Now the hard part 

Narendra Modi’s almost surreal Lahore yatra has suddenly transformed the historically complex matrix of Indo-Pak relations. The Indian prime minister’s dash to Jati Umra, far a late afternoon tête-à-tête with his Pakistani counterpart on Christmas Day, was literally a bolt from the blue.

The ultra hawk Indian leader was seen smoking a peace pipe. His opening remarks when he met the Sharif brothers at their palatial Raiwind abode were music for the ears of peacnicks on both sides of the divide. He said in chaste Urdu: larai say naa jannat(heaven) mili nah zameen, abb aman ki baat karain (by fighting we neither got territory nor any other reward. So let’s talk peace now).

Reportedly Shehbaz Sharif, the prime minister’s younger brother and chief minister of PML-N’s home base Punjab, responded positively to the Indian prime minister’s remarks. He was however of the opinion that any peace process between the two belligerent nuclear armed neighbours must be on the basis of equality. In order to resolve complex outstanding issues between India and Pakistan, a structured process must be in place, he added. His elder brother more or less articulated the same views.

According to the official version, the Indian prime minister’s visit came about suddenly when late morning on Christmas Day he called Sharif and said he wanted to stop over in Islamabad to wish him birthday en route from Kabul to Delhi. Sharif was reportedly almost reluctant when he informed Modi that he was in Lahore to attend his granddaughter’s wedding. So Modi came to Lahore.

Of course the complexity of India-Pakistan relations is such that things never are what they seem to be. Everyone knows Prime Minister Sharif firmly believes in better ties with Pakistan’s bigger neighbour. Trade and mutually beneficial economic ties between New Delhi and Islamabad are his favourite hobby horse.

It was owing to the same obsession that he welcomed the then BJP Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Lahore in February 1999. Vajpayee’s bus diplomacy was however nipped in the bud by General Musharraf’s Kargil misadventure. In the aftermath of securing a US brokered ceasefire, the ambitious general sacked Sharif in October 1999.

Of course the complexity of India-Pakistan relations is such that things never are what they seem to be. Everyone knows Prime Minister Sharif firmly believes in better ties with Pakistan’s bigger neighbour

This time around Sharif is lucky that his army chief, General Raheel Sharif, is on board. The military leadership supports rapprochement with India with the caveat that peace is achieved on the basis of equality, dignity and mutual benefit.

It was a smart move on the part of Sharif to appoint a recently retired general, Nasir Khan Janjua, as national security advisor in place of Sartaj Aziz who was merely warming the seat. Janjua, who enjoys the trust of the military leadership, earlier met his Indian counterpart in Bangkok to set the ball rolling that culminated in Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj attending the Heart of Asia Conference in Islamabad and making the right noises on India-Pakistan relations.

However, there are sceptics abound in both the countries within the echelons of the military and across the political spectrum having deep reservations about the latest thaw. In Pakistan, vested interests in trade and industry try to play on the hawkish sentiments within the establishment and the media.

Thankfully, unlike India there is support for a rapprochement with New Delhi across the political spectrum in Pakistan. Naysayers like the Jamaat-e-Islami and Hafiz Saeed stand out as a sore thumb.

In India, apart from hardliners in the ruling BJP who previously got tailwind from Narendra Modi himself, the main opposition party Congress and predictably the Shiv Sena have opposed the Indian prime minister’s Lahore initiative. Historically, although Congress is ostensibly the self-styled champion of secularism in India, Islamabad has always found it easier to deal with the opposition whenever in power.

Apart from the peace benefits that are as obvious as daylight to saner elements in the subcontinent, the fast changing world has made it simply impossible for both India and Pakistan to keep militarising to the teeth at the expense of the vast swaths of poverty depravation and misery. Whether it is the US, Great Britain, the European Union or for that matter our dear friend China or even Russia — all of them are sick and tired of New Delhi and Islamabad perennially remaining at each other’s throat.

Obviously, it will be grossly unfair to entirely blame Pakistan for the sad state of affairs. As a larger neighbour India’s belligerence on Kashmir is the mother of all disputes between the two countries.

Notwithstanding the bonhomie recently witnessed in Lahore, India and Pakistan have intractable problems and disputes that have historically remained unresolved. Hence the hard part comes now.

The first litmus test will be the foreign secretaries talks scheduled later this month. If a structured framework of a comprehensive dialogue is put in place, this will be construed as progress. The meeting will also be a litmus test of the Modi-led government’s resolve for peace.

Successive Indian governments have been obsessed with talking terrorism and unfettered trade and economic ties with Pakistan without any meaningful discussion on Kashmir. For Pakistan, resolution of the Kashmir issue has always been at the top of the agenda.

Presently it is virtually impossible for any Pakistani government to find an amicable solution to the dispute. Perhaps by dint of circumstance we will have to follow the China model on Hong Kong and Taiwan

Apart from paying perfunctory lip service to the relevant UN resolutions for all practical purposes, the Kashmir issue has been on the backburner. Musharraf’s back channel secret diplomacy was a tacit acknowledgement of this reality.

Ironically, it was not Sharif but Musharraf who first as army chief and later as the coupster dealt a death blow to the Kashmir cause relegating the dispute to the annals of history. By launching the Kargil misadventure soon after the Lahore diplomacy in February 1999, he transformed an issue of self-determination for Kashmiris to that of cross-border terrorism in the eyes of world leaders.

Hence what late dictator Zia-ul-Haq had started in the name of jihad culminated in Musharraf’s bravado. Later by embarking on secret diplomacy on Kashmir through his trusted lieutenant Tariq Aziz, he tried his hand at an out-of-the-box solution. Musharraf naively refused to smell the coffee beans here. Not only was he fast losing legitimacy within Pakistan, he was also unable to fathom that India would be unable to sell a secret deal to its parliament. Hence the back channel secret diplomacy was doomed from the word go.

In this backdrop, presently it is virtually impossible for any Pakistani government to find an amicable solution to the dispute. Perhaps by dint of circumstance we will have to follow the China model on Hong Kong and Taiwan.

This does not mean that Islamabad should barter away its legitimate right on Kashmir. However, it has no option but to make itself militarily and economically strong and wait for a better day to stake its claim.

Nonetheless it is India who as the bigger neighbour will have to show magnanimity. If it wants trade with and through Pakistan, it should be willing to address Islamabad’s sensibilities. Of course, peace is a win-win for both the neighbours. But it takes two to tango.

ZoneAsia-Pk

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