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Why India and Pakistan must keep their dialogue open

analysis Updated: Apr 27, 2016 13:15 IST
Jayanth Jacob
Jayanth Jacob
Hindustan Times
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Pakistan foreign secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry(R)waves as he walks with Pakistan's High Commissioner to India Abdul Basit(L) after he arrived at Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi .(AFP Photo)

By conventional wisdom, a joint statement issued after a diplomatic encounter signifies some amount of positivity and progress.

Though they considered the idea of a joint statement or issuing almost identical statements separately, India and Pakistan opted for different statements about the 100-minute meeting between foreign secretary S Jaishankar and his counterpart Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry on Tuesday.

Both sides agreed to include a “positive” paragraph in their separate statements about keeping in touch, the vision of their leadership for better ties, and their commitment to improve their troubled relationship.

Again going by convention, no side starts talking about the meeting when it is still on. The Pakistan high commission issued several messages to the media while the meeting was still in progress.

Read: We want to resolve all issues with India: Pak FS Aizaz Chaudhry

Judging India-Pakistan meetings by the yardstick of conventions is an exercise that is bound to fail. Despite all the outbursts on their core issues, the meeting between the two top diplomats was significant.

It is entirely another matter whether such meetings yield any results in terms of addressing contentious issues between the neighbours, and resuming the dialogue process.

However, the nuclear-armed South Asian neighbours cannot keep their communication channels shut.

Read: Pakistan says talks with India suspended, hints won’t allow NIA visit

Not talking to each other is an option which has limited value, as India realised after suspending talks following the 2008 Mumbai attacks. For all the semantic gymnastics both sides indulge in, they must keep talking even if they talk about talks or how not to talk down to each other.

That also brings some relief to the world community about the two rivals not breaking their contacts, though their ties remain fragile.

The talks between the foreign secretaries helped to gauge what the two sides think about the dialogue process. The way the Pakistani foreign secretary went about his brief at the discussions clearly showed the imprint of the Pakistan Army, especially on issues like the arrest of alleged Indian spy Kulbhushan Jhadav, and this needs to be factored in by India.

Read: Foreign secy-level talks: India asks Pak to crack down on terror groups

That said, there was the flip side to having talks for form’s sake and for keeping the international community in good humour. Such talks – either as a strategy or as a tactic – cannot be sustained for long unless backed up by a long-term vision.

Such a vision seems to be absent from the India-Pakistan talks for now. But that anyway is better than not talking at all.

The writer tweets @jayanthjacob