Why Pakistan’s Sharif Must Go to India

Prime Minister-designate Narendra Modi’s surprise invitation to the leaders of India’s neighbors to attend his swearing-in ceremony on May 26 has the makings of a shock and awe tactic with three messages: the first to Pakistan, the second to the region and the third for domestic consumption, says a leading Indian newspaper in an editorial. In Pakistan, analysts are urging Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to accept the invitation which offers a unique opportunity to put the past behind and look to the future.

Posted on 05/23/14
By Ikram Sehgal | Via ViewsWeek
Narendra Modi's invitation to the heads of state and government in South Asia, especially the Pakistani prime minister) is  being described as his first major foreign policy initiative. (Photo via Pakistan Today)
Narendra Modi’s invitation to the heads of state and government in South Asia, especially the Pakistani prime minister) is being described as his first major foreign policy initiative. (Photo via Pakistan Today)

There is a lot of speculation about the PM’s possible visit to New Delhi on Monday May 26 to attend Narendra Singh Modi’s inauguration as Prime Minister of India. Any exchange between Pakistan and India assumes symbolic proportions, arousing considerable comment and analysis thereof.   Even though the invitation went to all SAARC member countries, Modi’s outreach initiative after the heat generated by the BJP against Pakistan during the election campaign cannot be brushed aside.  The fulminations of an election campaign and the responsibilities inherent in running a state are quite different, BJP has shown this to good effect in earlier tenures.


Neighborhood Initiative

Editorial The Hindu

Prime Minister-elect Narendra Modi’s surprise invitation to the leaders of India’s neighbors to attend his swearing-in ceremony on May 26 has the makings of a shock and awe tactic with three messages: the first to Pakistan, the second to the region and the third for domestic consumption. While dressed up as an outreach to all SAARC leaders, the invitation was clearly meant primarily for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan.


To the extent that during his election campaign Mr. Modi’s references to Pakistan were all linked to cross-border terrorism, the invitation is rightly seen as an olive branch to that country. Less apparently, the invitation to witness Mr. Modi’s anointment is an assertion that Pakistan now has to deal with a powerful new leader in New Delhi with a decisive mandate, and that the onus is now on Pakistan to show that it wants friendly ties. The invitation has put Mr. Sharif in an awkward position even though he and an earlier Prime Minister from the Bharatiya Janata Party made bilateral relations look easy for a while.


Mr. Modi’s image across the border is, however, different from that of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s; and, as well as being weighed down by anti-India hawks within his own party and Cabinet, the Pakistani leader, who has many a time articulated a vision of friendly ties with India, has an unsupportive and mostly hostile security establishment breathing down his neck. There are indications that Mr. Sharif might find a way out of this delicate corner by sending a representative. In any case, Mr. Modi and the new dispensation in Delhi would be better served avoiding conclusive judgments about Pakistan or Mr. Sharif on the basis of the response. Hopefully, they will find more nuanced ways of coming to grips with what is a layered, complex and difficult relationship.


The second clear message is to South Asia and the larger region, including China, that under the new leadership India intends to be proactively engaged with the region, and in contrast to the United Progressive Alliance government, will not let the initiative slip from New Delhi’s hands, whether in the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh or Nepal.


The third message is meant for regional parties in Tamil Nadu and in West Bengal that, allies or not, they can no longer dictate terms on foreign policy. Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa was the first to understand this; such a New Delhi-Tamil Nadu equation is exactly what he wants, and he readily accepted the invitation. The Ministry of External Affairs, which too appears to have been taken by surprise by Mr. Modi’s invitation, will need to adjust to the reality that the control desk of India’s foreign policy will be located in the new, more powerful Prime Minister’s Office.


This editorial first appeared in The Hindu, a leading newspaper of India.

Detractors suggest that despite the visits of Musharraf, Asif Zardari and Gilani, the Indians have never reciprocated at the state level on one pretext or another. The Indian PM has not visited Pakistan in more than a decade. With Congress not being able to afford riling his coalition partners, or for that matter buck the Opposition, the “visit” remained unfulfilled throughout Manmohan Singh’s two tenures. He was himself for good relations with Pakistan but every time he made a positive move, for example during summit meeting in Egyptian resort Sharm ElSheikh, he got roasted by the BJP.  They have maintained a constant drumbeat of anti-Pakistan trade on every imaginable forum in the world, the interference in Balochistan through Afghanistan and sporadic violation of the Lin of Control in Kashmir does not show any tendency to be less animistic towards Pakistan. Given that that India has been assiduously fomenting anti-Pakistan protest in Bangladesh, Pakistanis have every reason to be aggrieved.


