The visit of the Indian foreign Secretary to Islamabad, which was a part of his visits to all the SAARC countries designed to forge greater cooperation among the member countries to achieve the true potential of the organization, did provide an excellent opportunity to both sides to dilate on issues of mutual concern including Jummu and Kashmir, Sir Creek, Siachin Glacier, water issues, tension at the LOC and terrorism. Both sides reportedly stuck to their stated positions on most of these issues but agreed to ease tensions along the LOC and the working boundary.

The continued tensions along the LOC and the working boundary have been a cause of great concern to Pakistan and our security establishment believed that India was deliberately keeping the borders hot to divert Pakistan’s attention from operation Zarb-e-Azab. With both sides agreeing to cool it off, a current irritant in relations between the two countries will be removed, paving the way for more substantive talks. From this perspective, the visit has rightly been described by the foreign office spokesman as an ice-breaking visit. Nobody actually expected any major breakthrough from the visit. Though the two sides have not given any time-frame for resumption of formal talks, the very fact that the impasse was finally broken, is in itself a very encouraging development.

Pakistan and India are two very important countries of SAARC and their enmity has not only acted as a major stumbling block in realizing the objectives of the organization but has also vitiated prospects of peace in the region and beyond, besides hampering the avenues of shared economic prosperity through building regional linkages. Pakistan is about to assume the chairmanship of SAARC and is also preparing to host the next SAARC summit. The resolve by the two sides to work together in developing the potential of SAARC is also a welcome move.

Needless to say, the building of bonhomie between Pakistan and India to construct a congenial atmosphere for the resolution of disputes, including the core issue of Kashmir, is absolutely essential for changing the fate of the people. This is also the demand of the emerging geo-political realities in the region. China and India have had very strained relations since the early sixties but now things have started moving in the right direction. China is trying to build economic ties with India with a view to make a new beginning in the relations between the two countries. Chinese President Xi Jingping visited India in September 2013 and the two sides signed 12 agreements under which China would invest US$20 billion in different projects in India over the next five years. Apart from expansion of economic ties the two countries also agreed to begin dialogue on civil nuclear cooperation with China backing the Indian bid for full membership of SCO. As a reciprocal measure, China expected India to support her efforts for building relations with SAARC. The Chinese President explained the rationale behind warming up to India in these words: “A war-like state, however big it may be, will eventually perish. China believes that its neighbours were key to its well being.”

The new narrative developed by the present government under the stewardship of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif with regards to improving relations with neighbors, particularly India and building regional linkages for shared regional prosperity, was reflective of the philosophy enunciated by the Chinese President. It was with this realization and the unswerving commitment to the cause of peace in the region that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif extended the hand of friendship to India, tried his level best to engage her in a constructive dialogue to resolve disputes between the two countries and as a first step endeavoured to achieve this objective by establishing and expanding trade relations. Regrettably, these peace overtures were effectively sabotaged by India on one pretext or the other including repeated incidents of firing along the LOC and the working boundary.

India needs to realize that its own progress and tranquility is inextricably linked to geographical realities and peace in the region, which necessitate the resolution of all disputes with its neighbors, especially Pakistan which is also a nuclear power and an important player in the management of regional and global affairs. Peace between the two countries is not possible without the resolution of the Kashmir dispute which is an unfinished agenda of the partition of the sub-continent and which India is committed to resolve in consonance with UN resolutions. The Kashmir issue is not about territory but the inalienable right of the people of Kashmir to self-determination, promised to them by the UN, international community and India herself. Pakistan cannot abdicate its right to support the cause of the people of Kashmir. Peace can only be established by adopting a realistic approach towards the resolution of disputes rather than by trying to evade them. Such an approach is bound to boomerang and make matters further complicated and potentially dangerous to the peace of the region. The teeming millions on both sides of the border have suffered because of the persisting enmity between the two countries and the consequential arms race between them.

Pakistan does not want and probably never wanted to enter into an arms race with India but it could not afford to neglect its security in view of the aggression shown by the latter and the wars that were fought between the two countries over Kashmir. Pakistan also had no choice but to develop a minimum nuclear deterrent capacity when India decided to go nuclear. The Pakistani leadership, particularly Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is a strong believer in building bonhomie with India as is evident from his efforts that he has been making since the signing of Lahore Declaration in 1999 which was the first major agreement between the two countries since the 1972 Simla Agreement whereby both the countries reaffirmed their commitment to the Simla Accord and agreed to undertake a number of ‘Confidence Building Measures.’ He is still desirous of reviving that spirit, burying the hatchet and making a new beginning in relations with India. But as they say, it takes two to tango. India needs to reciprocate with the same spirit.