There were unrealistic expectations in Pakistan and India regarding the outcome of the meeting of their leaders that took place on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Summit in Ufa, Russia. This is nothing unusual because when it comes to any event between the two countries, emotions run high and ultra-nationalism reigns supreme. Many among the media and public treat a political meeting of prime ministers with the same level of passion as a cricket match or a final at Wimbledon, with the general expectation being that there has to be a clear winner. Of course, there were some commentators on both sides, who came up with serious analysis.
One would, however, tend to agree that the joint statement failed to reflect Pakistan’s principal concerns as effectively as those of India. The fact that the Kashmir issue was not specifically mentioned is a valid criticism. The prime minister and the adviser on national security and foreign affairs are of the view that the joint communique states clearly that all issues will be discussed. Prior to the meeting, the Indian side had issued a statement clearly mentioning that there will be a “bilateral dialogue encompassing all key aspects of the relationship”. In 2009, when the Indian and Pakistani prime ministers met in Sharm el-Sheikh, there was no mention of Kashmir in the final document. This is not to say that the previous omission was another missed opportunity. There is another view that it would have been better to do away with the joint statement rather than not including Kashmir. This centres round the concern that Pakistan’s core interests were ignored and Kashmir was not mentioned. On the contrary, India was able to include its high-priority item of terrorism — alluding to the fact that both sides agreed to discuss ways of expediting the Mumbai case trial. Nonetheless, this does not prevent Pakistan from raising the Kashmir issue at future regional and international forums or at the bilateral level. India’s policy has always been to avoid discussing Kashmir with Pakistan, but since Narendra Modi has become prime minister, this tendency has become more pronounced.
Pakistan has been asking for voice samples that are required by our courts as evidence in the Mumbai attack case. It is a different matter that Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi’s lawyer has stated that these are inadmissible. The question is, if Lakhvi was not involved in the attack as he claims, then it would be in his interest and that of Pakistan to prove him innocent and discredit the allegations, if they are false.
The criticism that Lakhvi’s case was included in the joint statement whereas Samjhauta Express was not mentioned, seems a fair observation. There are, however, certain factors that give weight to the Mumbai case in the document. First, in addition to Indians, several foreign nationals from the US, Europe, Israel, etc. lost their lives and all these countries are also pressing Pakistan to expedite the judicial process. The US, too, did not miss the opportunity to press the point when its spokesman welcomed the Nawaz-Modi talk and advised Pakistan to accelerate the Mumbai attack trial. Readers will recall that India raised Lakhvi’s case in the UN sanctions committee. It was only China’s veto that blocked the UN from proceeding against us. China has been very frugal in the use of the veto and it was a special favour that it extended by saving us from a major embarrassment. Placed in a difficult situation, we were left with no other option but to assure India and the international community that we are serious about bringing the Lakhvi case to its logical conclusion. This also demonstrated that Pakistan is determined in dealing firmly with cases pertaining to terrorism. Apart from taking the right step, we also had to ensure that China’s credibility is not hurt.
India’s objection to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor was also voiced to build pressure on Pakistan and China. India knows that this opposition has tacit US support as well as that of most major Western powers. India is also disturbed by the positive developments vis-a-vis Afghanistan as Pakistan is playing a critical role in bringing the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table.
What more could have been achieved at this stage in one meeting can be argued endlessly. It is important to keep in mind the prevailing Pakistan-India relations under which this engagement took place and what factors brought about the change in Mr Modi’s attitude. Ever since he has come to power, he has taken a very tough stand towards Pakistan. He was hoping that by cutting off all engagement, India would be able to build enough pressure to make Islamabad take its concerns seriously, especially those related to terrorism. Mr Modi has now realised that this policy has failed to achieve most of its objectives. Pakistan, on the contrary, has further consolidated its relations with China and Afghanistan and given a new direction to its relations with Russia. With Washington and Western countries also Pakistan’s relations reflect an upward trend. Another factor that influenced India to change course was the discreet persuasion by major powers to resume dialogue, realising that the current hostility could lead to unintended consequences.
The US and Western powers have a direct interest in peace and stability in our region. If relations between India and Pakistan deteriorate, there will be a fallout in Afghanistan as well as the rest of the region. The fact that both countries are nuclear armed, makes the situation more serious and worries the West.
Pakistan’s broader strategic interests demand that the region remain peaceful so that it could concentrate on curbing insurgencies and focus on economic development and political stability in the coming decade. Unfortunately, hostility with India is costing Pakistan far more than it is costing its adversary. This hostility is not allowing enough resources to be diverted towards education and health, and is sadly taking away the focus from the wellbeing of the Pakistani people. As a consequence, problems have been multiplying, widening the power balance with India. Prudence demands that we pursue policies that reverse this trend. Progress on rapprochement with India provides that opportunity.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 15th, 2015.
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