India and Pakistan have long had a troubled relationship, but over the past few months, a hint of cooperation has begun to emerge from the conflict. Though discord will undoubtedly continue to strain the bilateral ties that have been burdened for decades by inertia and mistrust, India and Pakistan may have more reasons now than they had before to come together to solve their mutual challenges.
Perhaps no episode better exemplifies the progress and pitfalls of the India-Pakistan relationship than Islamabad’s arrest of Kulbushan Jadhav in March this year. Jadhav – an Indian naval serviceman according to some, an Indian spy according to others – is accused of coordinating the activities of secessionist rebels in Pakistan’s restive Balochistan province. According to Islamabad, Jadhav entered Pakistan by way of Iran, where he had established a base in the port city of Chabahar a decade earlier. India acknowledged that Jadhav had served in its navy but has denied his involvement with its intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing.
Either way, Jadhav’s arrest is significant for two reasons. First, if Pakistan’s allegations are true, they would appear to corroborate Islamabad’s long-standing suspicions that India seeks to destabilise Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest and poorest province. Furthermore, an alleged Indian spy’s intrusion into Pakistan from Iran will only reinforce Islamabad’s notion that Pakistan’s western flank is vulnerable to Indian influence. (India’s interference in Balochistan, if real, would give New Delhi leverage against Pakistan, which has allegedly lent its own support to Islamist militant groups in India.) But the second and more important point is that Pakistan’s response to Jadhav’s arrest was tempered. Instead of threatening to disengage from peace talks, Pakistani foreign affairs adviser Sartaj Aziz recently confirmed that his country was still interested in resuming the comprehensive bilateral dialogue with India.
This is not to say that India’s and Pakistan’s interests are fully aligning, nor that the tension between them will dissipate. But if domestic challenges and common threats continue to drive the two towards dialogue, a more cooperative relationship could be in the making.