February 17, 2020
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The Charade With India

India waits and watches as Pakistan sends a missive to restart talks

The Charade With India

IT’S the same story all over again. As soon as the government changed hands in Islamabad, caretaker Prime Minister Malik Meraj Khalid wasted little time in making the customary announcement that his government was trying to create a suitable atmosphere for restarting the stalled dialogue with India on Kashmir.

At his first press conference after taking over, he made it clear that "we are not at war with India" and his government was taking steps to reopen the dialogue with New Delhi, adding, however, that Pakistan’s stand on Kashmir is unchanged.

The Indian response was nothing new either. It welcomed the Pakistani announcement and said it, too, was willing to start the dialogue, but was still waiting for Pakistan’s response to Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda’s letter, sent soon after he became Prime Minister—a missive Benazir Bhutto never replied to. As usual, the two countries are running around in circles. Significantly, Khalid referred only to talks on Kashmir, which is the Pakistani agenda. India, meanwhile, also sticks to its agenda—that all issues should be dealt with simultaneously.

The Pakistani announcement can’t be seen as a purposeful offer to start a serious dialogue with India. It was really addressed to the international public opinion-makers, to show that though it was a caretaker government, and though there was turmoil in Pakistan, it was not an adventurist government. It would also send a positive message about the Pakistan army, the power behind President Farooq Ahmed Khan Leghari, and create an image of sobriety about it.

The Indian reaction to the developments in Pakistan and its offer has been correct throughout. It can hardly take the offer of a caretaker government seriously, which at least technically is not going to last beyond February 3. What’s the point of talking to an interim government, which might not be acceptable to an elected government? The political compulsions of an elected government are always different from that of an unelected set-up. But then, Khalid’s government may be able to take decisions which an elected government can’t, simply because it knows the army is behind it. Besides, if he lasts beyond February 3, as many Pakistanis fear, India may have no choice but to talk to an interim government. New Delhi has to simply wait and watch.

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