NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Top intelligence officials from India and Pakistan held secret talks in Dubai in January in a new attempt to defuse military tensions over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, people with close knowledge of the issue told Reuters in Delhi. .
Relations between the nuclear-armed rivals are on ice after a suicide bombing of an Indian military convoy in Kashmir in 2019, followed by Pakistan-based fighters, led to India sending military planes to Pakistan.
Later that year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi withdrew India’s Kashmir autonomy to tighten power over the territory, provoking outrage in Pakistan and lowering diplomatic ties and halting bilateral trade.
But the two governments have reopened a backward channel for diplomacy, aimed at a modest roadmap for normalizing ties over the next few months, people said.
Kashmir has long been a hotbed between India and Pakistan, both of which claim the entire region but govern only partially.
Officers from the Indian Wing for Research and Analysis, the Foreign Intelligence Agency and Pakistan’s Interagency Intelligence Service traveled to Dubai for a meeting assisted by the United Arab Emirates government, two people said.
The Indian Foreign Ministry did not respond to a request for comment. The Pakistani army, which controls ISI, also did not respond.
But Ayesha Sidika, a leading Pakistani defense analyst, said she believed Indian and Pakistani intelligence officials had been meeting in third countries for several months.
“I think there were meetings in Thailand, Dubai, London between people of the highest level,” she said.
“IT IS GOOD”
Such meetings have taken place in the past, especially during crises, but have never been publicly acknowledged.
“There are a lot of things that can still go wrong, it’s done,” said one Delhi man. “That’s why no one speaks it in public, we don’t even have a name for it, it’s not a peace process. You can call it a repeat commitment, “said one.
Both sides have reason to seek rapprochement. India has been locked in a border conflict with China since last year and does not want troops to be dispersed on the Pakistani front.
China’s ally Pakistan, which is mired in economic hardship and an IMF bailout program, can afford unattainable increased tensions on its border with Kashmir for a long time, experts say. It also needs to stabilize Afghanistan’s border to the west when the United States withdraws.
“It’s better for India and Pakistan to talk than not to talk, and it’s even better to do it quietly than in public,” said Myra MacDonald, a former Reuters journalist who has just published a book. for India, Pakistan and the war on the borders of Kashmir.
“… But I do not see that this goes beyond the basic management of tensions, possibly for the tides on both sides during a difficult period – Pakistan has to deal with the fall of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, while India has to face much more -unstable situation on its disputed border with China. “
SET DOWN Rhetoric
Following the January meeting, India and Pakistan announced they would stop cross-border shootings along the Line of Control (LoC), which divides Kashmir, which has killed dozens of civilians and many others. The truce has been delayed, military officials in both countries said.
The two countries have also signaled plans to hold elections in Kashmir this year as part of efforts to bring normalcy to a region torn by decades of bloodshed.
The two have also agreed to impose their rhetoric, people told Reuters.
This would include Pakistan rejecting its outspoken objections to Modi, which revoked Kashmir’s autonomy in August 2019, while Delhi, in turn, would refrain from blaming Pakistan for all its violence on the Line of Control.
These details have not been reported before. India has long blamed Pakistan for the uprising in Kashmir, a claim that Pakistan denies.
“There is a recognition that there will be attacks in Kashmir, there have been discussions on how to deal with this and not let these efforts be derailed by the next attack,” said one of the people.
However, there is still no big plan to resolve the 74-year-old Kashmir dispute. Rather, the two sides are trying to ease tensions to pave the way for broad engagement, all the people Reuters spoke with said.
“Pakistan is moving from a geostrategic domain to a geoeconomic domain,” Rauf Hassan, a special aide to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, told Reuters.
“Peace, both inside and around with its neighbors, is a key element that facilitates this.”
Report by Sanjay Miglani in New Delhi and Asif Shahzad in Islamabad; Edited by Nick McPhee