Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Indo-Pakistan Relations Cooling

Ever since a new civilian government has come to power, Indo-Pakistan relations have been heading south.

Pakistan and India struggled to hide their exasperation with each other at the start of a fifth round of ‘composite dialogue’ between their foreign secretaries here on Monday.

New Delhi warned that the recent attack on its embassy in Kabul had put the talks under stress. Islamabad said given its enormous sacrifices it could not be put on probation in the war on terror.

A source close to the talks between Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir and his Indian counterpart Shivshankar Menon described the atmosphere at the Hyderabad House as unexpectedly muddied. Mr Menon is believed to have told Mr Bashir that not only had the dialogue been put under stress but the talks were also at risk following the devastating attack in Kabul on July 7.

After the round of the dialogue on peace and security, Jammu and Kashmir and other confidence-building measures (CBMs), Mr Menon told reporters that the talks were happening at a “difficult time of our relationship with Pakistan”.
This is not a new phenomenon, but a regular occurrence. Relations were bad when both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif were in power as well. Like then, Kashmir became a restive place with frequent cross-border artillery barrages and increase in militant activity. Pakistani intelligence and military is responsible for some of this - they always tend to operate independently of the civilian government - but I would not be surprised one bit if the civilian government sanctioned it this time around. With Pakistan beset with economic and political problems, including militancy on its border with Afghanistan, trying to blame India for its ills is usually a win-win strategy, with little or no political cost.