Give Modi and Sharif a chance at peace

It's self-defeating to slam the Ufa meeting as it was a modest step to begin India-Pakistan re-engagement.

 |  4-minute read |   14-07-2015
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It was obvious that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif would find it difficult to sell the India-Pakistan joint statement issued at UFA to his nation. Expectedly, the opposition, including the Pakistan Peoples Party tore into it and said the statement was one-sided, reflecting Delhi's and not Islamabad's concerns.

The spate of statements coming out of Islamabad since was an effort at damage control. In India, there was instant reaction to the noise coming out of Pakistan - starting with Islamabad saying Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi would not give his voice samples, as well as "not enough evidence" to convict Lakhvi for 26/11 - and the usual rhetoric, which is so much a part of the India-Pakistan narrative, followed. Commentators on this side of the border loudly proclaimed Pakistan's double-speak, more so when foreign policy adviser Sartaj Aziz, who is virtually the foreign minister and national security advisor (NSA) rolled into one, cleverly mixed what happened in Ufa with Pakistan's known position on the Mumbai trial. All this was possibly done to stave off the opposition's charge against PM Sharif.

Everyone, especially those in government who have been dealing with Islamabad, knows that Pakistan is a complex country and India-Pakistan ties are entwined with historical baggage and animosity at different levels. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is prepared for that and is not taking all the harsh talk from across the border seriously.Keeping this in mind, India is taking the noise from Pakistan in its stride. Delhi will go by what was put out in the joint statement in Ufa and not be distracted by what Nawaz Sharif's advisor has to say out of his own domestic compulsions. According to the sources, what Aziz said in Islamabad on Monday did not concern India. "We have to judge on what they said to us," the sources added.

ufa-embed_071415093832.jpg Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi at SCO summit in Ufa, Russia earlier this month. 

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, an astute politician, may have already warned Narendra Modi not to pay much heed to the sound and fury emanating from Islamabad. Downplaying comments by Pakistan prime minister's advisor on national security and foreign affairs yesterday, sources said Aziz did not say anything which affected the "actionable propositions" agreed upon during talks between Modi and Sharif in Ufa last week on the sidelines.

Both sides would begin work on a meeting between the national security advisors in Delhi. This will be the first time that terror would be discussed at such a high political level. Though the dates have not been finalised, the meeting in Delhi is on track.

The firing along the international border and the Line of Control in the recent past has vitiated the atmosphere considerably and led to a dangerous stand-off between the two nuclear-armed neighbours. So, in an effort to bring down temperatures, the director general of Border Security Force and his counterpart, the DG Pakistan Rangers, as well as the DG Military Operations, are scheduled to meet. The meetings will be on track. The BSF and Pakistan Rangers hold talks every six months, but this had come to a grinding halt in the last eight months as tension between India and Pakistan escalated. The last time the DGMOs met was in December 2013.

Sources familiar with what happened in Ufa said that the joint statement was an accurate reflection of the spirit of the meeting. The idea was to "go about talking to each other in a high-level focused way".

The Ufa meeting was a modest step to begin a re-engagement. The BJP sold it as an achievement for Prime Minister Modi and had to face of the embarrassment of having senior leaders from Pakistan, including Sartaj Aziz, give a different spin to the talks. This is why the Modi administration went out of its way on Tuesday to emphasise that India is only going by what is in the joint statement issued in Ufa.   

Conversations between the two sides have not begun, yet the decision to re-engage with Pakistan is already been slammed by the Opposition in both Delhi and Islamabad. When the Congress and the PPP were in power, their leaders had also gone down the same path. South Asian politicians have the tendency to score points without thinking of the greater good of the region. Narendra Modi and the BJP did exactly the same thing earlier.

It is time though to give space to both Modi and Sharif to try once again. The attempt may or may not succeed, but it is important to try.

Writer

Seema Guha Seema Guha @seemaguha1

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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