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EDITORIAL: Tensions between Pakistan and India seem to be easing somewhat. In a surprise development last month, the two countries directors general of military operations (DGMOs) held a meeting in a "cordial atmosphere" and announced an agreement "for strict observance of all agreements, understandings and cease firing along the LoC and all other sectors, with effect from midnight 24/25 February". The statement also contained signs of a thaw in bilateral relations as it said "in the interest of achieving mutually beneficial and sustainable peace, the two DGMOs agreed to address each other's core issues/concerns which have the propensity to disturb peace and lead to violence". Although some on this side insisted the statement should to be read within the context of ceasefire violations, New Delhi expressed its desire to have "normal neighbourly relations" with Pakistan. Press reports emanating from India now say Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi is likely to meet his Indian counterpart S Jaishankar on the sidelines of the upcoming "Heart of Asia" conference in Tajikistan's capital Dushanbe. According to these reports, the two sides are to discuss the Saarc summit - which has remained in abeyance since 2016 due to Pak-India tensions - to be held in Islamabad; and that there is a strong chance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's participation in it. They are also to discuss reinstatement, at the earliest, of high commissioners in both the countries.

Given the hostility that has characterized Modi government's policy towards this country, there surely is more to these developments than meets the eye. At least three good reasons suggest the Biden administration may have (through intermediaries reportedly the UAE) nudged PM Modi to improve relations with Pakistan. One, of course, is that the US needs Pakistan's help to end its longest war in Afghanistan. Secondly, while the US strategists see India as a counterweight to China, they do not want the country to be dragged down by its ceaseless conflict with Pakistan. On its part, India is happy to get a seat at the high table as a partner in the US' Indo-Pacific strategy. Third, President Joe Biden may be finding it difficult to ignore the humanitarian crisis in the Illegally Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir, given that during his election campaign he had expressed concern over human rights violations. Also, in a policy paper titled "Joe Biden's agenda for Muslim American community" he had decried the Citizens Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens as being inconsistent with the country's long-standing tradition of secularism and with sustaining a multi-ethnic and multi-religious democracy.

Jammu and Kashmir being the core issue of Pak-India conflict, Islamabad had decided to downgrade diplomatic ties on August 7, 2019, two days after New Delhi scrapped article 370 of its constitution that gave special status to the disputed region. In a usual tit-for-tat reaction, India had recalled its envoy to this country. Resumption of a meaningful dialogue process, therefore, is contingent upon resolution of the situation in occupied Kashmir. For a start, India must end the military siege; stop human rights violations and abuses; free all illegally detained Kashmiris, and repeal the new domicile and property laws aimed at changing the disputed region's demographic complexion. Its ultra-Hindu nationalist prime minister is not expected to easily agree to any proposal for dismantling the anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan hostility structure he has built his entire political career on. Still, that country's influential friends, in particular the US, can play a role in promoting a substantive peace dialogue between the two nuclear-armed nations. They need to do that for the sake of peace and stability of this region, which is in their own interest.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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