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Thu. September 21, 2023
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India-Pakistan Detente: Positive Note
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Premier Nawaz Sharif’s India policy is a path littered with thorns. It needs courage to walk through at one’s peril. But remember he is the elected leader of his people. India cannot treat him waywardly. Before and after general elections in Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif expressed his desire of bringing about a thaw in Indo-Pak freeze. But it needs two to tango. A long wait for the opportunity to show up and inspire active reciprocity is implicit in the scheme of things. Let us try to understand. A formidable hurdle in Nawaz’s peace prognosis is the Pakistan army. It stung him twice in the past. Foreign Affairs and Kashmir are the two areas which the Pakistan army considers its exclusive domain hence no trespassing. Nawaz Sharif waited to bid courteous farewell to General Kayani, a relic of the old guard. He has brought in General Raheel Sharif, the apolitical Army Chief, who supersedes two Generals. The arrangement was very carefully and guardedly finalized to ensure smooth change of guard. Both Nawaz Sharif and General Raheel will need time, patience and stage management to familiarize the Pakistan army with the power of a democratic state. Indo-Pak peace dialogue also implies simultaneous Army--TTP detente necessitated firstly to pull the army brass out of meaningless bloody clashes, and secondly, to indirectly legitimize peace dialogue with a chronic adversary in the neighborhood. As covert bilateral peace talk progress, its impact on rabid anti-India jihadi organizations in Pakistan will become more pronounced. Same may be the case with political hawks in India. Interlocutors are not impervious to this occurrence. 2014 will be crucial for low-key Indo-Pak peace talks. First, we need to carefully watch the fallout of NATO drawdown in Afghanistan on the region, and Pakistan in particular. We will also need to keep track of Pakistan’s attitude to NATO withdrawal and the contours of her policy in post-NATO Afghanistan, which is closely connected to the shaping of Indo-Pak talks. Secondly, nothing significant will happen until a new government takes over in New Delhi after parliamentary elections in 2014. For peace talks it will matter little which party comes to power for the simple reason that Indo-Pak connection is a national and not party issue. Once the new government is formed, there will be movement in bilateral talks along the path chartered by the interlocutors. Speaking to media in New Delhi, Mr. Sartaj Aziz Adviser to Pakistan Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs said that Track II diplomacy was in place and representatives of the two countries were in constant touch trying to move forward inch by inch. He even said that progress in talks about Kashmir was part of the exercise. Sartaj Aziz’s recent meeting with Kashmiri separatists in New Delhi must have been something of disbelief to the latter. The fresh split in Hurriyat M is a sequel to the meaningful reflections of that meeting. Extremists among Kashmiri separatists are getting sidelined because they fail to read the writing on the wall. Western powers are uncomfortable with Pakistan giving China a free hand in Gilgit-Baltistan region to the north of Pakistan. It impinges upon their security strategy in the region as does to India. For Pakistani official circles it is becoming increasingly difficult to remain tight-lipped on China’s high-handed policy towards Muslim Uyghur in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region. At the same time, nationalist activists in Gilgit-Baltistan have succeeded to a large extent in mobilising support of western civil society and influential political circles in favor of their struggle for freedom from Pakistani occupation. Recently Nawaz Sharif’s brother Shahbaz Sharif was on a short visit to New Delhi. Curiously, India media gave scant coverage to the visit. Was he on a sensitive mission? Nawaz Sharif is within his right to reach wider sections of Indian political punditry especially when general election is round the corner in that country. After some hiccups, Director Generals of Military Operations DGMO of India and Pakistan met as a follow-up to the Manmohan-Nawaz meeting in New York. They have agreed to formulate a mechanism of reducing border tension and infiltration of jihadis. However, jihadi infiltration is not fully under the control of civilian authority in Pakistan. The possibility of a new spate in infiltration can happen as the Jihad Council finds Pakistani civilian and military support receding. Trade talks between the two countries have been resumed. The Pakistani Minister of Commerce made a very sensible and conciliatory speech at the meeting of Indian Chamber of Commerce in New Delhi. Unmistakeably it reflected Pakistani government’s desire to mend fence with India. Owing to increase in infiltration attempts and militancy related events last summer, India had shown some reluctance to move forward in bilateral trade talks. Trade talks between the two sides augur well for opening a new chapter of friendly relations. India’s Congress Party’s debacle in recent assembly elections in four states sent a message that the nation wants to wriggle out of stereotypes. Incidentally, the sudden rise of AAP and the euphoria it has created could become the key to changing the mindset of Indian polity. There is much sense in the new slogan that ‘governance should be divested of its VIP trappings’. This is low and inoffensive semantics for social revolution. How will it impact the policy of conciliation as envisaged by Nawaz Sharif? Gimmicks and gaffes like those coming from wayward politicians in India and fanatics in Pakistan on Kashmir will not be liked even by Kashmir watchers in Pakistan. For any amount of success in bilateral relations, the leadership in India has to be above party politics. It has not only to respond equally to Nawaz Sharif’s offer of olive branch but also to understand the delicate and tortuous course of negotiations. The highest level of statesmanship on either side is the key to sustainable peace in the region.

Dr. Kashi N. Pandiata is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies Kashmir University

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