On March 16, former foreign minister of Pakistan Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri held a small gathering of citizens in Lahore to meet India’s O.P. Shah and discuss normalization of relations between Delhi and Islamabad. The two had engaged in this exercise unsuccessfully 30 years ago and hoped to revive some kind of bilateral dialogue in 2018 instead of communicating through ugly incidents on both sides of the border.
The meeting at a local hotel was full of goodwill but guarded about not betraying any signs of “giving in.” India was flying high after pursuing a policy of isolating Pakistan globally and regionally. Pakistan was tightlipped because it had no traditional cards to play except for emphasizing its possession of the bomb. Talking about Kashmir would have derailed the meeting. And the news from India was not good.
Earlier in the week, Indian lawyer A.G. Noorani had written: “Repression in Kashmir is systematic and at an all-time high. No leader commands the respect that the aged, ailing Syed Ali Shah Geelani does. Yet he is singled out for attack. Under house arrest since October 2010, neither his son nor even the vegetable vendor can enter his house. His wife needs eye surgery, for which he has no means. It is a shame and disgrace. Why are India’s human rights activists and international rights organizations silent?”
Pakistan, meanwhile, has undertaken a “life-changing” project in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor that could transform its regional standing. Two gas pipelines are waiting on its western border to enter it and go to India. Afghanistan wants a two-way trade corridor to India through Pakistan. China wants India to join its trade route in Pakistan to facilitate the $84 billion worth of trade it is doing with Delhi. Dangerously isolated, Pakistan is being reminded of its “median state” status if it wants to prosper. India will bite if Kashmir is not frontloaded in peace talks and the Kashmiris will get relief from this process of normalization. Is Pakistan willing to change tack from the old reflexes embedded in its textbook nationalism?