India has thrown cold water on speculations that there would be a bilateral meeting between the prime ministers of Pakistan and India at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) gathering next week in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. Hopes for a thaw in the relations between the two countries were high after Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had an unscheduled meeting with then Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on the sidelines of the SCO meeting of foreign ministers, also in Bishkek, on May 22.
It was the first face-to-face meeting between the two foreign ministers and the highest-level interaction since the heightening of tensions in the aftermath of the Pulwama attack. The two were initially scheduled to meet on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York last September, but India backed out after accusing Pakistan of having ‘bad intentions’. Although the May 22 meeting did not provide anything concrete, Qureshi told Swaraj that Pakistan wanted to resolve all outstanding issues with India. As Swaraj had brought sweets to ‘sweeten the tone’ of the talks, as the Pakistani FM put it, there were hopes that it would be the first step in efforts to normalise relations between the two archrivals after border breaches and heated election rhetoric in India.
India’s new External Affairs Minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, has also signalled that there might be something in the offing, noting recently that India has the “responsibility to play a more active role and incentivise cooperation in the region”, which would obviously require moving towards better ties with Pakistan. Unfortunately though, his boss doesn’t seem to have gotten the memo. Despite having a clear mandate after his landslide election win, Modi seems increasingly uninterested in doing something that would be in the interest of India, Pakistan and the world — mostly because it would go against his brand of Hindu nationalism around a muscular defence of national security, and would infuriate his far-right base. Maybe India doesn’t feel that now is the time to make peace. But the Pulwama experience should serve as a reminder that at some point, the finger-wagging has to stop, lest we create more Abhinandans, on either side.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 8th, 2019.
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