India-Pakistan: hardening positions

A familiar and unhappy trend is reasserting itself in the Pak-India relationship: the leaderships of both sides appear to be more interested in domestic posturing than genuinely seeking to engage each other.

Yesterday, foreign affairs adviser Sartaj Aziz continued with his recent hardening line on India when he claimed that New Delhi was avoiding dialogue with Pakistan because dialogue would mean negotiating over difficult issues such as the Kashmir dispute.

While Mr Aziz reiterated that Pakistan remains open to resuming dialogue with India, the theme of his remarks suggested that he is far from convinced that breakthroughs on the dialogue front are imminent.

Read: ‘India never opened a window of opportunity’

Earlier, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave an interview to a hawkish Indian TV outfit in which he suggested that his government’s policies had created difficulties for Pakistan in the international arena.

Mr Modi went on to claim that his government’s willingness to talk to Pakistan was complicated by the civil-military imbalance here. It was a quintessential performance by Mr Modi: claiming to be in favour of peace, while making peace the hardest possibility.

The emerging and familiar trend needs to be fought. Pak-India relations are too important for either side to allow old patterns to endlessly re-emerge and scuttle the hopes and aspirations of the two countries’ peoples.

As ever, the answer remains in acknowledging that there is some merit to the arguments made by both sides. The bilateral dialogue that Mr Modi appears to have in mind is very different to the concerns Pakistan has.

Pakistan has never rejected discussing terrorism-related issues; in fact, the country’s foreign policy architects have consistently argued that the Composite Dialogue, now the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue, has within it the means to address terrorism concerns alongside the core issues that Pakistan wants discussed.

Yet, just as Mr Modi and his government seem opposed to the very idea of negotiating over the Kashmir dispute, Pakistan downplays India’s terrorism concerns.

Consider that after years of unresolved issues over the Mumbai attacks of November 2008, the Pathankot incident appears to be headed in the same direction.

If it is unreasonable of India to not want to discuss the Kashmir dispute, it is unrealistic of Pakistan to believe that India will simply move on from major terrorist incidents with the passage of time.

Amidst the cooling bilateral relationship, there remains at least one island of hope: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The prime minister’s willingness and ability to personally reach out to Mr Modi is established.

Similarly, domestically Mr Sharif has shown a hitherto unknown capacity for restraint and a willingness to find ways to work with the military leadership. What remains to be seen is if the prime minister can pull off the ultimate balancing act between the complaints of Mr Modi and the demands of the military leadership.

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