Are talks going on between Pakistan, India?

By: Ashraf Mumtaz      Published: 04:03 PM, 25 Apr, 2021
Are talks going on between Pakistan, India?
File photo.

Are Pakistan and India holding talks at any level to normalize their ties, which, barring some brief spells, have always been tense since the simultaneous independence of the two countries some seven decades ago?

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi insists that the two countries are “not” engaged in any peace talks and the United Arab Emirates is not facilitating anything.

In an interview in Istanbul, he has been quoted as saying: "We are not having any peace talks at the moment and the UAE is not facilitating anything." 

On the other hand, a credible English language newspaper published from various cities of Pakistan reported on Sunday that India appro­ached Pakistan in December 2020 with an offer to reduce tension and offered backchannel talks on all outstanding issues, including Jammu and Kashmir, and that Pakistan reciprocated favourably. It says that high-level backchannel talks are going on between the intelligence leaderships of the two countries. 

While there is a contradiction between what the foreign minister has said and what the newspaper has published as a lead story, Pakistan has offered medical supplies to India which is facing an alarming situation because of the deadly Covid-19. Ventilators, digital X-Ray machines, personal protective equipment are among the things Islamabad has offered to the country’s eastern neighbor.

Independent observers think that this gesture cannot be without any development taking place in the background.

According to the newspaper report, based on high-level official sources, the Indian offer for backchannel contacts was discussed among the top Pakistan leadership and a decision was taken to explore all avenues for a peaceful settlement of conflicts by engaging in quiet talks.

India proposed that the two countries start talking on all outstanding issues side by side instead of lumping them together in a composite dialogue. The Pakistani leadership agreed to explore all options that can lead to lowering of tension.

“It is an opportune time for us to take a strategic pause,” said an official. “We need a break from the cycle of violence and focus on domestic issues.”

Both governments have agreed not to involve any third party in this initiative for now.

Recently a foreign news agency had also reported that top intelligence officers from India and Pakistan held secret talks in Dubai in January in a new effort to calm military tension over Kashmir, the agency reported quoting people with knowledge of the matter.

In his interview in Turkey Foreign Minister Qureshi said "Pakistan has never shied away from dialogue. India had shied away, India took certain steps that vitiated the climate." 

If India wanted to convince Pakistan that it was willing to talk then it would have to create a "conducive environment" — which it had originally vitiated by the actions taken on August 5, 2019, according to Mr Qureshi.

Foreign Minister Qureshi is absolutely right in his assertion that Kashmiris had been "snatched" of their statehood, alienated, deprived of their rights and were still in a "double lockdown". "We are facing a Covid lockdown, they are facing a Covid lockdown and they are facing a military siege."

"So how do we talk to people in that environment. Give them (Kashmiris) the relief, give them the statehood.

New information, the paper says, suggests that initial backchannel contacts between Pakistan and India took place in 2017. According to sources, relevant senior Indian officials had conveyed a quiet message to the Pakistani intelligence and military leadership to initiate a dialogue. The-then prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi gave the go-ahead for this backchannel contact which then continued at a gradual pace.

However, it was in December last year that the talks went into higher gear. Since then, a number of confidence-building measures have taken place, including a ceasefire agreement on the Line of Control (LoC) that divides Azad Kashmir and Occupied Kashmir.

The Pakistani civil and military leaderships are said to be on the same page on the latest engagement with India. Highly placed officials argue that India is investing in fresh engagement with Pakistan because it is faced with a two-front situation on its western and northern borders. As a result, it has had to move a significant number of its forces deployed on the western front to the northern one with China. After this re-deployment, Pakistani intelligence officials estimate that the ratio of Indian to Pakistan forces deployed against each other has, for the first time, come down to 1:1. Pakistan’s assessment is that under the BJP government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India would be better prepared for improved ties with Pakistan.

Whether the talks make any progress or not, the question is who takes decisions in Pakistan if even the foreign minister is saying that talks are not going on between the two nuclear powers.