Year of see-saw relations ends in thaw between India and Pakistan (2015 In Retrospect)

New Delhi, Dec 31 (IANS) Bilateral ties between neighbours Pakistan and India swung wildly in 2015 — from a breakdown in talks to resuming the interrupted dialogue at the highest level of government.

The year began on a chilly note when Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, said to be mastermind of Mumbai terror attack, managed to secure bail after six years of incarceration. Since then, bilateral relations have been through ups and downs — more downs than ups.

But as the year drew to a close, there was a dramatic thaw in the frosty relations, with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stopping over at Lahore, on his way home from Afghanistan, to meet Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on the latter’s birthday.

Earlier, the two south Asian leaders had had an impromptu meeting in Paris on November 30, on the sidelines of the Climate Summit.

The Paris meet was followed by the National Security Advisers of the two countries — Ajit Doval of India and Naseer Khan Janjua of Pakistan — holding talks in Bangkok on December 6.

Two days later, India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj participated in the Heart of Asia conference in Islamabad where she also met the Pakistani prime minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz.

The conference turned out to be a game-changer for the two South Asian nuclear neighbours.

India and Pakistan agreed to a comprehensive bilateral dialogue, which had earlier got stalled.

The ties between the two countries hit turbulence this year when the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi invited Hurriyat leaders for a reception on August 23 and Sartaj Aziz planned to separately meet Hurriyat Conference leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, before his scheduled talks with Indian counterpart Ajit Doval.

But New Delhi rejected the move and, after a series of flip-flops, the curtains came down on proposed talks, a day before the then National Security Adviser Sartaj Aziz was due to land in New Delhi — with bitter accusations and acrimony marking the exchanges.

India said Pakistan was using firing at the Line of Control (LoC) and terror attacks to “run away from the talks” after Pakistan it of “concocting terror incidents and keeping the LoC hot”.

Sharif used the UN General Assembly platform to propose a four-step peace plan in October.

The Indian External Affairs Ministry, however, did not respond to Sharif’s proposal that was peppered with swipes at India for alleged rights violations, for firing at the LoC, and for rejecting the composite dialogue process agreed to in 1997.

On April 20, Pakistan and China signed 51 agreements for cooperation in diverse fields and visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping unveiled a $45-billion investment plan that was aimed to help Pakistan tackle its chronic energy crisis.

India voiced its concern over the proposal for a corridor which it said would pass through Pakistan-held Kashmir.

Apart from the diplomatic stand-off with its neighbour, Pakistan in 2015 was in the grip of terror attacks with hundreds of people, including women and children, being killed in various attacks, mostly led by Pakistan Taliban and its splinter groups.

Pakistani minority communities were the main targets of the extremists.

On June 15, the ongoing Pakistan Army operation “Zarb-e-Azb” (Sharp Strike) completed its first year with the military claiming success in the operation with nearly 3,000 militants killed while over 300 soldiers also lost their lives.

Also in 2015, according to Amnesty International, Pakistan hanged over 300 people on capital charges, mainly terrorism, with the latest hangings being of four terror convicted of killing over 150 people, mostly children, in an army-run public school in provincial capital of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Peshawar.

Observors say that 2016 is likely to see major step up in exchanges between the two feuding neighbours, as the course had been set by Modi’s surprise visit to Lahore and the subsequent dovish statements issued by Sharif.

(This is a part of a series of articles from IANS that look back at the year that was. Aadil Mir can be contacted at aadil.hussain@ians.in)

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