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Call Could Ease India-Pakistan Tensions

  • Ayaz Gul

An Indian boy prepares to climb out the window of a house, the walls of which were damaged in mortar shell attack at Jora Farm village, in Ranbir Singh Pura, south of Jammu, India, Feb. 9, 2015.

An Indian boy prepares to climb out the window of a house, the walls of which were damaged in mortar shell attack at Jora Farm village, in Ranbir Singh Pura, south of Jammu, India, Feb. 9, 2015.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s move to revive contacts with neighboring Pakistan by phoning his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, is being widely welcomed as a good omen for easing regional tensions.

Bilateral relations have been particularly tense since August, when New Delhi abruptly canceled high-level peace talks with Islamabad. It cited a meeting between Pakistan's top diplomat in New Delhi and separatist Kashmiri leaders, contacts India previously had never objected to.

The suspension of the dialogue led to deadly military clashes along the so-called Line of Control dividing the Himalayan region, in violation of a 2003 cease-fire.

Pakistan's military on Saturday again accused Indian forces of opening “unprovoked" fire, saying it had killed a civilian in Pakistani Kashmir.

Visit by foreign secretary

However, Modi’s call to Sharif on Friday has raised hope that tensions will subside in the coming days. Officials in both countries said the Indian leader told Sharif he would soon send his foreign secretary to Islamabad and other regional capitals.

The Pakistani prime minister, while speaking to reporters Saturday, briefly discussed the conversation.

He said Modi wanted to resume the bilateral dialogue. He added that Pakistan will talk to the Indian foreign secretary when he comes to Islamabad.

Some analysts say that President Barack Obama’s recent visit to India might have played a role in persuading Modi to re-engage with Pakistan. A day before the Indian leader called Sharif, the Pakistani leader spoke by phone with Obama.

Mushahid Hussain, who chairs the Pakistani Senate Defense Affairs Committee, said several things led to Modi's bid to restart contacts with Pakistan.

Modi's domestic position "is no longer unassailable," Hussain said. "It has become somewhat shaky after two elections which he was expected to win and which he did not. Secondly, I think it is very clear that Obama did push and prod Modi to resume the dialogue process, because Obama needs Pakistan for stabilizing Afghanistan.”

Cricket rivals to meet

The phone contact took place ahead of Sunday’s World Cup cricket match in Australia between archrivals India and Pakistan.

Amit Baruah, Delhi-based resident editor of The Hindu newspaper, said that prolonged suspension of diplomatic ties has always been a matter of concern for both the nations.

“Always when contacts resume or when there is a possibility of a dialogue, the speculation always is on the reasons behind this process resuming," he said. "So, obviously, they were looking for some via media or some mechanism, so cricket clearly was a convenient mechanism to ensure that this dialogue process begins.”

The United States welcomed the resumption of contacts between Islamabad and New Delhi, describing relations between the South Asian neighbors as critical for regional peace and security.

Both India and Pakistan claim the disputed Kashmir region in its entirety, and it remains at the center of regional tensions. The territorial dispute has triggered two wars and several low-level conflicts between the nuclear-armed neighbors. New Delhi wants Islamabad to rein in Islamist groups that allegedly fuel the Muslim separatist insurgency in Indian Kashmir, a point that Pakistan denies.

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