ISLAMABAD— Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is expected to meet with his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, later this week in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. Analysts hope the proposed meeting will revive talks aimed at normalizing relations and provide an opportunity to explore solutions for long-running bilateral disputes, including the dispute over Kashmir.
Since the killing in early August of five Indian soldiers at the disputed Kashmir frontier, New Delhi has been reluctant to resume formal talks with Islamabad.
Initially, the Indian government blamed the deadly cross-border raid on Islamist insurgents disguised as Pakistani soldiers, but it later held the Pakistan army directly responsible.
Islamabad has rejected the allegations. However, the incident sparked weeks of military clashes across the Line of Control in Kashmir, killing several people on both sides, including civilians.
The clashes have undermined a mutual ceasefire in the disputed territory that has largely held for more than a decade.
Senator Mushahid Hussain, who chairs the foreign affairs committee of the upper house of the Pakistani parliament, says suspicions and accusations come from both sides regarding the Kashmir clashes.
“The Indian government initially had a muted response. Then they came under pressure from the opposition and the media. Then they became more strident and then the harsh words were exchanged on both sides. So, I think the whole issue snowballed and it is spinning out of control of the government of India,” said Hussain.
All eyes are now on the proposed talks in New York between the prime ministers of the two nations. Observers call it a “good opportunity” for both nuclear-armed rival nations to move forward and open talks.
Indian analysts, such as author and columnist Amit Baruah, are urging New Delhi to “keep the lines of communication open” with Islamabad, saying a policy of disengagement will not benefit either country.
“There has always been a very hawkish section [in India] which does not want good relations with Pakistan. Of late, they are getting quite a lot of play in the Indian media. But there is no doubt in my mind that talks are not a concession to anyone. Talks are about sitting across the table and discussing difficult issues and trying to arrive at solutions,” said Baruah.
Indian authorities have long accused Pakistan of funding and training Islamist militants who then commit acts of terrorism in India.
Islamabad denies the accusations and claim Pakistan is the biggest victim of terrorism, maintaining that the human and economic losses in their country in the global fight against terrorism have been greater than in any other nation in the world.
Indian Mani Shankar Aiyar, who represents the Congress Party in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of parliament, says although terrorism is a subject that causes deep concern in India, it is also true that Pakistan is the world’s biggest victim of terrorism.
“Therefore this should create a common ground for us to cooperate in containing terrorism from wherever it originates, rather than putting the argument in terms of saying that because we are the biggest victims of terrorism therefore don’t accuse us of spreading it. The fact is that Pakistan is both. And equally, India ought to realize, if it has not already done so, that we can never play the role that is our due on the international stage if we have this albatross of hostility with Pakistan on our necks,” said Aiyar.
A sustained and uninterrupted peace dialogue between the two countries is also considered crucial ahead of the withdrawal of most NATO forces from neighboring Afghanistan by the end of next year.
Analysts fear bilateral tensions will intensify if India and Pakistan compete for strategic influence in war-torn Afghanistan.
Indian analyst Baruah says a dialogue between New Delhi and Islamabad can address those concerns.
“With the drawdown happening, a new strategic context will be created and there is very little doubt that both India and Pakistan will continue in their campaign for influence in Afghanistan. But it would be good if India and Pakistan could sit across the table and discuss some of the issues relating to a lack of trust as far as Afghanistan is concerned,” said Baruah.
Pakistani Senator Mushahid Hussain warns against using Afghanistan as a staging ground for an India-Pakistan proxy war, saying the consequences will be devastating for regional peace.
“I think the biggest challenge is that there would be a vacuum in Afghanistan and that vacuum should not result in Pakistan-India proxy conflict as we have had it in the past. And I have always felt that such a conflict would be debilitating not just for Afghanistan but for Pakistan and India, and it would draw our energies in a negative direction,” said Hussain.
India alleges that militant attacks on its diplomatic missions and citizens in Afghanistan are orchestrated by the Pakistani spy agency, the ISI. Islamabad in turn blames New Delhi for using its presence in Afghanistan to fund acts of terrorism on Pakistani soil, particularly in the resource-rich southwestern border province Baluchistan, where Baluch militants are waging a low-level insurgency.
In addition to its concerns over Afghanistan, India has been demanding Pakistan speed up the trial of the perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, prevent the use of Pakistani soil for terror attacks against India and conclude the trade liberalization process under its international obligations.