A decade plus has seen no progress on the much-touted Confidence Bidding Measures (CBMs), some of the problems like Siachen can (and should) be solved in a day. Even Kashmir may not be that intractable. We can never have an agreement in the near future why not expand the “arrangement” that we have developed.  If successful, could this be the harbinger for eventual peace in South Asia?


Trade is something we should seriously consider, commercial enterprise transcends religions, ethnic and nationalistic prejudices and barriers, the caveat is that Pakistan cannot run the risk of beggaring its industries and enterprises.  If India’s only purpose is to open the land corridor to Afghanistan and Central Asia, we must get tangible geo-political quid pro quos.


One immediate concern of consequence is India’s projection of “soft power”.   India cannot offer the hand of friendship and profess peace while at the same time using a major Pakistani media group to undercut the basis of both our ideology and nationhood. India’s Research and Analytical Wing (RAW) has a long history of anti-Pakistan actions, they have been trying through the country’s own media to destroy the guardians of the country. Going by Kautilya’s “Arthashastra” handbook to perfection in its present campaign against the Pakistan, RAW is using an individual with aspirations of forming a big media group in India. Pakistanis have to face reality, greed and avarice of one particular individual which is being exploited to the hilt to defame the country’s armed forces. In reaction even moderate opinion has been driven into the right wing extremist camp.  The state and the army will survive but there will be a backlash, the resultant loss of the present freedom of the media will be irretrievable.


All sorts of conjectures and scenarios notwithstanding, the debate in the Indian electronic media about Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s possible visit to India has run wild overtime. One must however commend the Indian media, they are nationalistic first and foremost, over and above party lines.  Either pro or anti-governement, their tirades are never anti-state. Moreover they never attack the Indian armed forces despite the many scandals of corruption, etc.


Pakistan’s information minister Pervaiz Rasheed thinks that the present controversy can be resolved by a simple apology, he should ask the psychiatrist treating him to give him more potent medicine, the present one is not curbing his venom towards the armed forces. Why are some in the media becoming party to this calumny? What signal is Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif sending to the khakis persisting with him as the federal minister of information? The Sharifs should listen to wise counsel among their inner circle, do they want another decade out in the cold? What would happen to an Indian minister of information if there was even a hint that he (or she) was siding with anti-state forces against the armed forces?


While there is a lot of sentiment in Pakistan against the PM’s visit to India, we must not let emotions dictate against pragmatism. Not only India is our neighbor, we have historical and cultural ties with them.  We do not have the luxury of changing our neighbors and/or ignoring our responsibility towards the hapless 180 million plus Indian muslims who bear the brunt whenever anti-Pakistan feeling is whipped up by Hindu nationalists. India may trot out the one odd Muslim billionaire like Azim Premji and Uncle Toms like MJ Akbar and Fareed Zakaria, they are certainly not representative of the feelings of the broad mass of Muslims who overwhelmingly remain far below the poverty line.


Narendra Singh Modi, the prime minister-designate, has won the elections fair and square.  He was not voted in because of his anti-Pakistan or anti-Muslim stance but because of the fact that as Chief Minister Gujrat he made the state into a successful economic model.  The population of India, mostly under the poverty line, overwhelmingly voted for him.  Forget the campaign rhetoric, if his hand is screwed on right he will focus on the Clinton adage, “its the economy, stupid!”.  He cannot afford distractions on India’s borders while he attacks the pervasive poverty affecting the masses within India.   On the contrary what better than having neighbors on his borders that he can trade with freely? He wants India to become great, my bet is that he will go the economic route rather than projecting the “hard power” one. That is not to say that BJP does not have a whole host of hawks who prefer that option, however whether he can rein in RAW is a moot point.  Pakistanis must be confident as a nation that their armed forces provide a good enough deterrent, the caveat is that they do not need someone like Pervez Rasheed trying to undercut their reputation and effectiveness on a day-to-day basis.


Represented by the BJP in power, India has extended a hand of friendship, we must take it. While we cannot forget the past and must exercise great care in the present, only peace in South Asia will bring economic prosperity to the peoples of this region. Have all the reservations that you want and take the necessary precautions (keep your powder dry)!) but this is a unique opportunity to put the past behind us and look to the future.


Mian Nawaz Sharif must go to New Delhi and attend Narendra Singh Modi’s inauguration as prime minister of India.


The writer is a leading defense and political analyst of Pakistan. He can be contacted at ikram.sehgal@wpplsms.com

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