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Why the fuss over the Modi-Sharif handshake?


New Delhi, Dec.1 : News and social media went into frenzy after Prime Minister Narendra Modi walked up to his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif on the sidelines of a climate change summit in Paris and shook hands.

Many jumped the gun and started discussing the fate of the stalled talks between the two countries. Was the handshake a mere courtesy photo-op, or was there something more to it? And so on and so forth. Well, one just does not know what the two leaders discussed, but one thing is certain that they did not discuss the climate of Paris. But what mattered most was the handshake which replaced the most important Paris climate talks as the lead story in Indian and Pakistani newspapers.

Tongues have started wagging about the future of the talks. What a prosaic interpretation? Is there any doubt about resumption of talks? Absolutely not! It is just a matter of time when the two countries will again start talk the talk, but what is more important is whether they will walk the walk.

No two neighbours can remain in a perpetual mode of denial for long. In the past also, the two countries have been involved in talks despite going to full-fledged wars three times and a brief conflict in Kargil in 1999 since their independence. But they were back to talks after sometime. It is an on and off exercise which will go on before the two nations regain trust about each other to operationalise the full-scale structured talks.

The leadership of both the countries is mature enough to understand that war would only lead to catastrophe and complicate the matters beyond repairs. Dialogue can only take them forward to any meaningful and lasting solution to the issues that bedevil their relations.

But for that to happen, a congenial atmosphere is the basic requirement. Incidents in the last few months have only widened the trust deficit as both the countries view each other with suspicion. The media of the two countries has also played a devilish role by resorting to jingoist rhetoric forcing the hands of the leadership of both the countries to move cautiously. The cross-border firing, increase in militant activities in Kashmir, the recent arrest of agents affiliated to Pakistan’s intelligence agency in India do not augur well for the immediate resumption of talks, even though cosmetic, in the immediate future.

The handshake offers a ray of hope. One hopes that this gesture turns out to be ice-breaker before the winter chill sets in. This was their second meeting this year after they met in the Russian city of Ufa in July and decided to give a push to the stalled talks by agreeing to a meeting of National Security Advisors. But sadly, the meeting just failed to take off as both the sides stuck to unreasonable grounds. There was another opportunity a month later in the United Nations General Assembly session for them to meet. But by then the ties had soured and the two leaders intentionally decided to stay away from public glare by only waving at each other.

Talks for the sake of talks should be avoided. Both the countries should do some serious introspection and adopt a pragmatic approach if they are really serious in taking the talks forward. Nawaz Sharif’s recent offer of unconditional talks with India during his meeting with British Premier David Cameron on the sidelines of the Commonwealth summit in Malta has largely gone unnoticed in India as New Delhi has not even bothered to take note of it, leave aside making any comments.

Pakistan needs to understand that talks and terror can’t go hand in hand. At a time, when the world has been rattled by a series of bloody terrorist activities, the sentiments are running high against terrorist groups. And to expect India to enter into talks with Pakistan as long as it is seen as in collusion with terrorist groups is asking for too much. Pakistan needs to make some forward movement in this regard before it can hope for resumption of normal ties.

The use of terrorism as a state policy is falling apart as the nations themselves are feeling the pinch. Who knows is better than Pakistan which has suffered the most? The same groups whom it cradled have started turning their back on it and are causing the maximum damage. Terrorism today poses a major threat to the world than anything else. The Paris attacks have only emboldened the resolve of the global community to formulate a common and concerted strategy to defang this monster which is spreading its tentacles.

There is an opportunity before Pakistan to join the global war against terrorism to regain its bruised image. India is not the only country which views its estranged neighbour with suspicion. The list is endless. Pakistan has been ticked off by major powers from time to time. It should listen to the sage counsel and launch a war against terrorism. There is no doubt that it will feel the pain initially, but this pain is worth suffering, because if it is allowed to fester it will become a deadly disease and amputation will be the only recourse. It is up to Pakistan to decide which path it wants to tread. Talks with India can wait.

Vikas Khanna is a senior journalist and the views expressed by him are personal(ANI)

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