The Daily Fix: Marking an abrupt U-turn, Modi government agrees to resume dialogue with Pakistan

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In August of last year, after only two months in power Narendra Modi put some of his muscular campaign rhetoric on Pakistan into action. He cancelled the composite dialogue process with Pakistan on what most observers saw as a technical point: a meeting between Kashmiri separatist leaders and Islamabad’s envoy to New Delhi – a regular event since the All Parties Hurriyat Conference was formed in March 1993.

The composite dialogue was a vital 10-year-old secret dialogue process that was meant to resolve the Kashmir conflict.

A year later, with the euphoria of campaigning gone and the realities of governing hitting home, the Bharatiya Janata Party government has marked an ungainly turnaround from its bellicose position on talks with Pakistan. On a trip to Pakistan, foreign minister Sushma Swaraj announced a return of talks. “We have decided to restart the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue. The dialogue that was earlier known as Composite Dialogue and later on known as Resumed Dialogue will now be known as the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue,” said Swaraj in a press conference.

Kashmir will also be back in the agenda and the joint statement mentions it explicitly as a dispute to be resolved. The Nawaz Sharif government had been sharply criticised for omitting Kashmir in the earlier Ufa joint statement of July 2015.

While the Indian government’s justification for this turnaround seems to be assurances from Pakistan to act on terror, right now, the Nawaz Sharif government has made no real progress on the matter. The Pakistan position on the Mumbai terror trials and the prosecution of masterminds Hafiz Saeed and Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi is the same it was when the BJP government rejected talks in August 2014.

This U-turn was preceded by an impromptu meeting between Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif on November 30 and NSA talks on December 6. Sushma Swaraj was also involved in the high visibility campaign to bring an Indian citizen “Geeta” back to India from Pakistan.

While the talks are back, India is still mulling over resuming cricketing ties with Pakistan, another item on Swaraj’s agenda. The government has, however, not confirmed Modi’s visit to Pakistan next year for the SAARC summit.

The Big Scroll
Modi’s cancellation of talks with Pakistan in August 2014 was a terrible idea. But Modi’s learnt now and Swaraj’s trip is preparing the ground for his visit to Pakistan next year. And this flip-flop is yet another example of how India-Pakistan relations are a bit like those between two squabbling siblings.

Although the Modi government is trying to fix things now, it’s a fact that the government has had a very poor track record of managing relations with its neighbours. 

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