Sharif’s offer for talks may be a trial balloon
Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s offer of talks to India represents the first peace overture since he came to power last year
Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s offer of talks to India represents the first peace overture since he came to power last year, though it was subsequently tied to New Delhi revoking the scrapping of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status three years ago. There are compelling reasons for Pakistan to seek better relations with India, including a battered economy that is on life-support, thanks to aid from West Asian powers and China and a rapidly burgeoning insurgency by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. The nation also appears to be interested in building on the relatively peaceful situation on the Line of Control (LoC) since a ceasefire was revived in 2021, even more so now, so that it can focus on its northwestern region, where the Taliban fighters pose a serious challenge to the government’s writ. While Pakistan’s former army chief, General Qamar Bajwa, had pushed for détente with India, it is unclear whether his successor, General Asim Munir, will favour a similar approach. General Munir’s comments during a visit to troops on the LoC reflect a more hawkish position, and there are still no indications that Pakistan has begun cracking down on anti-India terror groups.
Mr Sharif’s comments could be seen as a trial balloon to gauge the thinking in Delhi. While the Indian government has spoken of restoring Jammu and Kashmir’s statehood, it is unlikely the status of the region will be changed. Thus, if Mr Sharif were to cling to the plank of revoking the decision of August 2019, talks will be a non-starter. The window for any engagement too appears extremely narrow, with Pakistan set to hold elections this year and India in 2024. If a beginning is to be made, the two sides should focus on the resumption of trade and upgrading of diplomatic ties.