The Heart of Asia conference has emerged as an interesting icebreaker between Pakistan and India. Last time, when Pakistan hosted in Dec ’15, Sushma Swaraj surprised everybody by suddenly arriving and resuming the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue (CBD). It’s another matter, of course, that such initiatives have had a way of running into unexpected potholes over the years. Despite apparent sincerity on both sides, there was just no way to keep the Pathankot incident from derailing whatever advances were made. And now that Pakistan’s foreign secretary is heading our team for the next round in Delhi this week, there is optimism as well as apprehension about what lies ahead.
An informal meeting between Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry and his Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar has been confirmed. No doubt they will discuss resumption of the lost dialogue before anything else – especially since the Indians are insisting it is not ‘suspended’ – and what contours it should take this time. But whether or not the process will resume from where it was cut off by Pathankot remains to be seen. The Indians have a habit of milking even the minutest advantages from lingering negotiations and they will once again try their best to give little on the format beyond discussing militancy and terrorism.
In these circumstances, it doesn’t help that Islamabad has chosen this precise moment to turn up the heat on the Indian spy issue. After tearing through the headlines then falling mysteriously silent, it is suddenly in the news again; courtesy the prime minister and his national security advisor. Apparently Islamabad has decided, after taking its sweet time, to play the Kulbhoshan Yadav card at every possible international forum. While such exercises are justified, Islamabad must weigh its priorities very carefully. True, no foreign power must ever be allowed to interfere in Pakistan. But the country needs cold, calculated diplomacy at this point, not adventurism or idealism. Hopefully better sense will prevail on both sides and we will have made substantial, quantifiable progress by the next Heart of Asia conference.