If there is a silver lining to the seemingly sterile talks between Foreign Secretary Aziz Ahmed Chaudhry and his Indian counterpart S Jaishankar, it is that they took place at all — rather than did not. Beyond this there seems, at least on the surface, to have been little movement. It is unwise to read anything definitive into contacts such as this as their detailed content is never in the public domain, and official communiques are not always a reliable guide to what went on behind closed doors. That said, there appears to have been a mutual tabling of assorted, and mostly old, concerns. Agenda items that are always on the table and never resolved by either side, there never having been any substantive resolution of a single one of the innumerable disputes that bedevil the relationship since Partition. The list of grievances grows by the year on both sides, and the shifting political tides in both India and Pakistan bring to the surface differing agendas in the minds and hearts of their respective leaderships.
Currently both sides are complaining bitterly of the activities on the one hand of terrorist groups and on the other activities by intelligence services. India blames Pakistan for harbouring those that attack it regularly, and Pakistan captures an Indian intelligence officer who decides to comprehensively spill the beans on what his masters want. There can be no doubt whatsoever that both countries are actively spying on each other. Equally, there is little doubt that Pakistan is home to groups that have attacked India and are certain to do so again — and is demonstrably tardy about shutting them down. Both sides have cause for complaint and in that sense are their own worst enemies, with each point of friction handing on to the next ad infinitum. One and a half hours of secretary-level talks do not make a peace deal. Neither side has a history of dealing honestly or transparently with the other, and perhaps the best we can hope for is a revival of the bilateral dialogue later in the year, but until then, the peace process is stuck in neutral gear.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 28th, 2016.
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