There was speculation but little expectations about the (September 29) meeting between prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
Indian government functionaries and almost all political leaders have fallen over themselves competing with the vociferous Indian media in consistently attacking Pakistan. In their near unanimous opinion, conditions were not conducive for talks unless there was peace (on Indian terms) along the border. Could the belligerent statements of the Indian COAS, Gen Bikram Singh, have taken place without government sanction?
A day before the scheduled meeting, the Indian PM labelled Pakistan in the UNGA as the “epicenter” of terrorism, of allowing its territory to be utilized for aiding and abetting the terrorists of the world, and against India in particular. The ‘dehati aurat’ (village woman) remark attributed to PM Sharif almost scuttled the meeting but this was later denied by the gentleman when the other media person present at the meeting, NDTV’s Barkha Dutt, categorically refuted it.
Indians of all ilk, led by the BJP’s PM-hopeful Narendra Modi, picked up on this and the matter went viral. BBC’s Nik Gowing’s ‘A Skyful of Lies’ documents how anything planted (or invented) by motivated (or frustrated) design can change perception into fact.
Statements of intentions alone are insufficient to create conditions for productive negotiations without concrete actions on the ground. Indian leaders and the media are prone to whipping up a frenzy of anti-Pakistan feelings at short notice. The September 27 headline in The Times of India read, ‘Congress does not see any gains from PM-Sharif talks’, a Rediff.com headline on September 28 read, ‘PM-Sharif talks: India should not hope for too much’. Pakistan remains the favorite whipping boy to garner more votes in any election year in India. Despite our laudable ‘Aman ki Asha’ (hope for peace), expect more ‘Jang ki Bhasha’ (A Hindi expression meaning war-mongering) in the weeks and months leading up to India’s Election Day.
Successfully combining soft power with hard power, India has cleverly converted the freedom fight in Kashmir into ‘terrorism’ and the ceasefire violations at the Line of Control (LoC) committed by them are labelled as engineered by Pakistan. Accusing Pakistan of not eliminating terrorists, Manmohan conveniently forgot to mention how India failed to curb its own home-grown mass of over 150,000 Naxalite fighters, whom he recently called an existential threat to India, operating for over 40 years in over 70 districts and growing in strength every year.
Given domestic compulsions in an election year, that Manmohan’s body language was deliberately meant to be negative for home consumption was understandable. At the Sharm El Shaikh 2009 meeting he had agreed with the then Pakistani PM to investigate charges of Indian interference in Balochistan. Manmohan was beaten mercilessly over the head domestically for this. Proforma formalities for protocol aside, this time he made sure through his body language that everyone and his uncle knew that his heart was certainly not in it.
For international consumption only, India’s leaders have over the years routinely reiterated their commitment to resolving all outstanding issues with Pakistan, including Kashmir, through bilateral dialogue. There is no evidence whatsoever that they have any intention of ever having such a settlement. As Bangladesh discovered after fulfilling its own commitments under a bilateral treaty, citing extraneous reasons India is dragging its feet citing domestic politics in failing to honor its sovereign commitments in return.
Some issues are less complicated than Kashmir, they do not need further dialogue but swift resolution, where is the progress? Besides the opposition parties attacking the octogenarian Indian PM day in and day out, given his lame-duck status even leaders within his own Congress Party, led by heir-apparent Rahul Gandhi for whom he has kept the PM’s chair warm for nearly eight years, are bent on shoving him out into the cold.
Expressing his determination for peaceful and productive relations, Mian Nawaz Sharif called for a “new beginning” with India at the UNGA, denouncing the years of intense military development as a waste of resources. A ‘substantive and purposeful dialogue’ was based on the premise that the two nations have a solid basis to re-engage and prosper together. The two leaders did pledge in the meeting to restore calm on their disputed border in Kashmir. The respective directors general of Military Operations (DGMOs) were tasked to find effective means to ensure ceasefire on the LoC.
Indications of an improvement of sorts in the relationship aside, one is really pessimistic about any positive outcome given India’s past history of raking up trouble along the LoC and then blaming Pakistan for it. While New Delhi “demanded” action before any improvement in relations, our Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani, calling the meeting “extremely positive”, and played down India’s warnings that the relationship hinged on peace in Kashmir. For the record so did the Indian side.
Given that Mian Nawaz Sharif’s intentions are noble, when the other side keeps giving mixed signals, why must Pakistan always be on the back-foot? Why must we always be the ones to follow a policy of appeasement without a matching response from the other side? This has emboldened India to be aggressive in maintaining a consistently negative approach to our gestures for peace.
Acting as if it is the aggrieved party, India glosses over its involvement in fomenting unrest and terrorism in Balochistan (and other parts of Pakistan), its reign of terror in Indian Occupied Kashmir and its continued violations at the LoC, etc. What about denial of water from the several dams being constructed in violation of the Indus Water Basin Treaty, a life and death matter for tens of our millions in Punjab and downstream in Sindh?
Mian Nawaz Sharif is very keen to have increased trade with India, granting it MFN status. This will benefit both countries, India more than us, but even here India’s attitude is not positive. India’s National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon gave reporters the Indian PM’s reply to the proposals for cooperation in trade and other areas, “All that will be possible once we have dealt with the immediate issue and the immediate situation we face.” Actually Pakistan should be saying this.
PM Sharif’s sincerity in genuinely wanting reconciliation notwithstanding, the peace process is presently hostage to domestic politics. For peace to have a chance stakeholders must be on the same page. With poison being spread by the Indian media against Pakistan ad nauseam, what is there to give impetus to the peace process? Will the next Indian government focus on domestic issues like endemic poverty and deprivation among the Indian masses or seek international grandeur as ‘shining India’ while camouflaging them Bollywood-style as it has done successfully until now?
There is no substitute to peace with India but not at the cost of our self-respect and independence as a nation. That would mean Balkanization; are we resigned to that in South Asia? History has shown that taken as a sign of weakness, appeasement has no future.
The writer is a Pakistan-based defense and political analyst. This article was also published in The News International, a leading Pakistani daily.