Indo-Pak detente: positive note

By K.N. Pandita

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 as she treated the Generals who usurped power in Pakistan through military coups.

Before and after general elections, Nawaz Sharif expressed his conviction in bringing about a thaw in Indo-Pak freeze. But it needs two to tango. The message had gone. Implicit wait is for grabbing the opportunity conducive to active reciprocity.  

Let us try to understand. A formidable hurdle in Nawaz’s peace prognosis is Pak army. It stung him twice in the past. Foreign Affairs and Kashmir are the two areas which Pak army considers its exclusive fief; hence no tolerance of interference by civilian authorities.

Nawaz Sharif waited to bid courteous farewell to General Kayani. He has brought in General Raheel Sharif, the apolitical Army Chief, who supersedes two Generals.  The arrangement was very carefully and cautiously finalised to ensure smooth change of guard. Even then sadists tried the spoilsport, albeit unsuccessfully.  Both Nawaz Sharif and General Raheel will need time, patience and stage management to familiarise Pakistan army with the power of a democratic state.

Indo-Pak peace dialogue also implies simultaneous Army-TTP detente, firstly to pull army brass out of meaningless bloody clashes, and secondly, to indirectly legitimise peace dialogue with a chronic adversary who is also a neighbour.

As covert bilateral peace talk progresses, its impact on rabid anti-India jihadi organizations in Pakistan will become more pronounced. Same will 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 sit back and carefully watch the fallout of NATO drawdown in Afghanistan on the region and Pakistan in particular. We will also need to keep a track of Pakistan’s attitude to NATO withdrawal and the contours of her policy in post-NATO Afghanistan.  It 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 of April-May 2014.  For peace talks it will matter little which party comes to power for the simple reason that Indo-Pak liaison is a national and not party issue. Once the new government is formed, there will be movement in bilateral talks along the chartered path for which foundation has been laid by the interlocutors on both sides.

Recently, speaking to media, Mr. Sartaj Aziz, Adviser to Pakistan Prime Minister on foreign affairs said that Track II diplomacy was in place and representatives of two countries were in constant touch trying o move forward inch by inch. He even said that progress on talks about Kashmir was part of the exercise.

Kashmir is being talked about. Sartaj Aziz’s recent meeting with Kashmiri separatists in New Delhi was probative and not obstructive in character.  The recent 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.

It has to be noted that western powers are uncomfortable with Pakistan giving China a free hand in Gilgit-Baltistan. It impinges upon their security strategy in the region as does to India. For Pakistani official circles it is becoming increasingly difficult official to remain tight lipped on China’s highhanded policy towards the Muslim Uyghur in 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 favour of their struggle for freedom from Pakistani occupation.

In recent days Nawaz Sharif’s brother Shahbaz Sharif was on a short visit to New Delhi. Curiously media gave scant coverage to the visit. It was intentionally kept a low key visit because he was on a sensitive mission. Foresighted Nawaz Sharif is within his right to reach wider sections of Indian policy planners especially when general election is round the corner.

After some hiccups, two Director Generals of Military Operations of India and Pakistan met as follow up to 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 still fully under the control of civilian authority in Pakistan. The possibility of new spate in infiltration can happen as the Jihad Council finds Pakistani civilian and military support receding. A wounded tiger becomes more ferocious.

Trade talks between the two countries have resumed. Owing to increase in infiltration attempts and militancy related events, Indian had shown some reluctance to move forward in bilateral trade talks. If in the course of ongoing trade talks, Pakistan indicates her willingness to reiterate giving Indian MFN status, it could increase chances of bringing a wide range of bilateral relations under discussion. That is perhaps what Pakistan would be eyeing at.

Congress’ debacle in assembly elections in four states has sent a message that the nation wants to wriggle out from stereotypes. Incidentally, the sudden rise of AAP and the euphoria it has created could become a key to ideological change in our country. 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 gaffe like those coming from wayward leaders of AAP 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 value Nawaz Sharif’s offer of olive branch but also to understand the delicate and tortuous course of negotiations. Highest level of statesmanship on either side is the key to sustainable peace projection in the region.

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