NEW DELHI: Talks between India’s Border Security Force and the Pakistan Rangers are taking place in New Delhi today. The talks are all the more significant given the tense relationship between the two countries, marked by cross-border fire and the cancellation of NSA-level talks last month.

The DG-level talks, spread over four days (September 9 to 12), are being led by BSF Director Devendra Kumar Pathak and Pakistan Rangers (Pun­jab) Director General Maj Gen Umar Farooq Barki.

Sources indicate that recent ceasefire violations will dominate the agenda for the talks, as just two days ago one Indian civilian was killed and four injured along the LoC. This pushed the number of violations up to seven for the month of September. In August, eleven people, including two jawans were killed in the firing. India states that Pakistan has violated the ceasefire over 250 times this year, of which 57 violations were in August. Pakistan states that 20 of its citizens have been killed and 97 others injured in cross border firing in the month of August.

The talks, it seemed, were threatened by these cross border flare ups, but are thus far on track. To add to the tensions, on the eve of the talks on Tuesday, Pakistan NSA Sartaj Aziz told reporters that Pakistan would give a ‘befitting response’ in the event of an aggression by India. “They want better ties, but on their own terms,” Aziz said. The Pakistani NSA was referring to a statement made by Indian Information Minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore on India exploring every possible means to neutralise Dawood Ibrahim or Hafiz Saeed.

“Narendra Modi contested elections an anti-Pakistan platform and now wants to dictate terms for the dialogue.. but we will never accept this,” Aziz was quoted as saying in the Pakistani media.

Tensions have dominated the rhetoric in the two countries, with just a day earlier on Monday India reacting to a statement made by Pakistan’s army chief General Raheel Sharif. Sharif had said that Kashmir was the “unfinished agenda” of partition. India’s minister of state in the prime minister’s office Jitendra Singh reacted sharply, saying, “If there is any subject related to Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan it is how the parts of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) can be again included in India. That means the area, which after 65-66 years, even after being part of Jammu and Kashmir, is under illegal possession of Pakistan.”

In fact, Kashmir continues to be a thorn in the side of both countries, with the NSA level talks being cancelled last month over Pakistan’s decision to invite Kashmiri separatist leaders to an event in New Delhi. India, put in a tough spot by the move, issued an ultimatum to Pakistan to provide an assurance that talks would include no agenda other than terrorism. A statement from Pakistan’s Ministry of External Affairs said: “Pakistan has carefully analyzed the contents of the Press Conference of the Indian Minister for External Affairs, Mrs. Sushma Sawaraj this afternoon. We have come to the conclusion that the proposed NSA level talks between the two countries would not serve any purpose, if conducted on the basis of the two conditions laid down by the Minister.” India, on its part, denied imposing any conditions. An MEA spokesperson tweeted: “Pakistan’s decision is unfortunate. India did not set any preconditions.”

In a characteristic tit-for-tat that has come to define relations between the two countries, Pakistan accused India of “concocting terror incidents and keeping the LoC hot”, while India said Pakistan was using firing along the LoC and terror attacks to “run away from the talks.”

The above is a scenario of history repeating itself, as India had cancelled secretary level talks -- that had been agreed to during Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit for Narendra Modi’s inauguration ceremony -- over Pakistan’s decision to meet Kashmiri separatist leaders in August last year. “This is a red line we have drawn,” the MEA spokesperson had said at the time, “We have told Pakistan — you either talk to us, or to them.”

Sharif and Modi recently met on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Ufa, Russia -- with the meeting being the first of its kind between the two leaders in over a year. It was here that the two countries agreed to meetings between their respective NSAs.

The announcement of NSA talks seemed to be a step in the right directions, as relations between the two countries have been tense, with, in addition to LoC firing, India pointing a finger at Pakistan for recent terror attacks in Gurdaspur, Punjab and in Jammu and Kashmir. Things took another dip when Pakistan decided to not invite the Jammu and Kashmir assembly speaker to a conference of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, with India responding by deciding to boycott the meet to be held in Islamabad from 30th September 30 to 8th October. Eventually, the conference was moved to New York, with Pakistan declining to change its stance on not inviting the speaker of the Jammu and Kashmir assembly. National Assembly speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq said the London Secretariat of the Commonwealth had been told that Kashmir was a disputed territory and now it was impossible for the Commonwealth Conference to be held in Pakistan.

There was also a flare up in rhetoric after PM Modi visited Bangladesh and more recently, after India’s covert operation in Burma. Another contentious issue is the release of 26/11 blast mastermind and leader of the Lashkar-e-Taiba Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, who was recently granted bail released from Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi in April this year. In fact, when PM Modi met Chinese Premier Xi Jinping, the issue of Lakhvi’s bail was raised.

Cross border firing itself has been a major source of tension, continuing since mid 2014, prompting Pakistan to pen a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon that invoked the UN to implement resolutions for a plebiscite in Kashmir. The letter marked a major reversal of Pakistan’s position for over a decade, sending bilateral relations between the two countries plummeting. More recently, Pakistan moved the UN to look into ceasefire violations along the Line of Control.

In spite of these tensions, whilst the two Prime Ministers had not met, meetings at other levels have continued. S. Jaishankar travelled to Islamabad in March this year, where he met Chaudhry and the two reportedly discussed strategies for renewing the Indo-Pak peace dialogue.

The meeting was significant as it was the first official step since India had cancelled secretary-level talks. Speaking at the UN a couple of months ago, Sharif said that India’s decision to cancel the talks had resulted in a “missed opportunity.” Modi, speaking at the UN the next day, responded saying that India was not opposed to talks, but would not participate “in the shadow of terror” and that it was upto Pakistan to “create a conducive atmosphere for talks.”

The first sign that the situation was changing came when Pakistan’s former National Security Adviser Major-General (Retd.) Mahmud Durrani met with NSA Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar in March. The Citizen had the reported that the meeting could be an attempt at resuming back channel diplomacy. Although the MEA spokesperson dismissed a question in regard to whether this could pave the way for the resumption of an India-Pakistan dialogue, General Durrani was quoted by The Hindu saying that his impression is that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would “like to move forward” on the dialogue, but would rather not pick up the old format of the composite dialogue process. “Mr. Modi is a different man with a different mind and a different thinking from the previous Prime Minister,” The Hindu quoted General Durrani as saying. “I think he will probably engage with Pakistan, but he would like to do that in his own way.”

What that own way will be remains to be seen, as every time the two countries see progress on the front of dialogue, incidents -- such as border skirmishes -- keep tensions high. Nevertheless, the DG level talks today are a step in the right direction.