US-North Korean Summit should set example for India-Pakistan peace talks

It is an enormous relief to Asia and to the world that the prospect of war on the Korean peninsula appears more distant now than before, thanks to the great diplomatic progress made in recent weeks. But June also saw the continuation of an almost forgotten conflict in South Asia, with five more people killed on the highly militarised border between India and Pakistan.

It was particularly disappointing that the fighting resumed only a few weeks after high-ranking generals from both sides agreed to uphold a 15-year-old ceasefire agreement in ‘letter and spirit’.

Now the question arises: if historic enemies like the US and North Korea can come together to forge a fresh start after months of escalating threats, what is to stop India and Pakistan from making another attempt at resolving their differences?

There is some support for this approach in Pakistan. Shehbaz Sharif, a politician from the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), is trying to reach out to India. He wrote that the Singapore summit involving the US and North Korea ‘should set a good precedent for Pakistan and India to follow’. In addition, Mr. Sharif suggested that Afghanistan could also be involved in ‘comprehensive peace talks in our region’.

‘If the United States and North Korea can return from the brink of a nuclear flashpoint, there is no reason why Pakistan and India cannot do the same,’ he said.

China stands ready to play an important role in the peace process. The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistan’s President Mamnoon Hussain took part in a multilateral summit in the Chinese city of Qingdao in June. China hailed the meeting as a ‘new milestone” in the history of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and China’s foreign ministry expressed its hope that the two countries will keep to an agreement to stop cross-border firing along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir.

Following the summit, the Chinese ambassador to India proposed a trilateral dialogue with China, Pakistan and India to try to de-escalate regional tensions. Sadly, India declined his offer, with India’s Ministry of External Affairs saying that ‘matters related to India-Pakistan relations are purely bilateral in nature and have no scope for involvement of any third country’.

Yet the lesson from the Korean talks is that progress was made because of intense diplomatic efforts by a number of countries, including China. And, given that both India and Pakistan are extensively armed with nuclear weapons, keeping peace between them is a crucial step towards ensuring greater security, not just for the region but for the world.

China’s invitation to host a dialogue between South Asia’s two great rivals is a welcome step. It is time for constructive talks. Would it be too much to hope for a full summit in China at which India and Pakistan’s leaders agree to stop threatening each other’s people with terrible weapons of mass destruction?

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