Indo-Pak Talks and the Cheshire Cat
India’s talks with Pakistan are like the Cheshire Cat, in their evanescence. The Cat in Alice’s Wonderland had a habit of vanishing in anatomical instalments. Once, after it had reduced itself to a grinning face, it occasioned a heated, if logical, exchange between the King and Queen of Hearts, on the one hand, and the executioner, on the other, on whether it was possible to behead a head that is not attached to a body. The Pakistan High Commissioner’s statement that Indo-Pak peace talks stand suspended raises a similar question: can you suspend talks that have not got going in the first place? The Modi government’s approach to talks with Pakistan has been that of a pendulum, swinging from one extreme to the other, and back again. Warm embrace at the swearing in, called off talks over the Pak envoy’s meeting with Kashmiri separatists, warm embrace after sudden stopover at Lahore, followed up from the Pak end with a sneak terror attack on the Pathankot air force base, unprecedented accommodation of a Pak request to send their investigation team to Pathankot, only to see the warmth of this implicit admission of the Pak state’s non-involvement in the terror strike frozen over by the Pak ‘discovery’ of an alleged Indian spy in Balochistan. If you find such conduct of bilateral relations baffling, please note that a cat’s tail, too, swings from one end to the other.
Talks with Pakistan getting suspended is not a disaster. India should continue to be prepared to engage all sections of the Pak state and society that are willing to be engaged but with the full awareness that it would not mark any development in a story that progresses swiftly to an ending in which people live happily together ever after. If the Cheshire cat vanishes, trust it to reappear.