Guarded Optimism in India, Pakistan over Singh-Sharif Summit

Posted on 10/1/13
By Jehangir Khattak | ViewsWeek
Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Mian Nawaz Sharif at their meeting in New York on September 29. (ViewsWeek photo)
Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Mian Nawaz Sharif at their meeting in New York on September 29. (ViewsWeek photo)

 

Media in India and Pakistan is carefully welcoming the September 29 meeting between Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Dr Manmohan Singh in New York. The guarded optimism in newspaper editorials is touching the limits of skepticism. A review of the editorials of leading dailies of the two countries reveals some identical views on the summit outcome. Newspapers on either side of the border were almost unanimous on three outcomes of the meeting.

1- It was a small victory for the two nuclear armed nations that the meeting took place following latest spat of border skirmishes and tensions.

2- Verbal agreement to reduce tensions along the two countries unofficial border in Jammu and Kashmir, known as the Line of Control (LoC).

3- The invitations of the two prime ministers to visit each other’s countries.

But then there was no dearth of doubts expressed by the thinking minds on both sides either. Here the evil lies in the detail. The Pakistani media raised the question of lack of implementation mechanism and timeline for normalization while media in India focused more on history and to reiterate the position of strength from which the Indian leadership is talking to Pakistan and how terrorism remains the biggest hurdle in the normalization of relations.

Here are excerpts from editorials of some of the leading dailies of the two countries.

PAKISTANI MEDIA

Dawn 

In its editorial, Dawn welcomes the meeting and points out that the two sides eschewed hard-hitting statements in their press briefings following the summit. It however is troubled by a lack of conversation on the roadmap to normalization of relations.

For a relationship that has been fraught from its 66-year-old beginning, words do not count for much anymore, only actions will suffice.

At the same time it appreciates the resolve of the two prime minsters to normalize the rocky relations. It praises Prime Minister Singh for rejecting the Indian opposition parties’ pressure, which wanted him to call off the much-publicized meeting. This, the editorial notes, shows the resolve of the two sides to keep the dialogue door open.

But Dawn acknowledges that this optimism has to be converted into tangible results. And the result-oriented dialogue still faces many challenges in the toxic South Asian political environment, especially ahead of elections in India, where Pakistan is a popular punching bag for politicians.

Improving the India-Pakistan equation will depend on tremendous political will by each country’s political leadership. Much was expected of Mr Sharif in this regard, but so far he’s preferred to play his hand very carefully, almost to the point of inaction. As for Mr Singh, hammered at home on various fronts and going into an election that will almost certainly see him replaced, time has all but run out. Perhaps all India and Pakistan can hope for now is that the next year brings tangible improvements.

The News International 

In it’s largely upbeat editorial The News International also terms the meeting a “minor miracle.” It says the meeting was successful “in its very limited aim of kickstarting diplomacy”, noting that no outstanding issues were expected to be solved in just one meeting. It also gives full marks to the two leaders for holding the meeting.

Still, that Pakistan and India decided to continue with talks at a time when hawks on both sides are more vociferous than ever should still be seen as a net positive. Credit must be given to the Pakistani side for not getting provoked by Indian hawks. The same attitude will be needed in the difficult months ahead.

The News International’s parent company the Jang Group has teamed up with the Times of India group to promote friendship and amity between the two countries through their “Amn Ki Aasha” initiative.

The Nation

The Nation in its gingerly laid out editorial gives full marks to Pakistani diplomacy at the UN General Assembly.

The UNGA session turned out to be a good vantage for Pakistan to present its case to the world, a nation battered by daily massacres, bomb blasts and a long-drawn conflict with India over Kashmir. The world already knows that, but it makes a difference when the narrative is presented by the man leading the country in a face to face encounter.

The newspaper refers to Prime Minister Singh’s speech at the General Assembly in which he called Pakistan as “epicenter of terrorism”. However, The Nation maintains that the way Singh chose to present his case was “not so persuasive”.

Granted that no confirmation is required for Pakistan as the most dangerous place on earth, no body has the right to draw mileage from that. As expected, he used the old abracadabra, perhaps for lack of a better word, that Pakistan was an ‘epicenter’ of terrorism; the Indian PM is too harsh to not recognize that Pakistan is the biggest victim of terror.

It recognizes that Pakistan too will have to seriously deal with this existential threat.

Pakistan’s ultimate security lies in it dealing with the terrorism issue that has made it the focus of the world’s attention. This is not just for cosmetic reasons, but because the concerns raised and felt are felt most keenly by Pakistanis, who are the primary victims of the menace.

Pakistan Today

Pakistan Today in its editorial dilated upon Islamabad’s imperatives for mending its relations with New Delhi.

Pakistan is desperately fighting the existential threat from the terrorists ensconced in the tribal areas. It badly needs to mend its relations with India to be able to fully concentrate on this threat. Unless there is a guarantee of its eastern border being peaceful Pakistan will find it difficult to assemble a force sufficient enough to neutralize and keep under control the Tribal Agencies.

