Keep the Back-Channels Open

Whilst it is possible to criticise this or any other government for its performance, the performance of the Nawaz Sharif government regarding India since it came to power has been consistent and, mostly, positive. There really does appear to have been an attempt to engage with India in a constructive manner, and although there was little to show by way of results, there was a sense that all was not lost and there was much to play for on both sides. The game changed when Narendra Modi came to power and there has been a steady erosion of the quality of interaction between India and Pakistan ever since. It has now struck another low point, with Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan calling for a “cricket boycott” of India, thus striking at the heart of one of the many ties that the two states have shared historically.

The fractious relationship with India is a massive impediment to both security in the region and development in both countries. Currently, India is experiencing a swing to the right exemplified by the actions of the Shiv Sena that recently disrupted talks on the resumption of cricketing ties, as well as harassing, often by throwing ink on them, those seeking to promote cross-border literary relations. Maintaining a formal dialogue in this febrile and rapidly changing landscape is difficult at the best of times and impossible today.

That said, there are always back-channel communications that still function even in the worst of times and it is these that we look to in order to keep dialogue, however minimal, alive. Indo-Pakistan relations are too important to have the narrative dictated by a small group of extremists — on either side. The Modi government does not seem inclined to rein in the Shiv Sena, with Pakistan seeking a United Nations (UN)-backed international ban on the group. It is unlikely that the UN will declare the Shiv Sena a global terrorist organisation, but within India its agenda of intimidation, division and toxic polarity has now poisoned the trickling waters of conciliation. Whatever else, keep the backchannels open.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 18th, 2015.


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