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Monday, February 17, 2020

Talk the talk

That the India and Pakistan back-channel is alive and buzzing is heartening. Both sides must keep talking

By: Editorial | Published: January 2, 2018 12:10:50 pm
india pak nsa meet, nsa meet bangkok, thailand, ajit doval, pakistan india ties, hafiz saeed, kulbhushan jadhav, indian express That the India and Pakistan back-channel is alive and buzzing is heartening. Both sides must keep talking

The secret Bangkok meeting, reported by this paper, between the National Security Advisors of India and Pakistan on December 26, the day after Kulbhushan Jadhav met his mother and wife in Islamabad, may contradict the spirit of outrage expressed in Parliament at the manner in which Pakistan treated Jadhav’s family members. But it is no less welcome for that. It shows that despite all the public hostility and statements to the contrary by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and senior members of his government, New Delhi understands the value of remaining engaged with Pakistan. This is encouraging. Only a few days ago, Prime Minister Modi targeted his predecessor Manmohan Singh and former Vice-President Hamid Ansari for a “secret” meeting with the former Pakistani foreign minister, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, at the home of Congressman Mani Shankar Aiyar. Matters appeared to slide further downhill after the Jadhav family meeting failed to go as India had expected. The free pass given by Pakistan to Hafiz Saeed, held by India to be the mastermind of 26/11, and talk of “mainstreaming” him, was another finger in India’s eye. It seemed that India and Pakistan would never climb out of the hole they had dug for themselves. But now it seems that they have been making an effort all along. The meeting between Indian NSA Ajit Kumar Doval and his Pakistani counterpart was not a consequence of the Jadhav family meeting, but had been scheduled before. That it went ahead despite the showdown over Jadhav is an indication that it is a serious process.

Doval and Nasser Khan Janjua are said to have discussed matters of mutual interest in their two-hour meeting. Questions may be asked if such back channel talks will go anywhere given the political chaos in Pakistan. Janjua was handpicked by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose main aim right now is to stay out of jail. But it shows that both sides have kept a window open. The Pakistan Army is said to have been in the loop regarding the meeting, another positive sign; indeed, the Pakistan Army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, is reported to have told the upper house of the Pakistan Parliament that the Army backs the idea of talks with India.

It is odd, though, that ruling party politicians in India have been allowed to pump up anti-Pakistan talk to the extent that large constituencies have stopped thinking of normalisation of ties as a positive outcome. At the very least, politicians, and that includes Congress ones too, must turn down the volume. January 1 is the day that India and Pakistan keep up an annual tradition of exchanging lists of each other’s nuclear facilities, and of each other’s nationals in their prisons. The hot exchanges over Jadhav did not upend an agreement under which Pakistan released 145 fishermen in its custody on December 29, and will release another batch on January 8. All these are good auguries.

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