Home >Politics >Policy >Modi’s outreach to Pakistan falls flat as army looms over talks

New Delhi: India and Pakistan’s top security officials will meet on Sunday to try and restart a peace dialogue that has repeatedly stalled due to terrorism and gun battles.

The worst border fighting in a decade soured ties just weeks after Narendra Modi met with Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif for the first time in more than a year. At the 10 July meeting, Modi had agreed to become the first Indian prime minister since 2004 to visit Pakistan.

The renewed tensions this month underscore the limits of Modi’s business-focused foreign policy when dealing with India’s oldest foe. In part that’s because of divisions between Pakistan’s civilian leadership and military generals that have run the country for more than half of its existence.

“Modi’s magic usually works where people understand business sense," said Sreeram Sundar Chaulia, dean of the Jindal School of International Affairs on the outskirts of Delhi. “Pakistan’s army doesn’t answer to that kind of cost-benefit analysis."

Recent attacks, including a terrorist strike in Punjab that killed seven people, prompted both nations to summon each other’s high commissioners. Reports that India had put Kashmiri separatists under house arrest also damaged the environment for the talks between Indian national security adviser Ajit Doval and Pakistani counterpart Sartaj Aziz.

Kashmir wars

While neither side has elaborated on the meeting’s agenda, both sides are likely to bring up terrorism. Pakistan accuses India of fomenting secessionism in its province of Baluchistan, and India regularly says Pakistan resorts to terrorism because it can’t win a conventional war.

Aziz said he hopes the meeting will be an ice breaker that leads to further dialogue. Modi has struck a harder line, targeting Pakistan in veiled comments before a cheering audience of Indian expatriates in Dubai on 17 August.

“There has to be a decision—are you with terrorism or with humanity?" he said, hailing a joint statement with the UAE that condemned states using religion to sponsor terrorism and colour political disputes. “However serious a problem may be, at the end talks are the only way to resolve it."

The nuclear-armed neighbours have fought three wars over the mountainous region of Kashmir. Julia Thompson, a researcher at the Stimson Center in Washington, said the two sides are violating a 2003 cease-fire in Kashmir nearly three times more frequently than they were in 2011.

“Recent events do increase tensions, and there is no clear mechanism in place for de-escalating a crisis," she said.

The initial meetings between Modi and Sharif indicated that the two leaders might find common ground to boost minuscule trade flows. That has eroded due to frequent attacks and questions over Sharif’s ability to improve ties with India without support from Pakistan’s army.

“The military has no interest whatsoever in the talks," said Sumit Ganguly, a professor of political science at Indiana University in Bloomington, referring to Pakistan. “The only reason, I think, that India is going ahead with them is because Modi wants to present a reasonable—and not intransigent—face to the world." Bloomberg

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