To talk or not to talk

My last column was about Pakistan’s Independence Day and how we are not really free when there is so much apathy for a crime as big as child abuse in our society. This week, I want to revisit how we are still not free, but this time in the context of India and Pakistan. These two countries have a six-decade-old baggage. From a bloody partition of the Indian subcontinent to wars on the battlefield to proxy wars to going nuclear, these two countries have hurt each other much to the dismay of many people and at the cost of social development, healthcare, education, etc., of their own peoples.

Will they, won’t they? This is what happens before every proposed Indo-Pak meeting and this is exactly what everybody was thinking before the NSA talks between India and Pakistan in New Delhi. From border tensions to war of words to the Kashmir issue, everything was pointing to the fact that both wanted an excuse to cancel the talks and were waiting for the other side to blink first.

“Both sides have succumbed to media pressure and behaved childishly,” says veteran journalist Najam Sethi. He is of the view that Pakistan’s Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif wanted to get a dialogue going and agreed to the five-point agenda at Ufa without any mention of the K word but when the Indian media began to crow about their government’s ‘achievement’ as one-upmanship, the Pakistani media lambasted the Pakistani government for missing out the K word, compelling it to revert to a zero-sum game in the NSA talks.

Many here are of the view that the Indians should have taken Pakistan’s revised stance on unconditional talks in their stride, like previous Indian governments, and got on with the talks by focusing on their main issue of terrorism. After all, the Kashmir issue is not going to be resolved by the mere mention of it in any talks. But they cancelled the talks and were made to look confused and directionless. Sethi says, “I think they realise this now and it would be good if they do not spurn an opportunity to talk to Pakistan on the sidelines of the UN meet in September. This will pave the way for the cricket series to be held in December, which will in turn pave the way for Prime Minister Modi to attend the SAARC Summit in Pakistan in early 2016 without any qualms.”

Instead of behaving like bullies in a high school, both neighbours need to grow up and act maturely. This is in the interest of not just two countries but billions of people and the entire South Asian region. Mian Nawaz Sharif is committed to peace with India, even at great personal risk, but Mr Modi’s government is still not sure how to deal with Pakistan. It is time to talk.

(Originally published in Mid-Day)


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