The decision by Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s special assistant on national security issues, Moeed Yusuf, to do an interview with the Indian media (he spoke to The Wire) has generated debate on both sides of the border. Mr Yusuf contended that India has sent messages to Pakistan with a desire for conversation but didn’t say who had sent these communications and what had become of them.
Indian officials have called his claim “fiction”. He laid pre-conditions for any dialogue between the two countries, most of them related to changes made to the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. This is solely India’s internal matter. Mr Yusuf also used the interview to trot out a string of accusations against India, from funding the Pakistani Taliban and Baloch activists to the more serious allegation of a hand in the 2014 terrorist attack on a school in Peshawar. These charges are baseless.
But the interview was significant for several reasons — for the all-powerful military would have signed off on the interview since it still has a vice-like grip on foreign policy. This was also the first time a Pakistani official engaged with the Indian media since the changes in Kashmir more than a year ago, and it was seen by some in India as an attempt by the Pakistani side to open a channel of communication after the passage of a decade without any structured dialogue.
The environment for talks, though, is hardly conducive. Not a week goes by without India and Pakistan taking swipes at each other at a multilateral forum — Mr Yusuf himself joined a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting with an inaccurate map of Pakistan that triggered a walk-out by the Indian side.
Pakistan may have decided to use its new-found utility in facilitating talks in Afghanistan to get others to prod India to join a dialogue, but these efforts aren’t likely to lead to a positive response from New Delhi. Mr Yusuf didn’t adequately address the sole issue holding up dialogue between the two countries — anti-India terror groups operating from Pakistani soil. Pakistan may have locked up a handful of terrorist leaders due to pressure from the Financial Action Task Force but India believes such actions aren’t irreversible. If Pakistan was expecting the interview to lead to a thaw, it will have to go back to the drawing board.