Evolving Opportunities for Pakistan-India Relations
Interesting developments are taking place in the context of Pakistan India relations. Indian Prime Minister, during his telephone call to the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, on 13 February, informed about his intention to send his Foreign Secretary to Islamabad. Nawaz Sharif welcomed the Indian initiative. India’s foreign secretary is due to arrive Islamabad on March 3. In the meanwhile Fourth round of Pakistan and India Track-II “Islamabad Dialogue” has just concluded in Islamabad. While we wish speed and success for all ongoing efforts to build robust working relationship between the two countries, one can’t remain oblivious to ground realities. In a related development, Modi government’s first budget indicates a hike under defence head by US$ 4 billion, jacking it up from US$37 to US$41 billion; Pakistan’s total defence budget is under US$7 billion.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is pathologically anti-Muslim and, as a corollary, has a staunch anti-Pakistan bias. As such people are devoid of logical thinking, Modi is fool hardy enough to perceive of a new Pakistan-India bilateral construct minus Kashmir. In his overdrive, he has internationalized the Kashmir issue by ordering his security outfits to keep firing volleys into Pakistan along the LoC and the working boundary. On domestic front, he has pressured PDP—the single largest party that won IoJK elections on anti BJP sentiment, to take BJP as its coalition partner.
Modi is widely perceived as mastermind of the 2002 Gujarat riots, a three-day period of anti-Muslim violence in the Indian state of Gujarat. Following the initial onslaught, there were follow-up outbreaks of violence in Ahmadabad for three weeks; and further outbreaks of mass killings against the minority Muslim population for three months. The incident of Godhra train burning on 27 February 2002, causing the death of 58 Hindu pilgrims and religious workers returning from Ayodhya, is believed to have triggered the violence. Most independent analyst hold the view that the attacks had been pre-planned, were well orchestrated, and that the attack on the train was a “deliberate trigger” for what was actually premeditated violence. The Chief Minister of Gujarat at that time, Narendra Modi was accused of initiating and condoning the violence. Despite overwhelming evidence to support the culpability of Modi, including the confessional statements by Swami Aseemnand and serving military officer Colonel Prohot etc, in 2012, Modi was absolbed of complicity in the violence by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Indian Supreme Court. The SIT also rejected claims that the state government had not done enough to prevent the riots. Nevertheless, this verdict by the SIT never went down well either with the domestic gallery or with the international opinion. The United States and the United Kingdom had imposed travel restrictions on Modi which remained operative till he became the Prime Minister.
Army chief General Raheel Sharif has rightly and timely warned India that Pakistan will give a ‘befitting’ response to any provocation along the Line of Control (LoC) and the working boundary. “Let there be no doubt that any provocation along LoC and working boundary will meet a befitting response,” the army chief said during a visit to areas affected by Indian firing. The army chief termed repeated ceasefire violations by India in the recent past “an attempt to distract Pakistan from its campaign against terrorism” and stressed that such actions would have a negative impact on regional stability. He also cautioned India that the entire Pakistani nation is united in defence of the motherland. This statement came just ahead of a visit to Pakistan by India Foreign Secretary. These violations have become a daily affair since Modi came to power. Modi is under tremendous international pressure to resume foreign secretary level talks with Pakistan which it had arbitrarily called off last year. Modi may be trying to hoodwink the international opinion by sending his foreign secretary to Pakistan as a part of his tour to SAARC counties.
Speaking at her weekly news briefing, Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesperson has said that all issues, including the longstanding Jammu and Kashmir dispute, are likely to be discussed during the meeting between the two foreign secretaries. “… whenever Pakistan-India dialogue resumes, we expect all matters would be on the table for discussion, including Jammu and Kashmir, Siachen, water resources, confidence building measures, people to people contacts and trade matters.” Spokesperson also pointed out that Jammu and Kashmir had been on the UN Security Council’s agenda: “We have been discussing the Kashmir issue bilaterally. The process, however, has to be result-oriented”, she added. However, Indian foreign secretary’s under duress visit may not be productive as Indian side is keeping the option open by giving it SAARC twist, on as required basis. Foreign office spokesperson said; “I would not like to speculate at this stage what exactly would be the agenda of the talks”. She added. Before giving a judgment on the intent of the visit, one has to wait for unfolding of the agenda.
“Islamabad Dialogue” discussed a wide range of issues including the resumption of bilateral dialogue, Jammu and Kashmir, opportunities for cooperation towards the stability of Afghanistan, the shared challenges posed by climate change and the role of the media in creating an atmosphere conducive for improving bilateral discourse. The Islamabad Dialogue was jointly organized by the Jinnah Institute and the Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation. Delegates welcomed the upcoming visit of the Indian Foreign Secretary and called on Islamabad and New Delhi to restart discussions on all outstanding issues and hoped that concrete progress would be made during the visit. Delegates also discussed the prevailing political situation in both countries and its impact on shaping the bilateral relationship. Participants noted the impact of climate change on South Asia and urged both governments to closely cooperate in addressing water management, environmental degradation, maintenance of catchment areas and alternate energy solutions. They felt that the Foreign Secretaries have an opportunity to pick up threads from the Simla Agreement and Lahore Declaration, essential components of which are a comprehensive dialogue on all outstanding issues including Jammu & Kashmir.
Delegates also emphasized the need for strict adherence to the ceasefire and maintenance of peace and tranquility across the LoC and WB. They also recommended effective cooperation to address the issue of terrorism, growing threat of extremism and removal of hurdles to already agreed CBMs. They expressed the hope that resumption of dialogue will be the start of a sustained effort towards building the desired peaceful, friendly and cooperative relationship—indeed a tall order by any count.
Participants of track II engagement also urged cooperation for the effective implementation of Thimphu statement on climate change adopted at the 16th SAARC Summit in 2010; and proposed that the two countries should also work in close cooperation to ensure that the new global climate agreement, to be adopted at the forthcoming conference of parties in Paris, responds to the needs of developing countries. Devastating Flash floods during 2014 Monsoon have amply demonstrated that both countries have common stakes in managing the impacts of climate change.
Both India and Pakistan have a lot to gain if stable relationship matures between the two countries. Progress in this regard could only be made through sincerity of purpose and with an intent to resolve the disputes underlying numerous instable fault-lines. One could only be cautiously optimistic about such a thought process triggering Hindutva driven mind-set of Indian policy making echelons. Pakistan should not show impatience, it should not be seen as dying for talks with India—and remember that it takes two to tango. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should put on hold his “Mango and Sari” diplomacy atleast for some time and see if the other side has something concrete to offer.