The Indian and Pakistani Foreign Secretaries, Nirupama Rao and Salman Bashir, are due to hold talks in Islamabad on 23-24 June. Confidence-building measures are among the issues to be discussed. It will be the first major interaction between the two secretaries since the bilateral talks in Thimphu, Bhutan in February. Those talks were widely considered to mark a restart in meaningful dialogue between the two nuclear states, after numerous stalled and failed attempts since the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks.
The decision to hold talks has, in part, been triggered by a recent naval standoff resulting from the mutual effort to rescue the MV Suez from Somali pirates. Both sides claim reckless manoeuvres on the part of the other to be responsible for a near collision between Indian and Pakistani naval ships. The incident had the potential to cause a deterioration in relations, similar to the 2010 Senkoku incident between Japan and China. The two parties have, however, perceived the near-miss as a catalyst for talks and potential Confidence-building measures, to reduce the risk of armed conflict arising from misunderstanding and military brinkmanship.
While both sides see the need for increased dialogue, India and Pakistan have expressed different priorities and preconditions for the upcoming meeting. Pakistan would like to focus on resolving the long-standing Jammu and Kashmir dispute, an issue which, until now, has been sidelined in the wake of the Mumbai attacks. India, however, still feels that the fallout from Mumbai remains unresolved, and would like to pursue it further before addressing other issues. Terrorism remains a thorn in the side of Pakistan’s foreign relations, hurting ties not only with India, but also with other neighbouring nations and the United States. Nonetheless, New Delhi seems willing to make progress on Kashmir, with a strengthening of cultural and economic cross-border ties between Indian- and Pakistani-controlled areas of Kashmir purportedly on the agenda.
The outcome of the talks will, to a great extent, depend on a willingness to put rivalries and past incidents aside to build confidence and trust. While the main issues, such as Kashmir, remain divisive, many avenues to create bilateral goodwill exist. One is potential co-operation in Afghanistan. While the two countries have in the past viewed involvement with their conflict-ridden neighbour as a zero-sum game, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s recently expressed desire for reconciliation with the Taliban has opened the door for possible co-operation with Pakistan. Other measures, such as increasing economic and cultural involvement across the Kashmiri border, show promise in creating the atmosphere required to tackle the larger issues.
FDI Indian Ocean Research Programme
 Puri, L., ‘Bridging the India-Pakistan divide on Afghanistan’, Foreign Policy, 9 June 2011. <https://afpak.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/06/09/bridging_the_india_pakistan_divide_on_afghanistan>.