A welcome note, with caution

In the recent past, India-Pakistan relations have followed such a predictable pattern that even a wholesome turn of events, as in Ufa this past week, brings us to reflect on it with more than a smidgen of caution. The joint statement that followed Narendra Modi’s meeting with Nawaz Sharif in the Russian town was clearly a breakthrough after months of acrimony and passive-aggressive behaviour between the two countries. The statement called for talks between the respective National Security Advisers to discuss all issues of terrorism, and steps to expedite the trial in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks cases. Other points included the need for early meetings between representatives of the border security forces and Directors-General of Military Operations of the two countries, to help address recurring incidents on the border. Clearly, the emphasis laid in the joint statement on these points signalled renewed sincerity on the part of Pakistan’s civilian establishment towards India’s concerns. Significantly, Mr. Modi initiated the meeting in Ufa that led to the thaw. Yet, it has to be noted that such icebreakers in the recent past following actions and intentions at the highest levels did not really lead to enduring bonhomie.

Of course, the Pakistani security establishment taking a hawkish position and an upper hand in setting the agenda for Indo-Pakistan relations has often left the civilian government hamstrung in the past. Some of the bottlenecks — the lackadaisical approach to bringing the masterminds of the Mumbai attacks to justice, and the failure to take stringent action against anti-India terror groups in Pakistan, for example — are consequences of the security establishment’s resistance to a thaw, and its warped understanding of the issue of terrorism itself. Since the time of the UPA government, India has gradually adopted a policy that has sought to engage with the civilian government despite grievances over the contradictions in Pakistan’s India policy owing to the overhang of its security establishment’s views. This policy delivered limited benefits; hostility had been brought to a minimum level since the 26/11 terror attacks despite incidents on the border. In the past year, additional wrinkles were caused by the BJP government’s knee-jerk reactions, such as the cancellation of Foreign Secretary-level talks following a meeting between Pakistan High Commission officials in India and Hurriyat Conference representatives. Following the Ufa meeting, there are rumblings within Pakistan on the absence of any reference to Kashmir in the joint statement, even as the BJP claims a “victory” for the very same reason. It is to be hoped that positive sentiments that follow a thaw, which invariably deteriorate into theatrics owing to narrow political reasons, can be avoided at least this time around.

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