Talk, but not on Kashmirhttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/talk-but-not-on-kashmir-pok-loc-abhinandan-india-pakistan-pulwama-attack-5607505/

Talk, but not on Kashmir

India-Pakistan dialogue should focus, instead, on reviving trade

IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was released by Pakistani authorities on Friday. (PTI)
IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was released by Pakistani authorities on Friday. (PTI)

On February 27, Wing Commander Abhinandan of the Indian Air Force (IAF) was arrested in Pakistan after his jet went down during a mission inside Pakistan. He was shown on television praising the Pakistan Army for treating him well, while bravely refusing to answer questions. The officer was impressive as he spoke, his face covered with blood, a brave son of a decorated IAF officer. Pakistan has done well to return him to India for the sake of peace.

On February 26, according to the Indian news agency ANI, “Indian Air Force Mirage 2000 fighters destroyed multiple terrorist camps across the Line of Control” killing hundreds of terrorists undergoing training. This news came after the Pakistan Army spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor had claimed that “Indian aircraft intruded from Muzaffarabad sector” and dropped a payload near Balakot after “facing timely and effective response from Pakistan Air Force”.

Union Minister of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare Gajendra Singh Shekhawat was the first to tweet on the attacks from the Indian government’s side. This was the first time after the 1971 war that IAF had crossed into Pakistan-controlled air space, he said. On the Pakistani side Major-General Asif Ghafoor, Director-General Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) gave information about the “Indian aircrafts’ intrusion across the LOC in Muzaffarabad Sector” to the media.

Pictures released by the DG-ISPR appeared in the Pakistani press showing a burnt steep mountainside with “no sign of any damage to any property, apart from a few pine trees”. India claimed that it had struck Balakot.

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The world outside immediately focused on the infamous camp near Mansehra where the terrorist organisation, Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) was known to train terrorists. Mansehra became internationally known after a Pakistan airforce officer Adnan Rashid defected to the al Qaeda while training there. He later tried to kill former President Pervez Musharraf.

Musharraf, also a former army chief, who is today on the run from an anti-terrorism court says he didn’t kill Benazir Bhutto but some “rogue elements within the army” might have. He asserted: “I don’t have any facts. But my assessment is accurate. I think a lady who is known to be inclined towards the West is seen suspiciously by those elements.” But elements within the army thought Musharraf was doing something worse: Getting cosy with India. He survived an assassination attempt.

Even then, Pakistan and India need to talk. Some dialogue between the two countries is on. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, a Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Member of the National Assembly, was recently in India for the Kumbh Mela. He met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. The Pakistani daily Express Tribune reported him as saying: “I have communicated a positive note to the Indian leaders and I hope there will now be a change in their behaviour.” (See also ‘A Hindu in Pakistan’ IE, January 19).

The world is neither with India nor with Pakistan as it asks them to stop escalating their quarrel after the Pulwama tragedy. While not defending India over its violation of the Line of Control, it keeps reminding Pakistan about its “covert war” outfits like JeM and Lashkar-e-Taiba. This is something that Pakistani TV shows too have started discussing. On February 7, for instance, Dawn TV anchor Meher Bokhari, talked about the Paris-based Forward Action Task Force’s (FATF) stricture on Pakistan for “not doing enough” against its “terrorists”.

India and Pakistan, though, must avoid discussing Kashmir. This is because there is always a stalemate with India demanding that Pakistan let up on cross-border terrorism and Pakistan insisting on talking about all items of disagreement, “including Kashmir”. Such peace pantomime has not worked and will not work. The two must seriously think of “normalising”, that is, allowing “connectivity” under SAARC through free trade and free movement of goods and traffic. India should be given a road through Pakistan to another SAARC member, Afghanistan, and onwards to Central Asia. The project started by Atal Bihari Vajpayee must be carried to its conclusion — to give the people of South Asia a chance to live in peace.

The writer is consulting editor, Newsweek Pakistan