In a televised address on the eve of Pakistan’s Independence Day, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif attempted to de-escalate tensions with India over the ongoing issue of the disputed Kashmir border.
Let us make a new beginning. Let us sit together to resolve all outstanding issues in a friendly manner and in a peaceful atmosphere,” Mr. Sharif said on Tuesday.
That move comes as India and Pakistan have again accused each other of breaking the cease-fire and firing at each other across the Line of Control, the area that divides the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir between Pakistan and India, the past week.
Sharif’s statement, analysts say, is unlikely to calm tempers in India, and the increased tensions may force Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to cancel a planned meeting with Sharif on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September.
Pakistan and India have fought three wars – two over Kashmir – since the enemies gained independence from Britain in 1947. After an bloody uptick in violence in the late 1980s and ’90s, the two signed a Kashmir cease-fire agreement in 2003, which has largely calmed the situation. Though ties have been warming recently, from time to time, both New Delhi and Islamabad accuse the other of breaching the cease-fire.
While Sharif has repeatedly stressed a desire to have peace with India, his government has threatened to cut its number of diplomatic staff in Delhi in response to public protest over the Kashmir issue.
The deadly violence – last week India accused Pakistan of killing five of its soldiers – threatens the prospect of peace talks. Proposed diplomatic talks have already been put off amid criticism in India that the talks aren’t helping.
A number of retired Indian security officials wrote an open letter to the prime minister calling for India to “impose severe costs” on Pakistan for violence in Kashmir, instead of talks.
“Peace talks in fact become counterproductive when they take place in tandem with a proxy war in Kashmir,” says Sushant Sareen, researcher at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi.
But others say there is actually not much choice.
“India does not have much options other than talks, especially since the security scenario in the region is fragile, given the impending US exit from Afghanistan,” says Pakistani military analyst Ayesha Siddiqa.
And some insist that if any Pakistani leader could mend ties with India, based on his record, Sharif could.
“The composite dialogue was started between Pakistan and India 15 years ago when Nawaz Sharif was in power,” says former Indian Foreign Secretary Salman Haider, often part of backchannel talks. “That process has yielded modest gains, such as the 2003 cease-fire on the Line of Control. That enough is proof that the talks must continue.”
Analysts say that instead of upping the ante, India and Pakistan should work on strengthening that cease-fire.
“The two armies have a mechanism of communicating with each other on the Line of Control, and there are several suggestions for improving it,” says Sushobha Bharve of the Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation in Delhi. “There could be joint patrolling and demilitarized zones, for instance, but any such solutions demand we keep talking,” she says.