Friday, January 29, 2016

Daily Times Editorial Jan 30, 2016

Pak-India talks If ever the aphorism “the more things change, the more they remain the same” were applicable, it certainly fits the bill as far as Pak-India relations are concerned. If the latest statements of the Pakistani foreign office and the Indian foreign ministry are perused, what one finds is an all too familiar ring to these utterings. Pakistan, in the shape of the foreign office spokesman and Sartaj Aziz, the Prime Minister's Adviser on Foreign Affairs, have thrown the ball back into India’s court as far as settling mutually convenient dates for the foreign secretaries talks originally scheduled for January 15 but postponed due to the Pathankot attack. At the time, both sides had been careful to underline that the talks had only been postponed, not cancelled. Yet here we are more than a month down the road since then, and all we are hearing from the Pakistani side as well as the Indian foreign ministry spokesman is that “mutually convenient” dates are not yet in hand. As though it would help matters move along, our foreign office spokesman felt it necessary to respond to references to Pakistan in the joint France-India communiqué after President Hollande’s visit by urging India to refrain from hurling unsubstantiated allegations of supporting terrorism against Pakistan. The usual corollary to this followed, positing Pakistan as the (biggest?) victim of terrorism itself, having lost thousands of lives, property and economic progress to the phenomenon. Despite Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s reiterations of resolve to counter terrorism and the detention of Maulana Masood Azhar of the Jaish-e-Mohammad, accused of masterminding the Pathankot attack, immense uncertainty looms over the (preliminary) meeting of the foreign secretaries in order to pave the way for the Bilateral Comprehensive Dialogue to follow. Both sides seem firmly bogged down in the old and worn ruts, particularly since Islamabad insists the ‘evidence’ regarding the Pathankot attack provided by India is “insufficient” (shades of Mumbai). Because of the present hiatus, it has not even been possible to finalise the visit of an investigation team Pakistan wanted to send to Pathankot. If there is a chink of light in this once again darkening curtain of dancing around the issue, one is the statement of the Pakistan High Commissioner in New Delhi Abdul Basit, who is confident the foreign secretary talks will begin in February and the other the report that the Pakistani and Indian foreign secretaries could meet this week on the sidelines of a conference in San Francisco, where they will take advantage of the opportunity to discuss dates for their formal interaction. The ‘ball’ referred to in the Pakistani foreign office’s statement, it seems, is being tossed around from one side to the other. Lingering secondary irritants such as the recent reported dropping of a bomb by the Indian Air Force in Rajasthan do not of course help matters. The apprehension is that this bilateral dialogue may suffer the same fate as the proposed dialogue after the Mumbai attacks. Governments in Islamabad and New Delhi changed while both sides were still dancing their minuet around the investigations of that terror attack and even the replacement governments have made little if any progress in that direction. Now comes Pathankot just as the two sides had groped their way back to the negotiating table after initial aggressive intent was on display from the Modi government. On present trends at least, the post-Pathankot scenario has a chilling resemblance to post-Mumbai. There are sceptics on both sides, not to mention the spoilers in the middle, who seldom pass up any opportunity to return the protagonists to their knee-jerk traditional hostility, mistrust and suspicion. Over the years, all means have been tried, confidence building measures, trade, economic cooperation, etc, but none have worked in the face of the underlying mistrust rooted in history. The people of the subcontinent await with a mixture of hope and resignation the reversal of this familiar Pak-India impasse. The world too understands and is concerned about the continuing tensions between the two nuclear-armed South Asian neighbours. The eminently logical recourse to the weapon of language rather than the time-worn language of weapons remains to be established as the dominant and irreversible currency of the relationship. Hope for the best, but don’t hold your breath where these two countries are concerned.

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