New Delhi: As India-Pakistan engagements become regular, routine and lose their news value, they can return to the format of bilateral meetings alternately hosted in one another’s country. To that extent, the talks held between the Indian and Pakistani NSAs in Bangkok, which was joined by the Indian foreign secretary, is a step in the right direction. The Opposition, while having every duty to protest, should be reasonable to accept the positive thrust in Indo-Pak engagement which the meeting in a third country represented. The government has a constitutional obligation to keep Parliament updated on policy decisions, including foreign policy, and a full statement on the recent talks should be made available to both Houses. The methodology of talks, however, should not become fresh excuse for obstructionism of legislative proceedings, because public opinion will be unforgiving.

Before the substantive issue of Indo-Pak relations is taken up in this piece, a quick summation is necessary of the incontestable reasons for a quiet meeting between the two countries in a third one. Keeping the Indian media out was a key necessity. Driven by negativity, sensationalism and a perverse agenda, it had a role in ruining the last fixture between the two sides, which eventually did not materialize. The second reason was Pakistan’s fixation to meet the Hurriyat leadership prior to the meeting. This is technically unsound. Pakistani interlocutors could well have met the Hurriyat leadership in Pakistan and then proceeded to New Delhi for talks. Pakistan wanted a symbolic victory by locating this whole process in New Delhi. It cut into India’s prestige and standing and India refused. The idea that earlier governments allowed this does not justify the practise. In any event, the government took the sensible decision to go for a third-country meeting. From these tentative beginnings, perhaps India-Pakistan relations could be put on a sounder footing.

Now to the substantive issues. India-Pakistan relations will progress if some simple things are kept in mind. As far as territorial remaking goes, no changes may be contemplated. Status quo has to be maintained. A former Pakistan President, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, accepted the Line of Control as the border between the two states. He did so informally at the Simla Agreement conference with Indira Gandhi in 1972, but went back on his word returning to Pakistan. The Pakistani side does not reject the status quo in private but wants to stage its arrival after long negotiations and a cooling-off period. At Simla, Bhutto should have agreed to this roadmap of gradualism. Neither India nor Pakistan has the time presently to go through an elaborate charade dance. They have to grow, develop and progress quickly. Governments of both countries owe this to their people. The Pakistan army should appreciate and understand the importance of growth and development for Pakistan. It is Pakistan’s last chance. Pakistan should prioritize economic growth and prosperity over Kashmir and join hands with India to make South Asia prosperous. In this century, territories of major states cannot be redrawn. See the strife in Syria. If not managed, it can engulf the world in war.

Time being of the essence for both India and Pakistan, neither side can risk taking maximalist positions. These positions of both countries on Kashmir are well-known and backed with legislative resolutions. Being rigid about them will not bring peace. Rigidity has brought Pakistan to its present pass where it is equated with terrorism. From 9/11 through the Bombay carnage to the San Bernardino, California, attacks, the Pakistani footprint is everywhere in global terrorism. Does the terror tag make the average Pakistani proud? It surely couldn’t. It makes them defensive about their religion, which is a situation they oughtn’t to be in, and which they probably realize all too well now.

For the sake of its own people, the Pakistan government must abandon terrorism as an instrument of state policy. “Good terrorists” is a contradiction in terms. Pakistan’s policymakers and businessmen openly say that the Pakistan military stands between India-Pakistan and good relations. The Pakistan military is being irresponsible to its people. It is not enough for it to be able to defend Pakistan against external aggression. It must not overrate the external threat to seize disproportionate resources of the state and unwittingly weaken it. Napoleon Bonaparte understood this very well when he was made First Consul. He expanded the honours system to make up for armed forces’ salary and perks’ shortfalls. (There is a lesson here as well for those who want an open-ended OROP.) The Pakistan military is also weakening Pakistan by standing in the way of peace with India. Professional armies know the terrible price of war and hostilities. The Pakistan army seems an exception. Finally, by hosting terrorist groups, the Pakistan military has planted seeds of Pakistan’s self-destruction. It has taken Pakistan to the brink.

Peace with India will save Pakistan.

Editor’s Note: The Railways should transfer ownership of Delhi’s Ring Railway, a failed experiment, to the Delhi Metro, which will turn it around. A Delhi Metro-run Ring Railway will not only be a low cost addition to its existing network but also provide the all-important connectivity among Delhi’s several railway stations. Delhi’s Hazrat Nizamuddin station, for example, is not serviced by Delhi Metro. It remains a great gap in Delhi’s connectivity. Nizamuddin station would immediately benefit from the Ring Railway becoming a part of Delhi Metro. Overall, this will make a dent in the Capital’s high pollution levels. Secondly, Delhi Metro should increase the carriages per trains, especially during rush hours, which would make it a more attractive option to personal transport than currently.