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Irascible Neighbour

Omar Abdullah has described it well – tit for tat politics. The heavy-handed manner in which Pakistan’s intelligence agencies disrupted in Islamabad the Indian High Commission’s iftar on Saturday indicates the level at which relations between the two countries have remained for many years now. While the Islamabad intervention was muscular and crude, India has not been very behind in intimidating the likes of Kashmiri separatists from attending events at the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi. It goes to show the difficulty anyone would face in trying to improve relations between the two countries.
With the re-election of Prime Minister Modi, speculation has begun once again, particularly in Pakistan, about how he will steer this star-crossed relationship. India’s stand has been consistent that, as a sovereign nation, the western neighbour has to take responsibility for terrorist actions carried out from its soil. In fact, the global community is constantly reminded that it is not just a question of providing sanctuary to terrorists – they are actually assisted and armed by the Pakistani ISI and military establishment. This allegation has been bolstered by similar complaints from Afghanistan and Iran. The US has firsthand knowledge of this nexus, having not only caught Osama bin Laden from a Pakistani safe house, but also suffered the depredations of the Pak backed Taliban.
Despite all this, Pakistan continues to deny any involvement. It claims it only provides moral support to the ‘freedom fighters of Kashmir’ and, otherwise, its hands are clean. India has attempted more than once to play along with its narrative and provided proof of Pakistani involvement, but has not received any cooperation. The new Prime Minister, Imran Khan, who has more than once spoken of turning a new leaf in Indo-Pak relations, does not have much say, like his predecessors. Between the Army and public opinion on Kashmir, Pakistani politicians have little space to maneuver. This is why initiatives taken from as far ago as Indira Gandhi’s prime ministership have failed consistently.
There are those who advise going around the political establishment and negotiating directly with the Pakistani Army – a Sidhu like ‘jhappi’ of General Bajwa. This, however, is not feasible till such time leverage can be obtained over the Pak military. Even the present economic crisis that Pakistan faces has not troubled the generals enough to improve ties with India. They will continue to get their salaries and funding for the weapons they supposedly need. This leaves India with no option but to continue tightening the screws. Incidents such as the iftar disruption, in the meanwhile, will continue and have to be borne.