The failure to engage in the talks scheduled between India and Pakistan comes as no surprise. These talks appeared doomed from the outset; and with the decision to meet with Hurriyat leaders and India deciding to unilaterally limit the agenda to the reduction in terrorist activity that harms both states — a stake was driven through their heart. There will now be a ritualised apportioning of blame for the failure to engage. There will also be an examination of the ‘seriousness’ of either side — whether there was any real will to engage and actually begin to solve the many difficulties that exist between our two states. With the collapse of the National Security Adviser (NSA) talks, the dialogue between senior military officers of both sides is now also in jeopardy. This is a matter of considerable concern given the ‘heat’ currently being experienced along the Line of Control and the Working Boundary.
Whatever agreement was reached between Nawaz Sharif and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it appears to have had insufficient substance and heft to have translated into solid diplomatic activity. The meeting in the Russian city of Ufa last month now appears to have been little more than an exchange of diplomatic niceties into which rather too much was read. Negotiation is a trading process. There has to be give and take on both sides and the stark reality is that neither side came to the table with anything in their pockets. The Indians had nothing to trade, and neither did Pakistan. Both sides were in a position little different in terms of what they want from one another than at the point of Partition. The current Indian government under Mr Modi — no matter the smiles and handshakes in Ufa — has a strongly nationalist hue, and is unlikely to shift from that position. Nothing that Pakistan proposes is going to be acceptable, objections will always be found. It was not unreasonable for Pakistan to want a broad agenda. Big issues cannot be eternally deferred — but the talks did not happen and both sides are losers and the regional security environment just got darker. Peace is a remarkably fragile thing.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 25th, 2015.
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