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EDITORIAL: Following his meeting with Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Monday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told journalists: “we talked [diplomatic speak for ‘I advised him’] about the importance of managing a responsible relationship with India.”

It is a sane advice, but to the wrong side. For, it is India ruled by an ultra-Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi which has been intensifying tensions with this country rather than seeking a civilised relationship.

As Bilawal pointed out in his address to a Washington-based think-tank, Woodrow Wilson Center, “this is a very different India, Mr Modi is not Dr Manmohan Singh, or even Mr Vajpayee”, reminding his audience that Modi was refused a US visa (for presiding over the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom as chief minister of Gujarat state) until he became prime minister. Still, he said “we want a manageable and responsible relationship with India.”

Since he came to power in New Delhi riding on the back of Pakistan-bashing rhetoric and hate campaign against his country’s Muslim citizens, the Pakistan-India peace dialogue lies dead in the water. He has repeatedly rebuffed Pakistan’s overtures for resumption of peace talks.

In his very first address to the nation on assumption of office in 2018, the then prime minister Imran Khan, like Nawaz Sharif before him, had extended a hand of cooperation to his Indian counterpart. In an unequivocal declaration of intent he had stated, “If India’s leadership is ready, we are ready to improve ties with India. If you take one step forward, we will take two steps forward.”

To which the response was several steps backward. A few months later, i.e., in February 2019 in an unprovoked act of aggression Indian warplane crossed the international border and dropped bombs near Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa claiming to have destroyed a terrorist training camp. International observers who inspected the place said it was uninhabited woodland with no sign of any human activity.

Pakistan had to respond in kind. In the retaliatory action two Indian jets were downed, and one of the pilots captured. As a goodwill gesture and also to prevent further escalation Pakistan promptly returned the pilot to his country. Unfortunately, India has kept vitiating the atmosphere.

It believes that it can suppress the freedom movement in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJ&K) by revoking the disputed territory’s special status and resorting to mass arrests, arbitrary killings, including custodial killings, restrictions on people’s movement and the internet.

Instead it has managed to create a humanitarian crisis. Pakistan, a party to the J&K dispute as recognised by UN Security Council resolutions, cannot, therefore, ignore New Delhi’s growing belligerence in IIOJ&K.

The US’ desire to protect and promote its strategic partner’s interests is understandable. But it also needs to realise that improvement of relations is never a one-sided affair.

The situation will remain volatile between the two nuclear-armed nations as long as India’s rulers insist on pursing the path of confrontation rather than conciliation with the people of IIOJ&K as well as Pakistan’s.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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