Informal talks held away from public glare cannot go beyond basic management of tensions

The backchannel talks between India and Pakistan, though not acknowledged publicly, are a welcome development, but one should not expect any dramatic outcomes from such initiatives. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is reportedly playing a key role in facilitating the parleys aimed at a modest roadmap to normalise bilateral ties. The recent truce agreement between the two countries along the Line of Control (LoC) and other sectors can be attributed to the backchannel diplomacy.

However, there are limitations inherent to such informal talks held away from the public glare. It must be pointed out that Kashmir remains a flashpoint between the two countries. Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s statement that his country was ready for talks if India “revisits” its “recent actions” in Kashmir shows the neighbouring country’s obsession with the region. Such an exercise cannot go beyond basic management of tensions, possibly to tide both countries over a difficult period. For the festering wounds to heal and for restoration of permanent peace, Islamabad must put an end to its long-held strategy of using terrorism as an instrument of State policy. Unfortunately, Islamabad has created an entire industry of terrorism to deal with the Kashmir issue. After its humiliating defeat in the 1971 war, the military-led hierarchy in Pakistan turned towards religious fundamentalism with an aim to “bleed India with thousand cuts’. The acquisition of nuclear weapons and promotion of terror as a weapon for waging a proxy war with focus on Kashmir remained the single point agenda of the military top brass.

The onus of restoring normalcy between the two countries lies with Pakistan. It must stop nurturing anti-India terror outfits operating from its soil with impunity. Already mired in a deep economic crisis with the threat of black listing by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the global watchdog on terror financing, looming large, Pakistan needs to realise that it can ill-afford heightened tensions on the Kashmir border for a prolonged period. It also has to stabilise the Afghan border on its west as the United States prepares to exit from the war-torn nation.

Islamabad’s Kashmir obsession has led to reckless expenditure in misadventures of the army, pushing the country into a debt trap. It tried to use every forum to internationalise the Kashmir issue but found itself isolated globally. The continued grey listing by the FATF has further added to Pakistan’s economic stress, shortage of foreign exchange and borrowings beyond capacity leading to internal dissent and chaos. This has pushed the country deeper into the embrace of China. Given such complexities, the peace overtures from Islamabad must be taken with a pinch of salt. India needs to proceed in a measured and cautious manner, given past experiences.