“Just two minutes” is a phrase used in South Asia to indicate a minuscule time slot, but on the side-lines of COP21, 120 seconds must have been the longest one for the Prime Ministers of Pakistan and India to endure. In the wake of this meeting the two National Security Advisers have met in Bangkok to kick start the process of dialogue. It will be interesting to see the direction this process takes. Scope of improvement in Pakistan-India relations is negligible due to: troubled history; complexity of issues; blatant acceptance by Narendra Modi that it was Indian military intervention that made East Pakistan become Bangladesh; Kashmir dispute; post 9/11 dynamics; America’s obsession driven strategy to contain China alongside misplaced perception of Indian indispensability to achieve this objective; Indian track record of diluting its international commitments; and employment of anti-Pakistan rhetoric to win elections. Each one of these is sufficient to sustain the prevailing unhealthy stalemate in bilateral relations—especially with traditional Indian attitude of disrupting the dialogue on trivial pretexts. Sufficient allowance has been given to Modi while he has all along been doing political gimmicks to portray to his power base—Hindu terrorist entity Shiv Sena— that he is a hell of anti-Pakistan guy. Since Modi came to power, Indian security forces have violated the Line of Control 240 times.
Paris meeting was necessitated because Pakistan is hosting Heart of Asia (HOA) conference and SAARC summit. India with its ongoing obnoxious attitude could have been side-lined during both these events. Hence, Modi rushed for an ad-hoc fence mending. Now Indian foreign minister would come on the pretext of attending HOA event and do some stitching to see through Modi’s visit to Pakistan. Till then, India would keep the Line of Control relatively cool, and let happen some sporting and cultural exchanges. Modi will bare his actual teeth either during or soon after the SAARC summit.
Nevertheless, the micro summit was quite interesting. Nawaz Sharif was seen listening attentively and grimly as Modi spoke to him with gestures. Details of the conversation are not known, but government officials of both sides have described it as a “courtesy meeting.” However, body language of the two indicated that they were discussing serious matters. “Talks with PM Narendra Modi were good. Doors of dialogue should open,” Nawaz commented after the meeting”. The APP report said. “Both the leaders appeared to be in a friendly mood and there seemed great warmth during their interaction while sitting on the same sofa. Indian side commented: “During the meeting, PM Modi expressed the desire for cordial ties with Pakistan. “We wish to improve the situation in connection with Pakistan,” Narendra Modi said. Nawaz Sharif reciprocated PM Modi’s welcome gesture with these words: “Pakistan desires peaceful co-existence with neighbours”.
Spokesperson of Pakistan’s ministry of foreign affair was asked a probing question during weekly briefing on December 03: “After the recent meeting between the Prime Ministers of Pakistan and India in Paris, does the government think that bilateral dialogue will be resumed?” The spokesperson cautiously commented: “We have to wait and see. Pakistan has always emphasized the need for a sustained and result oriented dialogue to discuss all issues, resolve outstanding disputes including Kashmir and promote bilateral cooperation with India”.
Earlier, the two leaders had held a formal meeting in Ufa in July this year, amid hopes of revival of a thaw in ties. The joint statement after Ufa summit was heavily tilted in favour of India. Nawaz Sharif came under severe criticism, from within Pakistan, for ceding strategic space without accruing anything in reciprocation. Matters unravelled soon after, and talks between the National Security Advisers of the two countries were cancelled at the eleventh hour because India insisted to talk only on terrorism—this is how India chose to interpret Ufa joint statement. Since then, there has been a deadlock over dialogue. Later, in September this year, both prime ministers attended the United Nations General Assembly in New York, even stayed at the same hotel, but did not hold a formal meeting.
Soon after the Paris meeting, the chief spoiler of Pakistan-India relations, Shev Sena issues a bizarre statement spewing venom against Pakistan, the extremist outfit has urged New Delhi to shut down the office of the Pakistan high commissioner. Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut ranted and claimed that the Pakistan High Commission is a breeding ground for spies. “This is a very serious matter. Look how far they have penetrated. The people having links with the ISI are sitting in the Pakistan High Commission here and they are using our people. Is it not a threat to the national security? Despite all this do we want cricketing and cultural ties with them? It is dangerous,” alleged Raut. The Pakistan High Commission in Delhi should be locked and the key should be thrown away. It should be closed,” he went on to say. In Pakistan, despite the fact the India is actively involved in abetting terrorist element to disrupt law and order, there has never been any such erratic comment from any quarter.
Tension between Pakistan and India is taken seriously by world the leaders who frequently chip in to encourage bilateral interactions between the two countries. And any sign of melting the sign is generously appreciated. The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has welcomed the meeting. “Obviously, if the meeting did take place, we welcome it,” Ban‘s spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. Only a day before the meeting, the UN chief had stressed that dialogue is the only way for resolving differences between the two countries. “I’m convinced that dialogue is the only way forward for improving relations between Pakistan and India,” he told the Press Trust of India on November 30. “I’ve urged leaders of both the countries to resolve all differences through talks and have offered my good offices towards that end,” he added. Out of arrogance India out rightly rejects any third party facilitation. Whereas there is a history that such facilitations have helped in ending impasses in some of very complicated international conflicts.
Certainly, Modi and Nawaz have reduced the heat between Pakistan and India— though for the time being. That is all that can be said about the short meeting until more substantial measures are taken. Under pressure from home and abroad over growing intolerance in India, it is the Indian prime minister who is more in the need of showing a softer side. A dangerous trend in India is snowballing intolerance about Indian Muslims and Pakistan, such sentiment is being aired and sustained by the militant wing of BJP. Recent demeaning comments about some top of the line Indian Muslim actors bespeak of strong under currents of hatred against Indian Muslims, no matter what their stature is. Visitors from Pakistan—intellectuals, artist and sportspersons—are ridiculed as a matter of routine and with impunity.
There is no escape from dialogue and the nature of problems bedevilling relations between the two countries demand a positive approach to discuss and sort them out. Pakistan-India relations are too complex and cannot take a positive direction unless the issues between the two countries especially the Kashmir dispute is resolved. For this, Indian leadership has to muster political will and change its attitude towards Pakistan. The international community must also persuade India to accept the UN mediation on the Kashmir dispute.
Pakistan wants friendly ties with India but to that end, New Delhi will have to accept the reality of Kashmir issue apart from ending conspiracies to destabilize Pakistan. Any attempt of friendship while circumventing ground realities is not likely to be sustainable. UNSG also needs to take concrete steps to resolve one of the longest dispute on the UN agenda—Kashmir— in line with nearly a dozen UNSC resolutions on the subject.
A variant of this article was carried by the Nation on December 07, 2015.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.