India-Pakistan Dialogue: Pakistani Experts Remain Skeptical About Back-Channel Talks With India

Pakistani experts are skeptical about backchannel talks with India even as mediator UAE sets sights on developing a “healthy, functional relationship” between the two neighboring countries, according to reports.

India and Pakistan’s bilateral relations have a fair share of ups and downs. Most recently, the two countries agreed to observe a ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir.

The move is seen as a positive step forward. However, during a webinar on ‘Back-Channel Talks and India-Pakistan Relations’, at Islamabad Policy Institute (IPI), former defense secretary Lt Gen Asif Yasin Malik (retired), former permanent representative to the United Nations Dr. Maleeha Lodhi, and former envoy to India Abdul Basit put forth their concerns over the backchannel talks being held between India and Pakistan.

Maleeha stressed that “we all seek peace with honor, but not at the expense of compromising our fundamental position on Kashmir”. She said that kind of normalization will “neither be lasting nor would it be politically acceptable to the people of Pakistan”.

Echoing similar sentiments, Malik warned that compromise on Kashmir could not be the price for peace with India.

Basit, on the other hand, insisted that emphasis should be on ascertaining as to what would be the roadmap on Jammu and Kashmir.

“If we get invested into a situation where we agree to another round of formal talks, structural talks, that will take us nowhere. The emphasis at this stage should be on ascertaining as to what would be the roadmap on Jammu and Kashmir,” Dawn quoted Basit as saying.

Last month, the UAE confirmed that it is mediating between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan to iron out their differences on the Kashmir issue.

Gulf nation’s envoy to the US said that Abu Dhabi had played a role “in bringing Kashmir escalation down and created a ceasefire, hopefully ultimately leading to restoring diplomats and getting the relationship back to a healthy level,” as reported by The EurAsian Times.

During a conversation with former US National Security Advisor H R McMaster under the aegis of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, the UAE’s envoy to the US Yousef Al Otaiba was asked as to whether his country was trying to help the two countries have a better relationship. Yousef Al Otaiba replied:

“Absolutely. They might not sort of becoming best friends, but at least we want to get it to a level where it’s functional, where it’s operational, where they are speaking to each other, where there are lines of communication and that’s our goal,” Otaiba said, as quoted by The Indian Express.

“You know we don’t think they’re going to become, you know, Most Favoured Nations with each other, but I think it’s important for them to have a healthy, functional relationship, which is exactly our objective,” he added.

India Pakistan Relations

The ties between the two nuclear-armed neighbors took a massive blow in February 2019 after Pakistan-based terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed triggered a suicide attack on a vehicle carrying India’s CRPF troops in the erstwhile state Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama.

Two weeks later, Indian Air Force fighter jets dropped bombs in Balakot inside the Pakistani territory, triggering fears of a full-scale military conflict between the two countries.

Pakistan retaliated by sending a formation of fighter jets, resulting in an aerial skirmish during which an Indian fighter jet was shot down and its pilot was captured by the Pakistani military. The pilot was, however, released within 60 hours of capture.

Later in August 2019, their relations soured further after the Indian government scrapped Article 370 that granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir. The state was also bifurcated into two Union Territories — J&K and Ladakh — thereby bringing them under the federal government’s control.

The move has irked Pakistan with Islamabad constantly accusing New Delhi of human rights violations and choking freedom of expression of the Kashmiri people.

However, after the February 25 ceasefire agreement, Pakistan toned down its rhetoric. It also moved to resume trade ties with India but the cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan, had observed last month that there could be no normalization of ties with India until the country reinstated Article 370 of its Constitution.