Third-party intervention can yield positive results in bilateral disputes, but only if the protagonists are willing to accept mediation. With reference to the Pakistan-India relationship, which has been marked by terse exchanges between officials over the past few days, the US State Department’s spokesperson, while responding to a question, said Washington did not want to see “wars of words” between Islamabad and New Delhi, and that the US was interested in a “constructive dialogue between India and Pakistan”. He also said that America offered “unconditional support” to Pakistan in its counterterrorism efforts against the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan.

Though this is not quite a mediation offer from the Americans, it does indicate that Washington would be willing to facilitate a détente. Indeed, if America can be an honest broker, and both states, particularly India, accept its good offices, a return to the negotiating table is possible.

Efforts by foreign powers as well as multilateral bodies have had mixed results in promoting peace in the subcontinent. And though India, holding up the Shimla agreement as a benchmark, insists on a bilateral approach to resolving its disputes with Pakistan, it is a fact that when the US or other powerful interlocutors talk, India listens. There have been other reports of third-party mediation, such as the involvement of a Gulf state that has cordial ties with both sides. But the fact is that while third parties can facilitate talks, all the hard work will need to be done by Pakistan and India themselves.

Bilateralism is not fruitless; both sides came tantalisingly close to a deal at Agra in 2001, before the peace process collapsed in spectacular fashion. Perhaps the best way to proceed is for foreign friends to discreetly encourage dialogue, with Pakistan and India continuing back-channel contacts to reach some sort of amicable settlement. For this India will need to shed its stubborn posture and stop demonising Pakistan. Sabre-rattling in a nuclear neighbourhood is highly imprudent, and only negotiations based on mutual respect can bring genuine peace.

This article first appeared in Dawn.