India & Pakistan : Will Ever Rest in Peace?
By : Himadrish Suwan
India Pakistan relations, with a history of lurching from hopeful engagement to bitter break-up, is a cycle determined by political wisdom on the one side and terrorism on the other. The last interruption was engendered by the brutal killing of two Indian soldiers in January, including the beheading of one of them.
The re-emergence of Nawaz Sharif and the victory of his party Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz resulted in his being sworn in as the prime minister on June 5, 14 years after him being deposed by the military. Life had come really full circle, for not only was he now the head of government but his tormentor, General Parvez Musharraf, is now himself a prisoner in Islamabad.
The initial sound bytes by Sharif, perhaps in the heat of the moment, talked of inviting the Indian prime minister for his swearing-in. The morning after, of course, reality began dawning as such a imaginative act of statesmanship would have been hard to sell to the panoply of Punjabi jehadi outfits that had worked for PML-N’s success.
Nawaz would have also been told by Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani, as he came visiting immediately after the mandate was clear, that India would have to rank lower in his priorities as issues like relations with US, drone attacks, need to strike a deal with the Tehrik-e-Taleban Pakistan — a rogue militant outfit targeting Pakistani state and army and the economy and crippling power shortage would need immediate attention.
But Nawaz would not be Nawaz if he did not pursue what he thinks is unfinished agenda from 1998-1989, when he was over-thrown by the army, relating to normalisation of relations with India. He thus chose to revive the back-channel links with India to re-establish the terms on which the composite dialogue could be resumed. Although between India and the government of his predecessors the PPP the process itself had simply been renamed to get over the political difficulty of resumption of talks despite little action by Pakistan against the perpetrators of 26/11. Nawaz, however, feels an attachment to the composite dialogue as he was its co-creator with late I K Gujral at Male in 1997.
In the meanwhile time was running out for the Indian interlocutor, whose hands will be tied once the run-up to the Lok Sabha election begins by about beginning of January 2014. With less than five months to go, there was scurrying by PM’s foreign policy handlers. A neat arrangement had been arrived at, after some US objections that they could not receive PM Singh for a Washington visit if he combined it with his United Nations trip in September as that was their policy.
On August 6 the leaderships in the two nations were tested. The Indian prime minister simply thrust his less than articulate defence minister forward to give a poor response. Pakistan chose its foreign office spokesman to deny it all. A more imaginative handling would have been for Dr Singh to have spoken to his Pakistani counter-part and extracted at least a commitment that Kayani would order an inquiry to find out what exactly happened.
This would have sent a signal that negligent or aberrant behaviour between the armies of nuclear neighbours was undesirable. Some commentators on television justified this as games that both armies play. These games, if at all, have to stop.
The Pakistan foreign office said on August 3 that Pakistan had not received any response to their seeking dates for the meeting of the two committees dealing with Sir Creek and Wullar Barrage. These now need to be postponed till after the two PMs meet in New York, when the air needs to be cleared face-to-face. To cussedly say, like Salman Khurshid, that talks must go on is to ignore reality and public opinion in India.
A lasting peace between Pakistan and India, which have fought three wars since they were carved out of British colonial India in 1947, has long proved elusive.