Recognising the shift in Pakistan’s India policy

Published: August 25, 2013
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PM Sharif should tackle the non-state actors, who wish to decimate the Pakistani state and also cause a major crisis through terror attacks inside India. PHOTO: FILE

PM Sharif should tackle the non-state actors, who wish to decimate the Pakistani state and also cause a major crisis through terror attacks inside India. PHOTO: FILE

The silver lining of the current Pakistan-India stand-off is that Pakistan’s Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif remains committed to his visionary policy of making progress in peacebuilding with our traditional rival. PM Sharif has been consistent about his resolve to build bridges with India and bolster economic cooperation between the two countries and in a gesture of goodwill, his government  has taken the right decision to release 365 Indian prisoners, which include 340 fishermen and 25 crewmembers of Indian vessels. Prior to the 2013 elections, PM Sharif made exceptionally bold statements on moving forward with the peace process. In particular, he assured India that Pakistani soil will not be used against India. This was a tacit message that earlier cases of Pakistani militants’ carrying out terrorist attacks in India would be addressed by his regime.

The recent escalation at the Line of Control (LoC) started when five Indian soldiers were killed. Initially, the Indian government claimed that the attackers were militants dressed in the Pakistan Army uniform. However, within days, the official stance changed and once again the Pakistan Army was blamed. Since then, the two sides have indulged in reckless behaviour by firing at each other, resulting in the death and injuries of soldiers on both sides. The public opinion in India, fuelled by irresponsible sections of the media, is restive and unforgiving. This has jeopardised the future of composite dialogue as well as the potential of the two prime ministers meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in September. At the heart of the matter is the asymmetry between the domestic approaches to the peace process in both countries. In Pakistan, there is a near-consensus that peace has to be secured. The army has deferred to this growing public mood. As PM Sharif said in his interview given to the UK’S Telegraph a few days ago, India-bashing is out of fashion in Pakistan. The elections of 2013 and even the by-elections completed on August 22 did not mention India as an issue. In fact, the by-elections took place amid heightened tensions and not a single party or its candidate made an issue of it.

Conversely, in India, there is a split within the political society. The opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has drummed up passions against Pakistan, putting even more pressure on the Indian PM who has been keen to improve relations with Pakistan. Similarly, the civil society and media are divided on their approach towards Pakistan and the future trajectory of relations. This is a critical issue that the Indian leadership has to address. Another worrying development in recent years has been the increased influence of the Indian Army in setting the parameters of what is doable in the policy domain.

Meanwhile, the internal shift in Pakistan sadly goes unnoticed where conventional wisdom prevails. The Indian mindset holds that the Pakistan Army and the ISI control everything and civilian noises are of little value. This is changing and like all organic policy shifts, it will take time. India will have to support this process rather than thwart it by supporting the elements in Pakistan, which benefit from perpetual conflict with the neighbour.

The boldest of suggestions by PM Sharif, once again stated during the Telegraph interview, relates to the mutually agreed defence expenditure cuts by India and Pakistan. This is a serious issue and India must not squander this moment as part of its unstated policy of ‘strategic indifference’ towards Pakistan. In the meantime, PM Sharif should tackle the non-state actors, who wish to decimate the Pakistani state and also cause a major crisis through terror attacks inside India. By taking charge of security and foreign policies, PM Sharif must work towards dismantling the militants’ network. In the short term, prosecuting those involved in the Mumbai attacks of 2008 would be the most urgent step. This is the time to reverse the disastrous policies of the past.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 25th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (24)

  • notcong_again
    Aug 25, 2013 - 12:38AM

    we don’t want talk with pakistan anymore , ours next govt take the decision whatever the army thinks

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  • Ironic
    Aug 25, 2013 - 12:46AM

    India’s hysterical reaction is feeding those elements in Pakistan’s establishment who are threatened by Nawaz Sharif’s firm commitment to ties with India which are based on peace and trust.
    .
    As the PM said, “India bashing is out of fashion in Pakistan”. Stop giving an excuse to the deep state to arm Kashmiri rebels (who you deem terrorists).
    .
    Grow up, wake up. While you Indians shell and kill civilians in Rawalakot (AJK), PM Nawaz frees 365 Indian fishermen.
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    Brothers, Indians, the days of xenophobic military dictators like Zia are done in Pakistan. Give peace a chance. Nawaz can’t change everything overnight. Don’t give the establishment a reason to continue the status quo.
    .
    CALM DOWN YOUR CRAZY JINGOISTIC MEDIA!

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  • Kataria
    Aug 25, 2013 - 2:00AM

    “prosecuting those involved in the Mumbai attacks of 2008 would be the most urgent step” and once found not guilty, should be free to resume their lives as free citizens. Having an opinion is not a crime.

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  • Anticorruption
    Aug 25, 2013 - 2:11AM

    The shift you are talking about is not new. There has been a major shift since 2002 when Musharraf brought an end to the policy of sending armed fighters to Indian occupied Kashmir. He did so at great personal risk and even faced attempts on his life. This was an especially tough move because the fact remains that Kashmir is a disputed territory on which India has consistently refused to have any reasonable dialog, not to mention the fate of the promised plebicit.

