Summit meetings such as the one attended by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi may seem like little more than diplomatic choreography, but they sometimes yield more than a sheaf of bland press statements. Given the low ebb that relations between India and Pakistan have reached, with months of clashes along the Line of Control and inflammatory statements by Indian politicians, including Mr Modi himself, there is reason for cautious optimism following the meeting of the two leaders. Whatever Mr Modi has to do or say to satisfy his electorate, India has to live in the wider world of the subcontinent and South Asia, as does Pakistan, and the recognition that both countries have a collective responsibility to maintain peace and promote development is welcome. The rivalry between India and Pakistan has impeded development in both countries, each of which has much to offer the other, but which neither has capitalised upon, preferring an unending but tightly managed instability.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Summit in Russia provided a timely opportunity for some large-scale housekeeping, and the statement issued after the two leaders met on the sidelines of the Summit contains rather more substance than is usual for such communications. A New Delhi meeting between the national security advisers and annual meetings between the directors general of the Border Security Force and the Rangers, as well the directors general of military operations, may at the least ensure that everybody is on the same page.
The timely release of fishermen by both sides and the promotion of religious tourism are both ‘do-able’, but jointly tackling terrorism is a more thorny issue and with the reverberations of the Mumbai attacks still echoing, difficult to address. Mr Modi is to attend the Saarc summit in Pakistan in 2016, which gives a year to put flesh on the bones of the joint statement. Both countries now need to fill in the blanks and make good on their commitments. They have failed to do this in the past — let us all hope for better this time around — because peace is a dividend everybody benefits from.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 11th, 2015.
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