, a maverick cleric with a large following, have further weakened Pakistan’s democratic moorings. The Pakistan Prime Minister’s tense relations with the Army for a host of reasons — his determination to punish former Army chief Pervez Musharraf for the 1999 coup, and his avowed desire for friendly ties with India, to cite just two — have compounded his insecurity. There is no doubt that the New York speech was a move by Mr. Sharif to blunt criticism by his opponents and detractors that he has been soft on India, and an effort by him to buy some peace with the Army. Also, the Modi government’s abrupt cancellation of the Foreign Secretary-level talks last month in retaliation for the Pakistan envoy’s discussions with Hurriyat leaders in Delhi, did not help Mr. Sharif’s domestic situation. The demands on Kashmir that he pressed at the General Assembly were those he had not raised for years, at least not since the historic 1999 Lahore Declaration, to which he and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee were signatories.

The two sides seem dangerously close to turning the clock back on Kashmir, wiping out the progress made on the issue in the intervening years, when — if the principal actors of the period are to be believed — it was “a semicolon away” from resolution. The challenge now before India and Pakistan is to pull back before rhetoric hijacks the debate. That can be done only by restoring the dialogue, not by keeping a finger on the pause button, as India has done. It is encouraging that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his speech at the General Assembly, avoided a slanging match with Mr. Sharif, and instead reiterated India’s desire for “serious dialogue” with Pakistan in an “atmosphere free of violence”. That Pakistan remains eager to grasp the offer was evident in the conciliatory remarks made to The Hindu by Sartaj Aziz, adviser on foreign affairs to Mr. Sharif, after Mr. Modi’s speech. Enough opportunities for dialogue have been lost already. India and Pakistan cannot risk the dangers created by a vacuum in diplomacy.

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Printable version | Jun 25, 2021 4:52:59 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/india-pakistan-relations-kashmir-keeps-turning-up/article6455094.ece

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