What started off with the path breaking visit of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to attend the swearing-in ceremony of his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi and raised hopes of a new era in Indo-Pak relations soon ended in a whimper when New Delhi unilaterally decided to call off Foreign Secretary level talks just because Islamabad chose to disregard its ‘request’ that the Pakistan High Commissioner to India should not engage with Hurriyat leaders. Ever since then, Indo- Pak relations have plummeted to new lows both at the diplomatic as well as military levels. While Islamabad has gone on a diplomatic overdrive to impress upon the UN and international community that it is the unresolved Kashmir issue which remains the sole cause for this sorry state of affairs, both armies are engaged in a free-for-all gun battle on the borders in which soldiers and civilians alike are being killed and injured.
Though neither side may publically be willing to relent, the two seem to have realised the futility of adopting a confrontational approach. This is probably the reason why both sides are intermittently lacing their aggressive rhetoric with subtle indicators hinting at the possibility of a rapprochement and this is indeed a welcome sign. While speaking about the present deadlock with Islamabad over the issue of Hurriyat leaders meeting Pakistani officials Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has clarified that there are no full stops in diplomacy and that “we (India and Pakistan) could always move forward.” Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit too has echoed the same sentiments through his recent statement during media interaction at the Hyderabad Press Club that “We would not like our relationship (with India) to be held hostage to one single issue but we would like to talk.”
Having failed to get support of the UN or international community in resolving the Kashmir imbroglio despite its much hyped diplomatic blitz, it would have become abundantly clear to Islamabad the festering problem of Kashmir has to be mutually resolved by India and Pakistan without any ‘third party’ intervention and this is only possible if both countries agree to sit down and talk. While these talks may not mean much for both the countries since only peripheral issues between India and Pakistan would be discussed, it should not be forgotten it means everything for the people of Kashmir as it is their future that is directly linked to Indo- Pak dialogue! Addressing a meeting of the Kashmir Council in Muzaffarabad, Nawaz Sharif said that for Islamabad, the Kashmir issue is of utmost importance, adding that “It is our fundamental belief that the Kashmir issue should be resolved through dialogue.” If Sharif considers resolution of the ‘K’ issue to be of ‘utmost importance’ and is convinced that it can only be resolved through dialogue, then why has Tariq Fatemi, who is his special assistant on Foreign Affairs stated that since India had called off the Foreign Secretary level talks, “Now it is its (New Delhi’s) responsibility to take an initiative for their start. We are not going to contact India for resumption of talks”? So, with this ambivalent approach on dialogue with New Delhi that will leave the Kashmir issue unaddressed, the question I ask Mr Sharif is that when it comes to resolution of the Kashmir issue, are you serious? Though this question may have become more of a joke ever since Robert Vadra posed the same repeatedly to a journalist questioning his dubious land deals, I am being dead serious!
Pakistan has long being claiming that New Delhi’s intentionally avoids any meaningful dialogue with Islamabad as it is part of its strategy to ensure that the Kashmir issue remains in its indeterminate state. While Sharif’s special assistant on Foreign Affairs lamented that “The (Indo-Pak) talks were about to restart due to efforts of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif but India scuttled them,” Sharif himself has complained that “My government initiated dialogue with India but India cancelled the scheduled Foreign Secretary talks.” So, when he knows that New Delhi has already played the ‘either you speak to us or the Hurriyat’ card successfully, what has made Sharif take the enormous risk of declaring that “before dialogue with India, I have decided to engage with Kashmiri Leaders”? After all, Sharif is a seasoned politician with a good reputation and knows that since his efforts to internationalise the Kashmir issue have not yielded the results he had hoped for. dialogue with New Delhi remains the only way out to resolve the ‘K’ issue So, why is he besmirching his own political image by his decision “to engage with Kashmiri Leaders” when he is fully aware that with the Hurriyat being on the same page, there is absolutely nothing regarding the resolution of the Kashmir problem on which there is any requirement of consultation or discussion with the “Kashmiri (Hurriyat) leaders”? Therefore, knowing very well that this decision of his could well scuttle Indo-Pak talks yet once again, the only plausible reason for Sharif’s obduracy may be his bruised ego. If he is willing to sacrifice resolution of the ‘K’ issue just to satisfy his ego, then the same question that once again arises is- when it comes to resolution of the Kashmir issue, are you serious Mr Sharif?
If Islamabad is really concerned about the people of Kashmir and convinced that New Delhi is deliberately trying to avoid talks, then becomes all the more necessary for it to force India to agree for a dialogue. The international community may not have shown any inclination in getting embroiled on the issue of Kashmir, but it would certainly support Islamabad’s unconditional offer of talks with New Delhi. So, this is the time when Islamabad needs to walk the talk on its professed commitment to the people of Kashmir and in doing so it requires getting over petty ego problems and other extraneous considerations. Surely, both the people of Pakistan and Kashmir as well as the Hurriyat will understand that in the larger interest of resolving the Kashmir issue, Islamabad is prepared to adopt an ‘over-accommodative’ stance and by doing so, it is not surrendering before New Delhi but only ‘cornering’ it. However, if he decides not do so, then would it be wrong to ask yet once again– that when it comes to resolution of the Kashmir issue, are you serious Mr Sharif?