The official-level talks between Pakistan and India on Tuesday were not expected to be a breakthrough in their perennially hostility-ridden relationship, and they were not. The visiting Indian foreign secretary, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, warmly shook hands with his host Aizaz Chaudhry; they might have discussed everything under the sun in their meeting, but at the end of the day they couldn’t hold joint press conference – that is the measure of stiffness of public positions the two sides have taken on issues that have bedevilled their bilateral relationship all these years. But that said the importance of the event cannot be underrated, given talks and only talks is the way forward for the two to obtain right conditions for a friction-free, peaceful coexistence, if their newly-elected leadership have to succeed in their oft-repeated avowals to take their people out of the darkness of deprivations and underdevelopment. India had cancelled the scheduled foreign secretary-level talks last year; and if it has returned to the table now – for whatever reasons. No doubt, it is a positive development. But it could have come more openly; instead of giving its move the guise of ‘Saarc yatra’, which is neither here nor there, and say ‘well, there are issues between us and let us discuss them’. And, if Prime Minister Modi had to send his man here to honour his promise made to Mufti Sayeed, the new chief minister of Occupied Kashmir, then let the octogenarian power-seeker stew in his own juice. Here in Pakistan, there are no takers of his boast that his election victory is the victory of the Kashmiri Muslims. Mufti Sayeed has bartered away the special status of Kashmir conceded by Indian constitution reflecting validity of the United Nations resolutions on the disputed nature of Kashmir saga, as he has opened the door on the RSS-inspired revivalists of Hindu nationalism.
Evidently then the backdrop for the resumption of talks was least helpful. But there remain on the ground critical developments; if allowed to fester they have the potential to explode. That Jaishankar and Chaudhry took them up, and as reflected from their media encounters, dealt with them at some length, is something that bodes well and may help defuse tensions on the Line of Control and the Working Boundary. The Indian side as expected brought up the cross-border terrorism and Mumbai carnage case only to be encountered by the hosts raising questions about Indian sincerity in lifting the cover over the long-delayed finalisation of Samjhauta Express bombing and its involvement in fomenting unrest in tribal areas and Balochistan. Both sides did concede that the issue of Jammu and Kashmir along with other outstanding issues like the Sir Creek, the Siachen glacier, river waters also came under discussion. However, all of it was essentially in the spirit of sharpening the convergences and relegating the divergences. As if the whole affair was one-time event there was date for another round, though “both of us”, in the words of Foreign Secretary Chaudhry, ” agreed on the need to work together to develop the potential of regional co-operation”. Is it then that bilateral issues are to be the staple for the Saarc, which meets next year at the summit level with Pakistan in chair? That is more of daydreaming than to look at the realities of today directly into their ugly faces. One such issue which cannot be put on backburner is tensions on the LoC and the Working Boundary, which can explode any time. To the Pakistani side the only plausible explanation to India’s continuing violation of LoC ceasefire agreement is its nefarious mindset to distract Pakistan armed forces from their campaign against terrorist hideouts in tribal areas and Balochistan. So a kind of litmus test to the Indian claim of being anxious to mend fences with Pakistan would be how far it goes in observing peace and tranquillity on the common border. We don’t know what Narendra Modi tells Nawaz Sharif in his letter delivered here by Jaishankar. But we do know so far such personal-level bonhomie has achieved nothing in terms of cutting out thick layers of mistrust that obtains between the two neighbours.