Latest India, Pakistan engagement suggests thawing ties, but skepticism remains (News Analysis)

By Peerzada Arshad Hamid

SRINAGAR, Indian-controlled Kashmir, Dec. 9 (Xinhua) — The fresh diplomatic engagement between New Delhi and Islamabad is being viewed by analysts as a thaw in bilateral relations of the two nuclear neighbors.

But while the latest developments have been welcomed by many, the separatist leadership in Indian-controlled Kashmir has seemingly failed to read much into the breakthrough and has raised skepticism about the outcome, analysts remarked.

“Until India and Pakistan take bold steps in resolving the Kashmir issue in accordance with the wishes of its people, we can neither expect any breakthrough from the talks in the future or considerable change in the mutual relationship of the two countries,” said Syed Ali Geelani, the highest ranking separatist leader.

“Rulers of India and Pakistan should in no way neglect the reality that both oucntries held more than 150 rounds of talks since 1947 and have also signed many agreements, but no dramatic change has occurred. At one point they talk of friendship and peace but then they

train guns at each other and talk about war and hatred.”

Like Geelani, Mohammed Yasin Malik, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Shabir Shah told local media that unless Kashmiris were made a part of the dialogue process, the two countries will not reach a meaningful conclusion.

On Sunday, top security officials from India and Pakistan held secret talks in Bangkok away from the media glare.

India described the talks as “candid, cordial and constructive”.

“Discussions covered peace and security, terrorism, Jammu and Kashmir, and other issues, including tranquility along the Line of Control (LoC),” a joint statement to the press issued by the Indian ministry of

External Affairs immediately after the meeting read.

“It was agreed that constructive engagement would be carried forward.”

The talks ended the four-month impasse and signaled the resumption of the dialogue process between the rival nations.

In August, the contentious issue of Kashmir spoiled much anticipated security talks between the pair, which were agreed upon by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his counterpart Nawaz Sharif during their meeting in the Russian city of Ufa in July.

The parleys then were cancelled at the last moment and both sides accused each other of deviating from the set “policy” for the meeting.

The acrimony started after Pakistan’s high commission in New Delhi extended invitations to separatists in Indian-controlled Kashmir for talks with its prime minister’s advisor on national security and foreign affairs Sartaj Aziz, a move strongly opposed by India.

The recent meeting between Modi and Sharif in France though described by media as an “unscheduled one” was a prelude to the Bangkok talks.

Modi and Nawaz shook hands and sat down for talks with each other on the sidelines of the climate conference in Paris.

Both India and Pakistan withheld the details of the talks until Sunday.

Pakistan has always reiterated that without Kashmir on the agenda, there cannot be any dialogue with India.

Delhi’s acceptance to the demand in Sunday’s talks was seen as a departure from its adamant position.

India’s main opposition Congress party termed the secret meeting as a”grand betrayal” of the Modi-led government.

“It’s a grand betrayal. It’s a betrayal of everything that this government has, ostensibly, publicly espoused,”Congress party leader Manish Tewari said.

Indian-controlled Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed,  however, welcomed the move and described it as a “good beginning. ”

But the former chief minister and opposition leader Omar Abdullah questioned New Delhi’s softened stance.

“If Pakistan was ‘made to talk terror’ was India also “made to talk Kashmir” since J&K had found no mention in Ufa?”Abdullah wrote on Twitter.

Analysts said it was too early to comment on the outcome of talks between the two countries.

“Talking to each other and keeping the dialogue process going is a welcome step but at the same time we have seen the two countries holding many rounds in the past but with little success, ” Burhan Majid, a

political analyst said.

“Let’s be patient for some time and see how things take shape.”

Majid said the two countries need to accelerate the dialogue process away from the media spotlight and public attention.

“I personally feel the talks in Bangkok were held cordially (as the joint statement said) only because the impatient media in India wasn’t informed about it in advance,” he said.

“Had there been information in advance about the event, the meeting would have fallen prey to unwarranted public pressure and media speculation.”

Meanwhile, India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj Tuesday travelled to Islamabad to attend the Heart of Asia Ministerial Conference.

Reports said Swaraj told the media she had come to attend an Afghanistan-related conference but confirmed she would meet Sharif and Aziz on Wednesday.

“The two countries are talking to each other on ways to improve their ties and move forward,” Swaraj was quoted by the media as saying.

A separatist movement and neighbors war challenging New Delhi’s rule has been continuing in Indian-controlled Kashmir since 1989.

New Delhi accuses Islamabad of sending armed militants to Indian-controlled Kashmir. However, Islamabad says it only provides moral and political support to Kashmiris.

Apart from Kashmir, the two nuclear neighbors face an uphill task of finding common ground and narrowing their differences on disputes over Siachen, Sir Creek, water sharing and terrorism.

Kashmir, the Himalayan region situated between India and Pakistan is claimed by both in full. Since their independence from Britain, the two countries have fought three wars, two exclusively over Kashmir.

With the dialogue process set in motion afresh, it remains to be seen how far the two countries can move on to prove critics and skeptics wrong.

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