New Delhi: Even as positive signals emerged after a successful round of talks on Kartarpur Corridor and Islamabad’s decision to reopen its airspace sealed since the Balakot air strike in February, it is unlikely that the developments will lead to resumption of bilateral dialogue between India and Pakistan.
On Wednesday, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague ruled in favour of India by granting it consular access to Kulbhushan Jadhav, a former Indian Navy officer who is on a death row in Pakistan over charges of espionage and terrorism. The court also stayed Jadhav’s execution who was granted death sentence by a military court in April 2017.
The verdict comes at a time when the two countries are not enjoying cordial relations with tensions simmering on both sides of the border.
In February this year, both sides were almost on the verge of starting a full-fledged war when the Indian Air Force attacked alleged terrorist training camps of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) inside Pakistan’s territory in Balakot.
India took the step in the backdrop of a terrorist attack on February 14 when a JeM terrorist attacked and killed 40 CRPF personnel. In a retaliatory stance, Pakistan also captured one of India’s fighter pilots, who was later released.
However, Pakistan has been of late taking some early steps that are aimed at thawing of ties between both neighbours.
‘The real issue still remains’
On Sunday, Pakistan agreed to most of India’s demands on the Kartarpur Corridor, including visa-free travel for the pilgrims. This was followed by opening up of Pakistan’s airspace on Tuesday for commercial flights to enter India.
“Pakistan is taking some steps towards thawing of ties but the real issue still remains. India is very clear that terror and talks cannot go together. The Jadhav verdict can have positive contribution in the overall gamut of things. But these are tell-tale signs. A resumption of dialogue cannot be seen right now,” said Sharat Sabharwal, former Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan.
On Wednesday, as the ICJ gave its verdict, Pakistan police arrested Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the founder of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), who was the main mastermind behind the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.
“The verdict certainly won’t improve the bilateral relationship, but it won’t have a damaging impact either. Ultimately, I don’t think we should oversell the impact on a relationship that’s bound to remain cold for quite some time, regardless of what the ICJ had to say about Jadhav,” said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia programme and senior associate for South Asia at the Washington-based thinktank Wilson Centre.
Kugelman also said the fact that the ICJ did not call for Jadhav’s release will “anger Indian hardliners, and the fact that it granted India consular access and said his death sentence should remain suspended will aggrieve Pakistani hardliners”.
“I don’t think there will be an impact on the bilateral dialogue. That has been dead in the water for months, and if it’s to be resumed, the trigger certainly wouldn’t be a controversial court case involving an alleged Indian spy,” he said.
‘A lot will depend upon the US’
According to Ayesha Siddiqa, research associate at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, and author of Military Inc., resumption of the composite dialogue between India and Pakistan will depend on stance the US takes.
“I think they will start to talk but a lot will depend upon the US since it will be central to the talks,” Siddiqa added.
While Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and his Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi have written several letters to their respective Indian counterparts Narendra Modi and S. Jaishankar, New Delhi has maintained its stated stance that “terror and talks cannot go together”.
In June, both Modi and Khan had attended the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Summit in Bishkek, where both leaders had exchanged pleasantries.
Khan is scheduled to meet US President Donald Trump on July 22 at the White House. It is expected that the US might ask Pakistan to mend ties with India.
‘Pakistan is taking steps only to please international audience’
A lot will now depend on how Pakistan implements the ICJ verdict, thereby granting consular access to India in the Jadhav case, which might become a turning point in steering the relationship towards a positive path.
Amar Sinha, former Indian ambassador to Kabul, stated that the verdict might nudge the Pakistan government to create a positive narrative. Sinha, however, said Pakistan is taking steps such as arresting Saeed only to “please international audience”.
According to former diplomat Gurjit Singh, Pakistan’s properly implementing the ICJ decision will contribute towards the relationship taking a positive turn and help in “confidence building”. However, he also reiterated that the real issue remains on what Pakistan does to state-sponsored terror.