ISLAMABAD -  Pakistan and India are bilaterally moving backwards amid soaring tensions, a senior official of the Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs Additional Secretary Tasneem Aslam said that the two sides needed to sit down for talks to come out of the uncertainty.

Delivering keynote speech at a daylong workshop on “Defense, deterrence and stability in south Asia”, which had been jointly hosted by the Center for International Strategic Studies, Islamabad (CISS) and the International Institute of Strategic Studies, London (ISSI), she said in bilateral context, “Pakistan and India seem to be moving backwards, which is not a good sign.”

Tensions between Pakistan and India have been high since the killing of a Kashmiri freedom fighter, Burhan Wani, in July.

An attack on Indian forces in September - that killed 19 soldiers in Uri area of held Kashmir - further heightened the tensions.

Later, India started violations at the Line of Control (LoC) that left a number of people dead on both sides.

India also claimed it had carried out a “surgical strike” to avenge the Uri attack.

Pakistan rejected the Indian claim.

Pakistan has been trying to engage India in dialogue to defuse tension but India is defiant to stay away from talks.

New Delhi is also not ready to discuss Kashmir, the core issue between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.

There was a consensus among the speakers during the session on “Tensions with India” that there was dangerous escalation in the region and political leadership on both sides of the border needed to show political resolve and vision for de-escalation.

They noted that absence of official dialogue made the situation particularly perilous as chances of misunderstanding increase.

Aslam said Pakistan had an abiding commitment to peaceful relations with India and called on Delhi to agree to a “sincere dialogue” for resolution of outstanding disputes with its neighbour.

She warned India was upping the ante through dangerous rhetoric and risky claims of surgical strikes, besides attempting to violate Pakistani maritime boundary.

The proceedings were divided into three themes for an in-depth analysis of regional problems - tensions with India; doctrine and deterrence; and politics of cartels in nuclear diplomacy.

The workshop, which was fifth of the series of the CISS-IISS workshops, brought together professionals and experts as well as representatives of policy-making institutions and academia specialising in geopolitical and strategic issues.

Aslam reminded that while unresolved disputes in the region continued to undermine peace and stability, the US “Pivot to Asia” policy had created new tensions and alignments here.

She cautioned that pronouncement of offensive military doctrines, massive acquisition of conventional weapons, expansion of strategic assets, nuclear-isation of Indian Ocean and introduction of Anti-Ballistic Ballistic Missile Systems were upsetting strategic balance in south Asia.

“When seen in conjunction with irresponsible rhetoric from Indian leadership, aggression at the LoC and Working Boundary, and violation of Exclusive Economic Zone by an Indian submarine, --- these developments are highly worrisome and have to be factored in our security calculus,” Aslam said.

She stressed the importance of sustained dialogue for resolution of disputes and normalisation of relations.

Aslam, however, regretted that the world turned a blind eye to the dangerous escalation in south Asia, which encouraged India’s belligerence.

This, she warned, would not only have consequences for peace and stability in the region, but beyond.

Former foreign secretary Riaz Khokhar urged a “direct dialogue” between India and Pakistan.

He feared that back-channel could lead to more misunderstanding.

Khokhar opined that leaders on both sides needed to show political will.

IISS Senior Fellow for Land Warfare Brigadier Ben Barry (retired) talked about the influence of non-state actors on the dispute.

“Attack by non-state actors in Kashmir or India could produce a dynamic change of military escalation on both sides,” he warned.

Senior Fellow for South Asia at IISS Rahul Roy-Chaudhury said that relations between Pakistan and India were at the lowest point since 2008 Mumbai attack.

But, he noted that worryingly “nuclear rhetoric and nuclear signalling” occurred.

Roy-Chaudhury saw little chance of progress towards ending the stalemate unless both Delhi and Islamabad made compromises.

He suggested an eight-point proposal for rebuilding confidence that could eventually lead to resumption of dialogue.

The suggestion included lowering of rhetoric, effective implementation of ceasefire, observance of restraint by media, expeditious completion of trials of Mumbai and Pathankot suspects, India preventing excesses by security forces in Kashmir, Pakistan extending the scope of its counter-terrorism operations, reiteration by Delhi of its interest in seeking peaceful resolution of Kashmir issue, and start of a back-channel dialogue especially a conversation between intelligence agencies.

Analyst and scholar Dr Hassan Askari Rizvi stressed flexibility for forward movement in ties.  He said the importance of political resolve for solution of such a stalemate could not be under-estimated, but the problem was that Indian leadership was not willing to talk.

Panellists in the second session assessed the transformational impact of technologies and hostile political postures on doctrines and deterrence.

The third session was on politics of nuclear cartels specially the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and Missile Technology Control Regime.

As the global nuclear order grapples with its challenges and contradictions, there is an emerging scholarly debate regarding the issue of de-facto nuclear weapons’ states and their relationship within the nuclear order.

CISS Executive Director Sarwar Naqvi said the IISS-CISS workshops had provided a valuable forum to Pakistani officials and academics to exchange views and perspectives with the IISS counterparts.

Their engagement, he noted, had produced convergences on the dynamic nature of deterrence doctrines and postures and their evolution with the changing strategic situations and transforming threats; importance of nuclear weapons in maintaining deterrence stability and complementing the conventional capabilities; and the validity of the case for mainstreaming Pakistan in the international nuclear order. 

Naqvi said understanding had further been reached on the need for high-level engagement between Pakistan and India for conflict resolution and significance of improvement in bilateral ties for regional peace and stability and that changing international strategic environment affects regional security dynamics.

Meanwhile, Ambassador Tehmina Janjua, Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations and other international organisations in Geneva, was elected to preside over the Fifth Review Conference of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.

The unanimous decision was taken at the start of the “Review Conference”, being held in Geneva from 12-16 December 2016.

The convention and its five protocols deal with prohibitions and restrictions of certain conventional weapons, balancing humanitarian concerns with their military utility.

The Fifth Review Conference of the Convention was preceded by a preparatory committee meeting in September 2016 that was also chaired by Ambassador Janjua.

Review conferences of the CCW are held every five years to review the implementation of the convention and its five protocols, as well as to explore the possibility of developing new protocols to address specific conventional weapons of concern.

The election of Pakistan as the president of this important conference is an endorsement of the country's strong credentials in multilateral diplomacy.

It reflected, in particular, the international community's confidence in, and recognition of Pakistan's contribution to international security and arms control-related issues, the foreign ministry said.