Don’t stop talking


The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaking before the Congressional committee last week said she was “encouraged” by the talks between India and Pakistan. The Obama administration has been pushing India and Pakistan to resume dialogue after the terror strike in Mumbai allegedly by a Pakistani based militant organisation.      

At this time, when US is withdrawing 33,000 soldiers from Afghanistan by the end of next year, an all out civil-war in Afghanistan would hurt everyone in the region. Nor would be Afghans, fleeing any conflagration, be as welcome in Pakistan as they were during the 1980s when they were fighting Soviets, given Pakistan’s economic troubles and domestic terrorism problems.

India and Pakistan share an interest in limiting the rise of Afghan Taliban, albeit for different reasons. India is wary of increased Islamic extremism in the neighbourhood that could spark another Mumbai-like attack. And Pakistan is concerned that a revitalized Afghan Taliban could embolden its own Taliban, further complicating its security issues.

Noted international affairs commentator, Fareed Zakaria, once said if only the dispute over Kashmir were resolved, Pakistan would suddenly attack all the militant groups it has supported over the years. Now, it’s fair to say that India is far too prickly about Kashmir, but the only path to any resolution there will lie in building trust between Pakistan and India.

A month before his election, Barrack Obama, had expressed intentions to try to work with India and Pakistan to resolve “Kashmir crisis”. However, after becoming president he did not utter a word about Kashmir.

The pressure build by India on the US was so steep that US Assistant Secretary of State Robert O Blacke, Jr had to say that the US had no plans of appointing any special envoy to settle the dispute.

India and Pakistan are talking in Islamabad. At the end of two-day foreign secretary level talks there was nothing new. Every opportunity of bringing permanent peace to the region has been lost in the past. But despite that from the last seven years, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been advocating engagement with Pakistan.

Ask any political leader in both countries and they would tell you they don’t have any hope in these talks. Even though many political analysts in India say there are new initiatives and many of them might lead to “sustainable steps forward”.

The joint statement issued in Islamabad said the talks were “frank” – we are always told the talks were frank. They were “cordial” and they will “continue”.
The continuity part is important. They have to continue talking. Even though incidents like Mumbai might happen. The dialogue between two countries at the higher level is important for lasting peace in the region.  

The countries decided to reconvene the working group on cross-LoC and CBMs on trade. However, the cross LoC trade is already shut from last three months over disputes of charging Vat on goods sent across the LoC.

The two countries also agreed to continue discussions on Kashmir in a purposeful and forward looking manner.

Narrowing divergences and building convergences can help. But will they?


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