Nawaz Sharif, no doubt, believes in the need for India and Pakistan to be at peace with each other so that the people of the two countries can be freed from poverty, hunger, disease, and illiteracy and enabled to live their lives and raise their children in dignity, free from the fear of violence, oppression and injustice. It was this desire that took him on his recent ill-advised Delhi yatra to be one of the seven Saarc leaders attending the oath-taking ceremony of India’s newly-elected Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. He would certainly have been better off by not making a gesture that everyone knew would remain unanswered. As expected, it was no more than a ‘missed’ call.
Modi’s invitation to the Saarc leaders to attend his inauguration ceremony was nothing but a patronising gesture from someone who had been speaking of other countries in the region and their leaders with contempt. As chief minister of Gujarat, Modi had noticeably been spiteful of Pakistan. He had not even laid out the basic contours of his Pakistan policy. We should have waited for him to step into office and lay out his plans on how he wants to deal with the long-standing problems with Pakistan before embarking on an illusory peace journey. In any case, ceremonies are non-events. Relations are not built on the sidelines of oath-taking ceremonies or through exchange of gifts.
Nobody questions Nawaz Sharif’s sincerity in seeking peace with India. But the question to reckon with in the first instance should have been whether Modi with his dreary past and junky baggage would respond with the same sincerity. His past record certainly inspired no hope especially on issues of vital importance to Pakistan. Speaking of peace, there can be no two opinions on the need for peace between India and Pakistan — the only nuclear-capable countries in the world with a legacy of outstanding disputes and a history of conflictual situations. Their problems are real and will not disappear or work out on their own as some people in Pakistan have lately started believing.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should have understood this reality as he did during his previous term in the late 1990s. He then was conducting himself with some dignity and did receive in return the dividends that only honourable initiatives bring. I remember his very first directive to me after nominating me as his foreign secretary in February 1997 was to improve relations with India. His three-point policy direction was succinctly clear: resume dialogue; improve relations; no compromise on Kashmir. He wanted peace with honour. I delivered what he wanted.
Within months, I was able to co-author with my Indian counterpart a sustainable peace process called ‘Composite Dialogue’. For the first time in their 50-year history, India and Pakistan agreed in black and white on pursuing a structured, agenda-based dialogue to address their issues and improve their relations. The period from 1997 to 1999 saw significant developments culminating into the historic Lahore Summit in February 1999, which indeed was a high watermark in India-Pakistan relations. This peace process was, unfortunately, derailed by the Kargil crisis and even after Kargil, the region remained under dark war clouds.
While the post-9/11 world was focused on the US military campaign in Afghanistan, India thought it could also take advantage of the global anti-terror sentiment. It quickly moved all its armed forces to Pakistan’s borders as well as along the Line of Control in Kashmir after blaming Pakistan for ‘terrorist’ attacks in Srinagar and New Delhi without any investigations or evidence. South Asia was dragged into a confrontational mode that served no one’s interests, not even India’s. Intense diplomatic pressure by G-8 countries averted what could have been a catastrophic clash between the two nuclear neighbours.
It was again under pressure from the same influential powers that the stalled India-Pakistan dialogue was resumed in January 2004 on the basis of the ‘January 6, 2004 Islamabad Joint Statement’, which was not only an implicit acceptance by General Musharraf of India’s allegations of Pakistan’s involvement in cross-border activities but also a solemn undertaking not to allow any cross-border terrorist activity in future. No wonder, since then, India has spared no opportunity to implicate Pakistan in every act of terrorism on its soil, including the Mumbai attacks in November 2008 and has kept the dialogue process hostage to its policy of keeping Pakistan under constant pressure.
And that’s where we are stuck today. Meanwhile, taking full advantage of our domestic weaknesses, India has come to realise that there could be no better opportunity to redefine India-Pakistan issues by obfuscating them into the issues of terrorism and LoC violations. Nawaz Sharif will be mistaken if he thinks he can restart from where he left at Lahore in 1999. The world has changed since then; so have India and Pakistan. It is not the same Pakistan that he ruled in 1999 when he hosted BJP’s Atal Bihar Vajpayee at the Lahore Summit.
It is also not the same India that he settled scores with after responding in kind to its nuclear tests in May 1998. The only starting point for him now will be from where General Musharraf left his shady back-channel Kashmir deal in 2007. There couldn’t be greater betrayal of the Kashmir cause by an ‘elected’ leader. What must be clear to him is that peace in South Asia will remain elusive as long as Kashmir remains under Indian occupation. There can be no compromise on this issue.
There is only one fair, just, legal and moral solution to Kashmir, which was provided by the United Nations, and which both India and Pakistan mutually accepted in UN Security Council resolutions. Likewise, we cannot also ignore India’s illegality in Siachen, its ongoing water terrorism in Occupied Kashmir in violation of the Indus Waters Treaty.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s passion for peace is understandable. But as long as India doesn’t come out of its nay bind, there is no point in begging for dialogue. A dignified pause is what he needs. Instead of pursuing an illusory peace with India, he should be focusing more on his domestic perils, including the curse of terrorism.
To negotiate an honourable peace with India, our own country must first be at peace with itself. Only then, can we sit at the negotiating table with some dignity and honour. ‘Aman Ki Asha’ farce with motivated commercial interests will lead us nowhere.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 7th, 2014.
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