Modi-Nawaz talks: Ice bro­ken, not melted

SP's MAI - - FRONT PAGE - [ By Ran­jit Ku­mar ]

The swear­ing-in cer­e­mony of Naren­dra Modi as the 15th Prime Min­is­ter pro­vided In­dia an op­por­tu­nity to in­vite the lead­ers of the mem­ber States of SAARC (South Asian As­so­ci­a­tion for Re­gional Co­op­er­a­tion) to grace the oc­ca­sion on May 26 at the Rash­tra­p­ati Bha­van, of­fi­cial res­i­dence of the Pres­i­dent of In­dia.

Since Pak­istan is the sec­ond big­gest mem­ber-State of SAARC and its strained re­la­tion­ship with In­dia, the third largest econ­omy of the world, ham­pers the free flow of move­ments of people and goods among all mem­ber States, the In­dian and in­ter­na­tional me­dia had fo­cused on the out­come of the talks be­tween the In­dian and Pak­istani Prime Min­is­ters.

With this in­vi­ta­tion Modi wanted to kill two birds with one stone. If the pos­i­tive out­come of the first bi­lat­eral talks be­tween Modi and Nawaz Sharif would have helped cre­ate an at­mos­phere of in­creased mu­tual con­fi­dence, it would also have en­cour­aged the SAARC bus to run faster.

Hence, there was much ex­pec­ta­tion in diplo­matic cir­cles from the his­toric step taken by Modi to in­vite Sharif, who in­ci­den­tally had won the elec­tion last year on the plank of deeper eco­nomic re­la­tions with In­dia as ev­ery one in Pak­istan knows that good eco­nomic and trade ex­changes be­tween the two neigh­bours will im­prove the liv­ing stan­dard of the com­mon people. The Pak­istan econ­omy, which has been shat­tered by ter­ror­ism, nur­tured do­mes­ti­cally by the Army es­tab­lish­ment, needs ur­gently to be­friend In­dia and seize the op­por­tu­nity of­fered by the new In­dian lead­er­ship.

So when the two Prime Min­is­ters met in the hal­lowed palace, the Hy­der­abad House, po­lit­i­cal ob­servers ex­pected the ice to be bro­ken and melted, which re­mained frozen since the Novem­ber 26, 2008, ter­ror­ist at­tacks on Mum­bai.

Un­doubt­edly the ice has been bro­ken, with the de­ci­sion to ask the two For­eign Sec­re­taries of In­dia and Pak­istan to re­main in touch, two years af­ter their last bi­lat­eral talks, but it would not be wrong to say that it sim­ply has been bro­ken in two pieces and the ice will not be melted as long as Pak­istan re­mains obliv­i­ous of its re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as a re­spon­si­ble State in the comity of na­tions to stop nur­tur­ing the ter­ror­ist el­e­ments on its soil. Though, Sharif has left In­dia with a ray of hope by stat­ing be­fore me­dia that his govern­ment stands ready to dis­cuss all is­sues be­tween the two coun­tries, in a spirit of co­op­er­a­tion and sin­cer­ity.

How­ever Modi’s mes­sage on ter­ror­ism was con­veyed to Nawaz Sharif in no un­cer­tain terms. He told Nawaz Sharif that re­la­tions can­not be nor­malised in the at­mos­phere of ter­ror­ism. Hence he told him to speed up the tri­als of the con­spir­a­tors of the 26/11 Mum­bai ter­ror at­tacks and pre­vent any fur­ther at­tacks on In­dia launched from the Pak­istani soil.

The Pak­istani Prime Min­is­ter wanted to woo Modi with im­proved trade ex­changes, which in fact means vastly in­creased ex­ports to Pak­istan from In­dia. Only two weeks ago Pak­istan through its High Com­mis­sioner in New Delhi Ab­dul Ba­sit had warned In­dia not to set any pre­con­di­tions for talks to re­sume. In fact the Pak­istani di­a­tribes was in re­sponse to the elec­tion rhetorics of Modi who had cat­e­gor­i­cally stated that in the deaf­en­ing sounds of bomb ex­plo­sions how can two per­sons talk? So, Modi in his very first day of his ten­ure as the Prime Min­is­ter made a blunt re­mark to his Pak­istani coun­ter­part that Pak­istan must lis­ten to In­dia’s con­cerns on ter­ror­ism. Ter­ror­ism and talks can­not con­tinue side by side. In fact this was the stand of the pre­vi­ous Man­mo­han Singh Govern­ment but Modi ar­tic­u­lated his po­si­tion in a very frank and forth­right man­ner, which left the Pak­istani Prime Min­is­ter flab­ber­gasted and he could ut­ter only a very sub­dued re­sponse by say­ing that ac­cu­sa­tions and counter ac­cu­sa­tions will leave us nowhere.

One must give credit to the Pak­istani Prime Min­is­ter for main­tain­ing his calm and re­sponded in a very pas­sion­ate man­ner by re­mind­ing In­dian leader about his in­vite to the first BJP-led In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Atal Bi­hari Va­j­payee on Fe­bru­ary 20, 1999, when the fa­mous La­hore Dec­la­ra­tion was is­sued. Sharif said that he would like to pick up the thread he and Va­j­payee left in La­hore in 1999. The La­hore Dec­la­ra­tion was in­deed a foun­da­tion of a new par­a­digm in In­dia-Pak­istan re­la­tions. In that spirit he ut­tered to the wait­ing me­dia in New Delhi af­ter his talks with Modi “This pro­vides us the op­por­tu­nity of meet­ing the hopes and as­pi­ra­tions of our peo­ples that we will suc­ceed in turn­ing a new page in our re­la­tions.”

One can­not doubt the sin­cer­ity of the demo­crat­i­cally elected Prime Min­is­ter of Pak­istan, but one can cer­tainly doubt his abil­ity to deliver. In fact last time in 1999 when he made a very valiant ef­fort to re­move all bot­tle­necks in In­dia-Pak­istan re­la­tions, he was de­throned by the then Army Chief of Pak­istan Gen­eral Pervez Mushar­raf, who later on crowned him­self as the Pres­i­dent of Pak­istan and vis­ited In­dia with olive branch.

When Sharif wanted to ac­cept the in­vite of the so- called tough talk­ing Modi, the present Chief of Pak­istani Army Gen­eral Ra­heel Sharif dithered for three days to grant his per­mis­sion. It is in­deed an irony that in a so-called demo­cratic State, the elected Prime Min­is­ter of the coun­try had to seek the per­mis­sion of its Army Chief to visit the neigh­bour­ing coun­try. Hence, one can un­der­stand the lim­i­ta­tions of Sharif. He can­not af­ford to an­tag­o­nise the Army Chief and lose his job. Last time when he dared to chal­lenge the Army Head­qau­rters he was not only de­throned but jailed and later ex­iled to Saudi Ara­bia. One won­ders if Sharif would dare to chal­lenge the Army bosses in his very sec­ond year of Prime Min­is­ter­ship to have cor­dial re­la­tions with In­dia.

So, when the In­dian Prime Min­is­ter asked Sharif to take care of In­dia’s con­cerns on ter­ror­ism, one can­not say with cer­tainty that he will deliver on In­dia’s con­cerns. How­ever, though the ice has been bro­ken, with­out get­ting melted, one can re­main scep­ti­cal of the abil­ity of the demo­cratic govern­ment of Pak­istan to con­tinue its en­gage­ment with In­dia in an at­mos­phere free of ter­ror­ism.

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