Pakistan and India are set to revive Track II dialogue to explore ways of resolving issues between the two countries. This is a second attempt at talks under the Sharif government. The road to normalising relations has been rocky, especially since PM Modi took charge. Will these meetings finally mark the beginning of a new way forward, or will they be yet another false start? The reputation and efficacy of Track II diplomacy has been marred by regular interruptions due to terrorist attacks. Much depends whether the current uneasy peace between the countries can be maintained.

Pakistan’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs and National Security, Sartaj Aziz, announced the opening of the dialogue at a press conference on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s meeting with Narendra Modi. He said the meeting opened an opportunity to identify areas where the two countries could promote cooperation right away to reduce tensions. The list of topics that were considered to be important included a dialogue between the two countries’ national security advisers on terrorism and talks at the level of the directors general of the Indian Border Security Force and Pakistan Rangers. The list also included a dialogue over military operations relating to the enforcement of a ceasefire along the Line of Control and Working Boundary.

The elephant in the room, Kashmir, was not on the list. This was despite the fact that Aziz had said earlier on that Pakistan would not start a dialogue with India unless the Kashmir dispute was on the agenda. Aziz claimed that issues could not be resolved by mentioning them in joint statements, but by holding a dialogue. He ended with the statement that: “Our policy on Kashmir is very clear”. Our policy might be clear, but if we never get to bring it up at a discussion with Indian diplomats we cannot move towards a resolution. The Indian refusal to use the K-word seems to imply that they think that Kashmir is a part of India— end of discussion. Indian leaders have to realise that they are not a superpower yet, and not as intimidating as they think they are. A bigger economy, a bigger population, and a nuclear weapon, do not give them squatting rights over a disputed territory.

On a softer note, interactions between civilians of the two countries may generate an informal discussion over long standing problems. A combination of Track II diplomacy and official political dialogue is necessary. Cultural exchange and trade can go a long way in fostering peace, but this will be a peace without trust. It will crumble if the issues of militancy, Kashmir and water are not discussed and resolved.