The Heart of Asia conference scheduled to be held in Amritsar on December 3-4 will be attended by Pakistan’s Sartaj Aziz. However, any formal dialogue between India and Pakistan seems unlikely as both countries have abstained from making any formal request for a bilateral dialogue during the summit. The maximum we may see at the summit are informal talks on the sidelines that are not likely to foster a substantial change in the situation which has strained in the recent past.
The sixth Heart of Asia conference is expected to see attendance of leaders from around 30 countries including US, Russia, China and Iran. The theme will be connectivity and increasing security in and around the Afghan region. The discussions will revolve primarily on peace, cooperation and economic growth in Afghanistan and neighbouring regions. India is the co-chair and host this time and Afghanistan is the permanent chair of the conference. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley will lead the Indian delegation in the summit.
India and Pakistan held a formal bilateral dialogue in the last Heart of Asia conference and decided to take the momentum forward in subsequent summits. However, tension has escalated between the two from the start of this year after the Pathankot attack and ceasefire violations in July. The Uri attack and hundreds of ceasefire violations along the Line of Control have left the two neighbours on the edge.
None of the parties have asked for a bilateral dialogue at the summit and with only two days to go, it is unlikely that one will be placed now. Pakistan has passed the buck to India with Sartaj Aziz, strategist and adviser to Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on foreign affairs, claiming that Pakistan is willing to talk but it doesn’t know whether India is willing or not.
After India’s retaliatory surgical strikes, regular terrorist attacks have been carried out in the country with army being the target. Trade has almost stopped. India has led a global isolation campaign against Pakistan.
Not since the Kargil war had tensions between the two neighbours escalated to such levels and it is incumbent upon the diplomatic machinery to find a breakthrough initiate a dialogue.
The ground was laid for a new beginning between the two countries. The establishment in Pakistan–an amalgam of civilian and military leadership with the military dictating security and foreign policy–has changed its texture with civilian government enjoying much more authority. After two decades, General Raheel Sharif has became the first Pakistani Army chief to call it a day on his retirement and hand over his position peacefully to the next General in line. The new Pakistani Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa is thought to be pro-democracy and has been carefully placed by Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
However, General Sharif’s effect will take some time to wear off. It is also a fact that Sartaj Aziz is a key cog in the barrel of the establishment and his aggressive manipulations of the civilian Sharif have hurt the chances of a turnaround in relations between India-Pakistan on the diplomatic front for now.