India-Pak must build on LoC ceasefire
India and Pakistan have continued limited contacts, but there is clearly a need for a structured dialogue to address tensions and focus on new confidence-building measures
Ordinary exchanges of messages between the new prime ministers of India and Pakistan take on an added dimension because of the extraordinarily fragile nature of bilateral relations. Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi sent congratulatory messages to both Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan following their election in 2013 and 2018, respectively, and in the same vein, there has been an exchange of letters between Mr Modi and Pakistan’s new PM Shehbaz Sharif last week. Even before the exchange of letters, Mr Modi greeted Mr Sharif on Twitter in response to his comments in Pakistan’s parliament about the need to resolve the Kashmir issue so that the two sides can focus on shared problems such as poverty. Mr Modi reiterated India’s position about wanting regional peace and stability in an atmosphere free of terrorism.
The exchange does open up a window of opportunity for some sort of engagement between the two countries after a gap of several years, during which the atmosphere was vitiated by Mr Khan’s repeated personal attacks on the Indian leadership, even though the Pakistan Army chief, Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, had signalled his country’s desire to improve bilateral ties. However, this window may not remain open for very long, for a variety of factors. Gen Bajwa is slated to retire by November, and Pakistan will head into its next general election in 2023, that is if the new government headed by Mr Sharif manages to complete its term. Already, Mr Khan is piling on the pressure for holding early elections by organising a series of large rallies.
India and Pakistan have continued limited contacts on matters such as sharing river waters and the security of nuclear installations, but there is clearly a need for a structured dialogue to address tensions and focus on new confidence-building measures. Both PMs now have an opportunity to build on last year’s revival of the Line of Control ceasefire through some meaningful engagement.