When after securing clearance from Islamabad to let Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s special flight go through Pakistani airspace to allow the Indian leader to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit at Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan, Mr Modi chose not to avail himself of the special dispensation, it became evident that India-Pakistan ties will continue to be mired in negativity for now.
At the summit, Mr Modi decided not to meet Pakistan PM Imran Khan or even exchange facetious greetings with him. This further underscored the fact that Pakistan is the lone SAARC nation with which India has chosen not to seek to normalise relations, although the opportunity to do so presented itself.
Mr Khan had phoned to congratulate Mr Modi after the latter’s emphatic victory in the recent Lok Sabha election. Later he wrote to his Indian counterpart, strongly hinting at the resumption of bilateral relations. While the poll campaign was on in India, Mr. Khan had told an international wire agency that the return of Mr Modi to power would offer the best chance to work for peace between the two countries. Clearly, none of this has impressed the Indian PM. He has maintained the stance that any effort at returning to normality in bilateral ties can be meaningful only when Islamabad demonstrates that it has taken concrete steps to move against anti-India terrorist groups in Pakistan.
Mr Modi went to the extent of informing China President Xi Jinping during their bilateral meeting at Bishkek that talks with Pakistan were off the table for now, and underlined the need to take effective steps against terrorism. At the SCO summit, and a couple of days prior in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, Mr Modi made it plain that extracting accountability from countries from which terrorists operated with impunity was a precondition for peace and stability.
In this backdrop, and seeing that Mr Modi opted to avoid flying through Pakistani airspace, Mr Khan would have come to the conclusion even before the SCO summit began that it was futile to expect any thaw with India at Bishkek. He proceeded, in an interview to the Russian news platform, Sputnik, to underline that India-Pakistan relations had reached their lowest point. Going well beyond making this observation, he noted that Pakistan would welcome any mediation with India. This was hardly calculated to please New Delhi, and may even be attributed to pique since India's insistence on strict bilateralism in ties with Pakistan goes back to the Simla summit of 1971. It was also written into the Lahore Declaration of 1999.
Having said this, it must be noted that maintaining a stance of no dialogue is not the best recipe for securing India’s own interests. India has to be balancing relations as between the United States, Russia and China, and remain on strong terms with Afghanistan. Pakistan is a factor in all of these.