Pitch for trade and cricket with Pakistan

Vijay Gokhale

New Delhi: India and Pakistan appear to be taking tentative steps to de-escalate tensions after hostilities literally reached home this month with the harassment of diplomats' families in either country.

On the day the two foreign offices "mutually agreed" to resolve matters related to the treatment of diplomats and diplomatic premises, India's high commissioner in Pakistan Ajay Bisaria made a pitch for improving trade ties and hoped for resumption of cricket between the two countries.

Bisaria was speaking at a programme organised by the Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry on Friday.

A week ago, Pakistan's high commissioner in India Sohail Mahmood had said: "At the time of Independence, our founding fathers had envisioned an amicable relationship between the two countries.

"The relations, however, evolved on a different trajectory.... Building a future different from the past remains indispensable. We owe it to our next generations."

He was addressing the Pakistan Day celebrations at the high commission in New Delhi, soon after returning from Islamabad where he had been called by his government a week back for consultations on the harassment of diplomats, triggering speculation about a possible recall of the high commissioner.

In the fortnight since Pakistan asked its high commissioner to come to Islamabad - specifically from March 19 - there has been only one instance of firing along the India-Pakistan border, which had been particularly volatile this winter.

According to the Indo-Pak Conflict Monitor - a research initiative to scrutinise ceasefire violations, conflict patterns and escalation dynamics - India did not retaliate.

This reflects a new-found maturity in New Delhi to deal with Pakistan, the Conflict Monitor's project head, Happymon Jacob, told The Telegraph.

Part of this he attributed to the change of guard at the external affairs ministry with Vijay Gokhale taking over as foreign secretary from S. Jaishankar.

"He is more thoughtful and reflective, and this is making a difference at the MEA," Jacob said, articulating a concern voiced about the functioning of the ministry under Jaishankar by retired foreign service officer Vivek Katju in an article in web portal The Wire earlier this year.

There is also some chatter about behind-the-scenes contacts at the official level to maintain a working relationship between the two countries.

Also, those attending recent India-Pakistan Track-II meetings have returned with the understanding that Pakistan's chief of army staff Qamar Javed Bajwa will not stand in the way if the civilian administration there tries to mend bilateral relations.


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