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After a reset with China through the recent informal summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, New Delhi appears to be exchanging feelers regarding a possible resumption of engagement with Islamabad. Although still wary of any official engagement — and rightly so as Pakistan is yet to cease terror attacks — government seems to have agreed to revive Track II diplomacy with Pakistan with a high-powered delegation of former diplomats, military veterans and academics travelling to that country between April 28 and 30.
The Track II initiative called the Neemrana Dialogue is significant in that the foreign ministries of both countries have associated with it in the past. Talks with Pakistan have always been a case of ‘one step forward two steps back’. This is compounded by the fact that the civilian administration in Pakistan is hardly its decision maker on foreign policy. That role is assumed by the Pakistani military and ISI, loosely known as ‘the establishment’.
In fact, if talks are to have any chance of success then India should open direct channels of communication with the Pakistani army. However, that may not be immediately possible under the current circumstances. At a time when the US is cranking up pressure on Pakistan for sponsoring terrorism, Islamabad is getting increasingly isolated. Meanwhile, China may be Pakistan’s all-weather friend but it too will demand its pound of flesh for its support.
Given this scenario, restarting the India-Pakistan Track II diplomacy is akin to dangling a carrot for the entire Pakistani establishment. Either it can abjure terrorism and come for talks, or it can continue on its present path and keep getting diplomatically isolated. Choosing the latter could mean Pakistan becoming a Chinese vassal state in the near future.