Indian Decade

A Question of Kashmir

India’s OK for resuming talks with Pakistan has pleased its neighbour’s leaders.

The Indian and Pakistani Foreign Secretaries are expected to resume a dialogue on February 25. India had broken off the talks in the aftermath of the vicious Pakistan-based terrorist attack on Bombay (Mumbai) on November 26, 2008. India’s decision to resume the talks has generated some public glee amongst Pakistan’s ruling establishment and has prompted criticism from the right-wing of India’s political opposition.

Within hours of India’s offer to resume a dialogue, Shah Mahmud Qureshi, the Pakistani Foreign Minister, publicly stated that India, not Pakistan, had sought a resumption of discussions. He also went on to add the Pakistan had not genuflected before India to bring about their renewal. On the other hand, the hyper-nationalist, Bharatiya Janata Party, roundly criticized the ruling United Progressive Alliance government for its willingness to return to a dialogue in the absence of a firm, public and unequivocal commitment from Pakistan to eschew all ties to terrorist groups.

Quite apart from these differing reactions from Pakistan and India, the two sides have yet to agree on an agenda. Pakistan, quite predictably, wants the vexed question of Kashmir to figure prominently in any discussions. It has now also added the issue of water sharing with India. The Indian side, for its part, has yet to spell out its key concerns. However, it’s reasonable to surmise that it will in all likelihood bring up the issue of Pakistan’s continuing dalliance with a host of jihadi organizations which remain hell-bent on wreaking havoc in the disputed state of Kashmir and elsewhere in India.

Given these disparate interests, not to mention the fractious state of the Pakistani polity, expectations about any success from these talks should be muted. Any progress on whatever agenda is cobbled together prior to the talks will, at best, be glacial and limited.