In New Delhi, the Indian policy establishment is in the process of reevaluating relations with China, and the prospects of a definitive improvement in Sino-Indian relations appear distinct.
President Ashraf Ghani has made a significant offer of talks to the Afghan Taliban, in readiness of recognizing it as a political entity and letting it open an office in Kabul. Ghani is ostensibly ready to share power, but the Taliban is yet to respond as it insists on direct talks with the US.
The US has maintained close and constructive engagement with Islamabad at the military and diplomatic levels. Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua has recently been in Washington to discuss constructive proposals for the continuation of mutually beneficial structural engagement. This is a first reach out by Islamabad since a spate of visits to Pakistan by senior US State Department and National Security Council officials. Pakistan-US relations now appear to be on the mend.
Meanwhile, Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, during his recent visit to Nepal, visited the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation Secretariat in Kathmandu and reiterated the importance Islamabad attaches to making SAARC a vehicle for regional cooperation based on the principle of sovereign equality.
The most significant aspect of these faint though hopeful signals may be the dawning of a realization that the age of bloc politics and zero-sum games may be coming to an end.Salman Bashir
Abbasi again reiterated Pakistan’s readiness to host the next SAARC summit, which had been postponed due to Indian objections in 2016. SAARC is most definitely a convenient precursor for not only working toward regional connectivity and cooperation, but also reviving bilateral engagement between Pakistan and India.
The reconvening of the SAARC summit in Islamabad could lead to the launching of a process of normalization of Pakistan-India relations, which would have considerable dividends for regional stability, peace and development. SAARC can become a sub-set of working the global theme of inclusive and voluntary cooperation so ardently advocated by China, as signified by the Belt and Road Initiative.
Lately, the US has been evincing strong interest in supporting dialogue between Pakistan and India. Washington could play an important role in encouraging the two sides to restore the ceasefire on the Line of Control in Kashmir and the Working Boundary. Active US interest in the relaunching of the SAARC process is hugely desirable.
There are faint signs of India taking stock of its immediate neighborhood and the inescapable and obvious conclusion that it cannot remain indifferent to South Asian realities in its drive for global eminence. India cannot wish Pakistan away nor can Pakistan block off India. Geography and geopolitical realities are immutable.
Pakistan has responded positively to India’s suggestions for dealing with the humanitarian issues, notably the plight of prisoners on both sides. Janjua has proposed exchanging prisoners aged over 60 and under 18, with a Pakistan Foreign Ministry statement saying: “Through such initiatives, Pakistan and India would embark on the road to a comprehensive dialogue and make conscious effort to de-escalate the extremely vitiated current environment.”
It is not difficult to conjure a road map for peace, stability and common prosperity between Pakistan and India. Both the US and China seem inclined to play a positive role in this regard. Domestic political exigencies have been the bane of good intentions, but one would hope this will not prove to be insurmountable in this election year in both Pakistan and India.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of these faint though hopeful signs may be the dawning of a realization that the age of bloc politics and zero-sum games may be coming to an end.
• Salman Bashir is a Pakistani diplomat who served as the Foreign Secretary of Pakistan and as the High Commissioner of Pakistan to India. Twitter: @SalmanB_Isb