    Yes, LT did not get dismantled, but the above was a major concession from Pakistan which India never reciprocated with anything solid on any front. You also have to realize that Pakistan is itself tied in an internal war where it is not easy to take on everyone at the same time. So when India does not positively reciprocate Pakistan’s gesture of stopping the flow of fighters to Kashmir, it makes it all the more difficult for Pakistan to take further steps on LT.

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  • eswar
    Aug 25, 2013 - 6:24AM

    Rival race between india and pakistan , need this kind of cooperation but it is not enough both PMs of countries take over this kind of coordination to peak level.Recommend

  • nrmr44
    Aug 25, 2013 - 9:48AM

    What has changed? After every murderous act by “non-state actors” lofty assurances are held out that things are changing. Even the words are the same.
    Nawaz Sharif is a well known entity in India; no one is going to take him seriously all of a sudden. He is that PM who did not know his army had launched a war!
    And, true to form, he will interpose riders to kill the very peace talks he will claim to promote. He should forget about India’s defense budget and demand a roll back of the entire Indian economy!
    As the earth-shaking Pakistan reorientation taking time – take all the time you need. Nobody’s holding his breath.

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  • Aug 25, 2013 - 11:18AM

    India-bashing may be out of fashion but that is not enough. i am surprised the experts in Pakistan believe that just because the bashing has stopped – India will jump across the LOC and embrace the Pakistanis.

    Ceasing the India-bashing is only the first step. Walking the talk is now critical – and Indians on the street will begin to believe Pakistan only when there are concrete steps on the other side of the border to stop the India bleeding policy which unfortunately is thriving on the ground.

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  • Feroz
    Aug 25, 2013 - 1:02PM

    Talking Peace and fueling terror do not go well together. Either intentions are peaceful or antagonistic, cannot be both together. Till actions can prove that the situation has changed we can all assume that the same prevails. India cannot do anything to change the status quo in Pakistan, better it secures its borders and waits it out till Pakistan can decide where it wants to go.

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  • Falcon
    Aug 25, 2013 - 1:09PM

    Very well observed. Even very well educated Indians fail to recognize the ingress Indian establishment is making into India’s foreign policy domain. This can have dangerous repercussions in the long run. Furthermore, their media needs to play a much more responsible role in defusing the situation rather than exacerbating it.

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  • SM
    Aug 25, 2013 - 1:20PM

    I personally believe that Mr. Sharif has a genuine desire for peace, however, that still begs the question — Who and most importantly Why those poor Indian solders on the Indian side of the border were killed in the first place? Are we to believe that Mr. Sharif is in power, but has no say in what his solders are doing on the India Pak border? Or are we to believe he is just nominally in power but India should talk to him nevertheless, without considering if he will be able to deliver on any of the negotiating promises he is expected to make about Pakistani soil not being used against India. Just good intentions wont do, there has to be evidence that things are different in this new regime. And we have our doubts about Mr. Sharif’s ability in delivering on any of the preconditions of talk, and 26/11 is just a very nominal test case. In a country where Pakistan government is giving millions to JUD, there is a reason Indian dont trust Pakistani good intentions just yet.

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  • akash
    Aug 25, 2013 - 3:50PM

    Do something about Mumbai and we will talk again :-). We have talked before with no result but actually getting ourselves burned. Indian leadership that you are talking about is just our Prime minister, rest are more or less united on halting talks just at the moment. No one is going for war but just I guess from Indian side, we need to take it easy a bit on talk front.

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  • Rashid (Kerala, India)
    Aug 25, 2013 - 4:34PM

    In particular, he assured India that Pakistani soil will not be used against India.

    After saying the above statement, he allowed Hafeez Saeed to lead the prayer on Pakistan’s independence day and also allowed his brother to allot millions of rupees to his organization…….

    Nawaz Sharif remains committed to his visionary policy of making progress in peacebuilding with our traditional rival

    Great editorial……….LOL !!!

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  • G. Din
    Aug 25, 2013 - 4:57PM

    “By taking charge of security and foreign policies, PM Sharif must work towards dismantling the militants’ network. “
    If and when he can accomplish that, trust me, you will not find India unresponsive.
    But until that happens, India must observe “Din’s Law”( “Every provocation must attract disproportionately massive retaliation, for it to cease”) and “strategic indifference” towards Pakistan. No more making ManMohan cart-wheels for every duplicitous smile from any Pakistanis.

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  • Bakhtiyar Ghazi Khan
    Aug 25, 2013 - 5:50PM

    Good job Nawaz Sharif. There is only one solution: Economy. Without a strong economy, Pakistan is left at the mercy of any foreign nation. We need leaders who choose the time and place for their battles with wisdom and foresight. The world must understand, Pakistan means peace. India is the aggressor. Popular opinion even in India among Muslims is shifting against the state. Kashmir is escaping India’s grip. Time will tell, and the wise will win.