India too needs to realize that its own security would be jeopardized in case Pakistan is not able to eradicate the terrorist virus. There is a need to build on the agreement reached on Sunday in the next few months. Nawaz Sharif strongly believes in peace and amity with India. What remains to be seen is if he is able to assert his leadership, allowing none to derail the peace process. 

INDIAN MEDIA

The Pioneer

The Pioneer comments that the meeting wasn’t expected to achieve any thing substantial and it did not. It criticizes the agreement between the two leaders to thrash out a plan for ensuring ceasefire along the Line of Control in Jammu Kashmir disputed region.

This did not need a prime ministerial-level talk to happen; the Defense Ministers could have worked it out, and that too over the phone. The symbolic acceptance of the need to maintain peace along the LoC has been made more meaningless with neither of the leaders setting up a time-table for the plan to be concretized.

It notes the Indian reservations with which Singh had gone for dialogue, especially the opposition had expressed. The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had opposed the dialogue, calling them “ill-timed”.

The BJP had also rightly said that the extension of an olive branch at this stage would send the wrong signal to Pakistan. But the Government of India brushed aside those concerns. We are back to square one, with no real commitment from Islamabad on bringing to justice either the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks or the Pakistani soldiers who recently entered Indian territory and killed our jawans. On top of this, Mr Sharif has got away by lampooning the Indian Prime Minister for complaining to the US about Pakistan.

The Times of India  

The Times of India gives full credit to Prime Minister Singh for braving what it calls insults and taunts to keep his rendezvous with Sharif.

Developments leading up to the meeting – especially Pakistan’s violations of the Line of Control – had provoked the opposition parties, especially the BJP, to mount intolerable pressure on him to call it off. But the prime minister stood his ground. He reckoned, correctly, that the aim of the attackers was precisely to derail the talks. At the same time he stayed sensitive to domestic opinion, not swerving from the focus of the meeting with Sharif: terrorist activities engineered from Pakistani soil.

It also calls the verbal agreement for de-escalation of tensions along the LoC as a “modest yet significant” beginning towards normalization of relations.

Asian Age

The Asian Age highlights Manmohan Singh’s ability to keep terrorism high on his agenda during his address to the UN General Assembly and summit meetings with President Barack Obama in Washington DC and Prime Minister Sharif in New York.

Evidently, the PM took the opportunity to meet Mr Sharif to put India’s case across bluntly. This was not something that peaceniks might have hoped for, and the exchange reaffirmed that tools of diplomacy can be put to good effect, although many here were skeptical that Dr Singh would be the one to accomplish this in the light of his perceived softness towards the idea of talking peace alone with Pakistan.

It was satisfying to see the PM make the point that Jammu and Kashmir was an integral part of India, and that any discussion on Kashmir can only be held through peaceful bilateral dialogue in the spirit of the Shimla Agreement. The underlying meaning is clear: that talks on J&K cannot be about territory, but about normalizing economic and cultural ties with Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, as in the days of Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

Kashmir Times

Kashmir Times, the Srinagar-based English language daily in the Indian Administered Kashmir, welcomed the ice-breaking “progress” in the peace process. In an editorial, it says the two prime ministers invitation to visit each other’s countries and agreement to reduce tensions along the LoC in Kashmir were the two positive outcomes of the meeting.

Though the two prime ministers have not made any commitment on the long term engagement of armies on both sides in the process of continuous dialogue and negotiations, the assurance of facilitating talks at the level of DGMOs is a good beginning and the offer from Pakistan side for a more institutionalized involvement of the armies should be accepted as soon as the heat cools down.

It says India cannot always take the high moral ground as far as militancy is concerned in view of two facts.

One, is the series of accusations leveled by Pakistan on Indian agencies for perpetuating violence in its territory and second is the un-reined and comparatively ignored homegrown militancy related violence triggered especially by the Hindu right wing groups.

There is, therefore, greater need for co-operation and patience required from both sides, especially India which should play a more magnanimous role in aiding and helping Pakistan, while at the same time pressurizing it through sustained process of dialogue and negotiations.

The editorial expresses its disappointment over lack of progress on Kashmir dispute.

One can, however, see notes of dismay in the manner in which Kashmir was brushed aside during the New York talks. It would be foolish on part of both the sides to stick to their rigid positions and get stuck in chronological frameworks on an issue that is the major bone of contention and hampers the pace of peace process on both sides, with neglect and delay over negotiations on the same.

There is something seriously problematic with the way aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir on both sides of Line of Control have been ignored and their inclusion becomes mandatory in the peace process whether one side swears by the UN resolutions, which stand in violation by both sides, or the Shimla agreement. The hawkish rhetoric on Kashmir needs a lot of toning down for things to amicably move further with more confidence building measures that make the necessary transition from goodwill gestures towards inclusion of people of Jammu and Kashmir on both sides in a dialogue process. There is no way India and Pakistan can make headway in bilateral peace process while ignoring Kashmir because at the end of the day several of the bilateral issues including water and trade have a strong Kashmir component.

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