Shed ego to make talks fruitful

Shed ego to make talks fruitful

The India-Pakistan Foreign Secretary-level talks in New Delhi have ended without any concrete achievements or forward motion. The two sides are reported to have raised “issues of concern” and exchanged ideas on taking the relationship forward. They agreed to “remain in touch”. Little was expected to come out of the talks. This was, after all, the first high-level meeting between the two sides since the Pathankot terror attack. Also, there were signs that Pakistan was less than enthusiastic on dialogue. A few weeks ago, Pakistan’s High Commissioner Abdul Basit told the media that the comprehensive dialogue process was “suspended,” signalling that the talks were in trouble. Still, there were hopes that the foreign secretaries would achieve some kind of a breakthrough. Instead of looking for common ground on “issues of concern”, they were preoccupied with finger pointing and reiterating old positions. While Pakistan harped on Kashmir as the “core issue,” India focussed on Pakistan’s support to terrorism. That this was hardly a meeting of minds is evident from the sharply divergent content of the statements the two sides issued separately. India’s statement was silent on Kashmir, Pakistan’s made no mention of the Pathankot terror attack. At the end of the meeting, there was no mention of the modalities to “remain in touch.” No dates or time-frames were given for future talks.

There is no clarity on how they propose to take forward the dialogue process. Peace processes take time to yield results. There are no magic formula or short-cuts. However, the slow pace in which the India-Pakistan process is moving or rather the absence of forward motion in the dialogue is worrying. Of course, this does not mean that talks are useless and are better abandoned as there is no option to dialogue to resolve bilateral differences and build a lasting peace. It is not talks per se that are to blame for the lack of progress but the apathetic approach of the two sides to the dialogue process.

Talks should not be about scoring points. A more serious attitude to talks is sure to yield results.The India-Pakistan peace process needs to be infused with new energy. The two prime minister need to nudge their respective bureaucracies to shed their conservative mindset. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has in the past indicated that he is not averse to taking risks or making bold changes. He must act now to pull the peace process out of the rut. That will make his visit to Islamabad in November for the Saarc summit truly historic.

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