A news report published in the Indian Express reveals that the National Security Advisors (NSA) of Pakistan and India met on December 26th of 2017 in Bangkok, capital of Thailand. The media on both sides of the border is in rush of speculating the tone, and point of contentions of the meeting and sensationalising the secrecy in which the meeting took place. Can the meeting be seen as a realisation to both sides of the importance of peaceful settlement of disputes? Indeed, it can be. But too many expectations from one such meeting are also naïve.
One Pakistani official who was briefed on the minutes of the meeting remarked that the meeting was held warmly and the tenor of Indian advisor was friendly and positive. The expectations are that the meeting might help in restarting some engagement on diplomatic levels. Nevertheless, the highlight of the meeting, naturally, was the situation along the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir.
Considering the hype that the meeting has created, it is worth recalling that back in 2015 the NSAs of both the neighbouring countries met in Thailand. So the meeting is not as out of the ordinary. Like all other states, Islamabad and Delhi realise the need of re-establishing ties. In the absence of official and public contacts between the two South Asian nations, the governments have often explored the option of backdoor diplomacy.
Backchannel talks can prove much helpful than the typical meetings given the bilateral relations of countries like Pakistan and India to sort out the long-standing issues. It is appreciable that both sides are looking and exploring the possibilities of improving the bilateral relations. It is hoped that the respective governments succeed in finding normalcy in their strained relations through such backdoor diplomacy. However, instead of raising the bar of expectation high it must be kept in check.
For the past meetings of this sort have achieved not much or concrete for both sides, and Modi’s government is still reluctant to shun from taking an anti-Pakistan position on international forums. What India needs to realise is that the core issue between the two sides is Kashmir, and shying away from taking up the issue will always hamper the relations between Islamabad and New Delhi. Furthermore, India is consistently not letting the opportunities for public symbols of improved relations– for instance rejecting the possibility of a bilateral cricket series– to materialise raise questions over Modi government’s commitment to establish permanent peace in the region.