The cancelled National Security Advisor’s talk is a loss of the people on both sides of the border. The politicians and the diplomats would insist otherwise; for them, it is about principles and principles take precedent over the present situation, even if rationalism demands otherwise.

That is the thing with this term ‘rationalism’, it changes or at least the healthiest of its kind changes in line with the reality of the situations and translates into the very flimsy sounding term: realism. Pakistan and India should be realists but then again, there is too much history between the two countries to expect this from the two. In that context, the cancelled talks should not be a surprise and would, if nothing else, continue the chaos in their deeply troublesome relationship.

Both sides had their reasons: Pakistan was still hurt because of India’s cancellation of the Foreign Minister talks which were to be held in May last year. Back then, Pakistan’s High Commissioner, Abdul Basit’s meeting with the Kashmiri separatists had irked the Indian side. Apparently, Pakistan had been meddling with India’s ‘internal affairs’. The talks were cancelled and the eventual hope that was built up ever since Prime Minister Modi’s invitation to his Pakistani counterpart for his swearing in ceremony was shattered. The optimism was lofty to begin with but that’s another debate.

Modi has been very blatant with his policy on Kashmir. He has refused to talk on the matter or has simply been smarter at phrasing the conversations so that they leave discussion on the matter vague, if not absent. He’s been better at doing this, pursuing what he believes is right for his country, than his counterpart in Pakistan who, even if smart on internal matters, has been overly cautious in his interaction with India. Maybe it’s the past that’s haunting him. The Vajpayee initiative of pre-Kargil was the perfect event for a peaceful commitment between the two countries. How it ended must have hurt our dear Prime Minister. Now that he is back on the throne, he probably finds himself reminiscing the past. As has been obvious, he wants to reincarnate those times. He seems to be fixated in his belief that the countries will act as adults and deal with the matter in a mature way. While the present, the real events have shown otherwise, Mr. Shareef seems to miss the point. Again and again and again. Modi is not Vajpayee. These are not the pre-Kargil and pre-Mumbai times. These are different times, rather difficult times.

Mr. Shareef has to play a dual sided game (not like the ex-dictator who had his own weird definition for everything). The Pakistani Prime Minister must recognize how the hostility with the country’s neighbour(s) is hurting it. Mr. Shareef has to continue with his international mantra of peace and related initiatives. Having said that, Mr. Shareef needs to recognize that the rules of the game change according to the counterpart. Modi is a formidable counterpart. He is a strong and charismatic leader. He has strong opinions and has been seen to brashly realize them. In this respect, Mr. Shareef too will have to change his strategy. He would have to stop leaving messages in between the lines and bring them on the forefront. It’s important that he does that. A case in example is the cancelled talks I started this column with, the NSA talks decided upon in the UFA declaration. Pakistan now insists that the ‘terrorism-related talks’ were to include the Kashmir issue as well, or at least that’s what Mr. Shareef meant when he and his Indian counterpart decided on when they scheduled the NSA meet up. India insists that Kashmir was never on the agenda and that Kashmir is not a disputed issue, its actually an internal matter and will remain so. Hence, discussing it at international level is an obnoxious demand, so infuriatingly absurd that a demand like such is enough to cancel talks on every other matter. Kashmir is personal for India, what it fails to understand is that Kashmir remains a very personal issue for Pakistan as well.

The way forward is, in all honesty, muddled in confusion. The two countries are finding it too easy to cease these talks and this is very, very dangerous. The leaders are forgetting that their decisions cannot be impulsive and selfish for they are setting a course of how future such discussions will take place. Down the road, the future leaders will look onto the footprints left behind by the current leaders and shape their narratives and political decision

reflective of them.