EDITORIAL: Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said on Sunday Pakistan would be happy to engage in talks with India to resolve all outstanding issues if it is willing to revisit the unilateral decisions it took on August 5, 2019: revocation of occupied Jammu and Kashmir’s special status amid mass arrests and a protracted lockdown. Pakistan, he said, had outstanding issues with India including Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek and water, adding the only sensible way forward is dialogue. In fact, even as he has been countering reports of backchannel negotiations some recent developments suggest otherwise. One, of course, is a meeting the two countries directors general of military operations (DGMOs) held last February. A joint statement issued by the two sides recommitted themselves to “strict observance of all agreements, understandings and cease firing along the LoC and other sectors” also noting that “in the interest of achieving mutually beneficial and sustainable peace, the two DGMOs agreed to address each other’s core issues/concern which have the propensity to disturb peace and lead to violence.” Although officials on this side advised commentators not to read too much into it, some other developments indicate New Delhi’s readiness to discuss issues creating tensions between the two countries.
In a wide-ranging interview to an Indian TV last October, National Security Adviser to the Prime Minister Moeed Yusuf disclosed that India had sent a message expressing a desire for talks. Presumably, at the time talks were already being held behind the scenes, leading to recommitment to the 2003 ceasefire agreement. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who in the past had consistently been spurning Pakistan’s peace overtures, sent two goodwill messages to PM Imran Khan, who of course, responded in the same spirit. The US welcomed these developments and it is quite likely that the Biden administration has played some meaningful role in them. The Indian government, ever averse to any third party intervention in its disputes with Pakistan, is believed to have been successfully persuaded by the US to take the dialogue initiative. Its recent border standoff with China and US troops’ withdrawal from Afghanistan seem to have forced PM Modi to rethink and reformulate his policy towards this country. Reports point out that India’s need to increase troop concentration on its north-eastern border has nixed its military numerical superiority over Pakistan, creating a two-front threat for it.
Some of the outstanding issues such as Sir Creek and Siachen, are low hanging fruits that should not be so difficult to pick. According to those in the know, for a start Pakistan has suggested several confidence-building measures. These include a permanent halt to demographic change through a new domicile law in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu & Kashmir (IIOJ&K) and reversion to the status quo ante as part of an understanding that it is an internationally recognised dispute requiring resolution. In this newspaper’s view, however, prime minister Imran Khan’s message to India, the worst Covid-19-hit country in the world, through which he has expressed solidarity in the battle against the deadly virus is perhaps the most significant confidence-building step in relation to efforts aimed at improving bilateral ties between the two countries. Both the countries are therefore required to ensure that the gains, however modest or symbolic, that they have achieved since February this year must not be squandered away. In other words, this opportunity to usher in peace in South Asia must not end in disappointment.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021