Those who expected a formal or informal interaction between the Prime ministers of Pakistan and India on the sidelines of the SAARC summit leading to the resumption of suspended talks between the two countries, would feel utterly disappointed by the fact that the two did not even exchange greetings or pleasantries while sitting two seats away from each other on the same dais. Till the writing of this piece, there were no indications that any effort was underway by any participating nation or the host Nepal to play a facilitating role in this regard. The fact is that both leaders have missed a good opportunity to defuse rising tensions between the two countries as a result of the Indian decision to suspend secretary level talks, renewed exchange of fire along the LOC and the working boundary and bellicose blustering by the Indian leadership, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi . So the hopes rekindled at the Delhi meeting between the two Prime Ministers to renew the dialogue for normalization of relations between the two countries, have been effectively extinguished.

The position taken by Pakistan with regards to the resumption of talks is beyond reproach. It was India who, in contravention of diplomatic norms, unilaterally suspended secretary level talks and therefore any initiative for the revival of the dialogue should have come from her. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reiterated his willingness to meet Narendra Modi provided the request came from New Dehli. In his address to the SAARC summit, Nawaz called upon South Asian counties to set aside their mutual conflicts and focus on fighting common problems like poverty, disease and illiteracy, and stressed the need to harness the potential of SAARC countries in pursuance of the socio-economic agenda of SAARC as it was crucial to creating regional connectivity. Ironically, Narendra Modi in his address also emphasized the need for expansion of trade between the SAARC countries, but conveniently overlooked the fact that for that to happen, the settlement of disputes and conflict between Pakistan and India were of pivotal importance, as also alluded to by Nawaz in his address.

It is noteworthy that during its 30 years of existence, SAARC has not been able to make desired progress in achieving its goals because of the continued acrimony between Pakistan and India. Normalization of relations between India and Pakistan is not only in the interest of the teeming millions on both sides of the border but for the entire South Asian population. Peace, progress and effective regional connectivity for a shared prosperity depends entirely on recalibrating the relations between the two countries in line with emerging regional and global realities free from historic hangovers and prejudices. The sooner this inevitability sinks into the minds of the Indian leaders the better.

As far as Pakistan is concerned, it has made relentless efforts to resolve disputes with India and make a new beginning. The Nawaz government, since its inception, has been striving hard to pick up the threads from the conclusions drawn at the Lahore summit and there has been a greater emphasis on rebuilding bonhomie with India. Trade had started moving in the right direction before the installation of the Modi government in India. Trade between the two countries has multiple advantages in addition to the economic benefits that would accrue to both sides in the shape of expanded markets. The economic dependence on each other could ultimately pave the way for the resolution of disputes between the two countries through diplomatic and political channels. This approach also fits well into the emerging concept of shared regional economic prosperity and security being pursued by other regional countries like China and under the auspices of the Shangai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The economic, political and security interests of Pakistan are inextricably linked to our own region. They could be best served by improving relations with our neighbour, especially India, by trying to find solutions to the disputes that have marred relations between the two countries for more than six decades. The detractors of improving relations between the two countries are absolutely naïve and in complete denial mode as to changed realities.

The new narrative evolved by the present government in Pakistan to create economic interdependence between the two countries by building trade relations was a realistic and visionary move, rooted in lessons learnt from history and the realization of the potential that existed to unleash an era of prosperity for all the countries of the region. The EU is a ranting example of this phenomenon.

Unfortunately, Modi seems to have decided to alter relations between the two countries unilaterally characterized by swagger firmed up on the basis of collusion between Hindu extremism and corporate India, which is an extremely fallacious outlook fraught with great risks. In trying to take Hurriyet out of the equation, the reason for suspending talks with Pakistan, Modi has actually made a conscious effort to dictate terms to Pakistan. No doubt India is already a big regional power poised to play a bigger role in world affairs but the fact remains that Pakistan, apart from being a nuclear power, is also indispensable for peace and progress in the region. By no stretch of the imagination is it a helpless country, despite the formidable challenges confronting it. Pakistan is a sovereign and self-respecting country and despite its burning desire to mend relations with India, it would not bend over backwards to beg for Indian benevolence and that is what Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has shown by not making any attempt for a meeting with Modi.

The Modi government, therefore, should realize that any progress in building strong and enduring relations between the countries is only possible on the basis of sovereign equality, recognition of the disputes including the core issue of Kashmir and an equally shared interest and commitment to finding amicable solutions to them. There are three parties to the Kashmir dispute: the people of Kashmir, Pakistan and India, and any attempt to exclude the people of Kashmir from this equation will prove counter-productive. India and Pakistan, under the UN resolutions and Simla Agreement, are under obligation to resolve the Kashmir issue in accordance with the wishes of the people of Kashmir. India’s denial mode is not going to help the cause of peace and progress in the region.

The writer is a freelance columnist