More than a handshake

It needs more than just a handshake for New Delhi and Islamabad to move forward, it needs a meeting of minds.

Seema Mustafa June 13, 2014
The writer is the editor-in-chief of 'The Citizen'.

Pakistan Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif has told Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that he was rather happy with the meeting in Delhi and that reports to the contrary were not based on facts. In a relationship as skewed as India and Pakistan, it is essential for at least a meeting of minds to ensure some movement forward. This meeting has clearly not taken place and hence the visible disinterest or/and reluctance on both sides to break barriers.

There are two more opportunities this year for the two prime ministers to meet without stretching out into the bilateral realm. One could be in New York, if both decide to be there at the same time — as has happened in the past — to meet on the sidelines of the United Nations summit. This will, of course, be dependent on if the two sides decide to meet, knowing full well that this meet would have to take the handshake and pleasantries exchanged in New Delhi several steps forward. In fact, if both governments announce coinciding dates for New York, it will be more than safe to presume that they have decided to move forward.

The second opportunity, of course, will be later in the year at the Saarc summit in Nepal where both will be present regardless. Bilateral meetings between the leaders are part of Saarc meets, and it is unlikely that PM Modi will meet the others and ignore PM Sharif, and vice versa.

Either of these meetings could set a date for the foreign secretaries to meet, or again they could meet earlier, or then again, they might not meet for a while even after. One is writing this to emphasise the tenuous nature of India-Pakistan relations that cannot be resolved by the simple fact of having the military in control in Pakistan or the BJP in power in New Delhi, as many Pakistani’s seem to think. It can only be resolved if there is a political will to move forward, and that will seems to be playing hide and seek with the establishments in both countries, regardless of who happens to be in the seat of power at a particular time.

There is a strong establishment that has surrounded India-Pakistan relations comprising top politicians, sections of political parties, top ranking serving and retired officials, intelligence agencies and media personnel that makes its presence felt when there is talk of peace. No general in Pakistan, and no prime minister of India can totally ignore this establishment as it comes from their own, from within. In fact, such has become the nature of bilateral relations that it is the peace constituency that falls outside this exclusive club of so-called strategists, for whom war and conflict is more natural than negotiating peace. This establishment on both sides of the border remains in ‘power’ regardless of who governs.

Interestingly, while they claim to be different, they are all so similar. The conditioning is the same, the background is similar, the arguments identical. Stumbling blocks remain terrorism and Kashmir, with the first waxing and waning according to New Delhi’s mood at a particular time, and the decibel levels on Kashmir being adjusted depending on Islamabad’s mood at another time. The arguments sound like this and all that one has to do is to adjust one name or the other from India and Pakistan to the following words: do not trust them, they are totally untrustworthy. They want to try and destroy you, their intelligence agencies are responsible for our mess (Balochistan and Kashmir), they are terrible to their minorities, they need to be taught a lesson.

And before those wanting a structured, mature and visionary dialogue for peace can even utter the word, the shadow boxing erupts into direct anger and accusations, and the talks that have not even begun are called off.

It, therefore, needs more than just a handshake for New Delhi and Islamabad to move forward, it needs a meeting of minds. And in these minds should be the understanding of peace as a strategic goal, and not as a soft give away. It should be understood as the hard option, a necessity that takes both India and Pakistan out of the abyss and yet preserves their respective interests without conflict as the backdrop, or the solution, or even a desire.

Both governments have in the past, and will probably again, attack the constituency visible in India and Pakistan that insists in swimming against the tide and demanding peace as the solution to the vexed bilateral chasm that is just not being bridged. Unfortunate, as while the real solution lies in peace, the establishment of vested interests has labelled this as ‘anti-national’ and embraced the option of war that devastates and maims and kills as ‘nationalist’.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 14th, 2014.

Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.


Gurion | 8 years ago | Reply


My comment censured by pro India mods at E T

Cry us a river!

Gratgy | 8 years ago | Reply

How do you talk with a country that begins questioning its creation each time India succeeds and feels its existence vindicated whenever India fails????

Replying to X

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

For more information, please see our Comments FAQ

Most Read