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  • BlackJack
    Aug 25, 2013 - 6:18PM

    @Ironic:
    Stop giving an excuse to the deep state to arm Kashmiri rebels (who you deem terrorists).
    Stop giving them excuses yourself. Or let’s agree on something more easy – you control your deep state and we will control our media.

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  • V. C. Bhutani
    Aug 25, 2013 - 6:36PM

    At 0936 IST I sent you a comment which, in my view, was appreciative of your editorial. But you have chosen not to publish it. (It is 1900 IST now.) If this is your attitude towards comments of this kind, then it is hopeless to think that you are indeed in support of a cooperative Pakistani policy or approach towards India. My conclusion from your refusal to publish my comment is that we in India should not take serious note of anything that Nawaz Sharif may say or of anything that The Express Tribune (or any other Pakistani newspaper) may write in its editorials.Thanks. V. C. Bhutani, Delhi, 25 Aug 2013, 1905 IST

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  • karma
    Aug 25, 2013 - 6:37PM

    I am sure Mr. Sharief means well, and knows very well that Pakistan can not go on the way it is right now. But, the question is if he has the wherewithal to assert control over his own state. As the elected head of state, he should be in a position to negotiate and deliver on a deal with India.

    But, as whole world knows the state in Pakistan is not in control. Non-state actors are a force by themselves. They can use Pakistan as a springboard for an attack on India at any time. They can come in to India, kill civilians or kill soldiers on border.

    Thus India has little incentive to make a deal with Mr. Sharief, unless he shows he arrests folks like Hafiz Saeed, deports Dawood Ibrahim.

    India will loose little by not talking to Pakistan. It has managed fine with all the irritation from Pakistan for over two decades and it can see thru till Pakistan tires of this game.

    I actually feel sorry for Mr. Sharief. He is one man who knows what’s right, but can’t do much about it.Recommend

  • dev maiti
    Aug 25, 2013 - 6:52PM

    I fail to understand how a country 10 times bigger can be expected to reduce defense expenditures when it has ambitions (rightly or wrongly) of becoming a major world power!

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  • Hari Om
    Aug 25, 2013 - 7:07PM

    Pakistan needs to walk the rhetoric of peace with India by taking punitive and visible action against terrorists who target India. Let there be conclusive independently verified news of forensic rigour that among other events Hafiz Saeed drowned in the Thar desert, Maulana Massod Azhar died of heat stroke in Skardu, the bus carrying the United Jihad Council fell into a ravine, the Pakistan Army gunned down a dozen armed terrorists looking to exfiltrate from Pakistan into India at the LoC. Thereafter it will be found that India will take Pakistan’s words seriously.

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  • Ashvinn
    Aug 25, 2013 - 8:28PM

    @Feroz: beautifully put

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  • Raj - USA
    Aug 25, 2013 - 10:19PM

    I still believe that NS is sincere but he has limited powers. He is being watched. I saw in “Bolta Pakistan” recently where it was mentioned that some powerful and influential circles in the army and in his own party have privately said that SS is there to ensure that NS does not cross the limits. When Musharraf overthrew him it was “bloodless”. Now, he should watch out for “brotherly”. India should give NS enough space and I would like MS-NS meeting next month.

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  • Gp65
    Aug 26, 2013 - 2:36AM

    @deep:
    Has India bashing stopped though? It was their parliament who first passed a resolution on this issue. It was their parliament who also passed a resolution on an issue that had nothing o do with Pakistan I.e. an Indian terrorist was sentenced after due process to death for his role in attacking the Indian parliament while in session. Did Rehman Malik or now Ch. Nissar not blame India for all kinds of terror attacks in Pakistan even when the actual terrorists were taking responsibility? Does their media not blame India for stealing water even though India has won every sinke case in the international tribunal for IWT? Did Shahbaz Sharif not budget money for JUd, an organization whose leader publicly calls for jihad against India? Recommend

  • Gp65
    Aug 26, 2013 - 2:45AM

    ETBLOGS1987

    ET mods – this post is directly concerned with @Falcon’s post and seeks to explain how Indian democracy functions. Pls. Publish.

    @Falcon:
    Indian defense minister is always one of he senior most members of the cabinet. In a parliamentary system of democracy where cabinet has collective responsibility for decision making, of course the defense minister’s views are taken into account while determining foreign policy just as opinions of the home minister (similar to your home minister), finance minister and the commerce minister. The ingress that you all about is institutions aliased and quite appropriate in a democracy because the foreign policy has a bearing on all these areas. When it comes to foreign policy with EU, probably the finance minister and commerce minister have a greater voice. Likewise when it comes to Pakistan, the defense minister and the h one minister would have a greater voice. It is driven by context.Recommend

  • Paras Vikmani
    Aug 26, 2013 - 9:08PM

    “The boldest of suggestions by PM Sharif, once again stated during the Telegraph interview, relates to the mutually agreed defence expenditure cuts by India and Pakistan”

    Pakistan is not our obsession. China is. So defence expenditure cannot be curtailed.

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