Changing equations of India-Pak relations
Efforts to normalize relations between India and Pakistan have once again been initiated with Track-2 and back channel diplomacy.
With the return of Nawaz Sharif as the third time prime minister in mid May, the civil society in Pakistan, which realizes the cost of anti India atmosphere in the country, has pinned high hopes on his desire and political will to move forward on normalizing relations with India.
The international community is also looking for some sort of rapprochement between India and Pakistan, as the current state of affairs between the two nation is a cause of concern, not only because the two warring neighbors are nuclear armed, but also their adversarial relations are impacting on regional peace and security.
Especially Afghanistan, where the international community mainly the US and the West believes that Indo-Pak rivalry is adding fuel to the fire. The Pakistani military has strategic agenda to pursue which is not in consonance with normal Indo-Pak relations.
But the Pakistani civil society understands the significance of improved Indo-Pak relations for the betterment of the Pakistani economy, hence there is much public pressure on political parties to improve relations with India, therefore, in the last National Assembly elections India was not a controversial political issue as all parties vouched for normal relations with India.
However, all depends on the attitude of the Army Generals and Jehadi elements nurtured by the Pakistani establishment, who have a vested interest in continuing with the anti-India agenda. Though the two countries have seen many rounds of back channel diplomacy leading to serious dialogue and preparation of the draft for resolution of some of the outstanding issues, the negotiations have suddenly hit the wall because of the intransigent behavior of the anti-India elements in Pakistan and resultant public pressure in India to force the government to stop all cross border exchanges.
Yet, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh took a bold step of sending SK Lambah as his envoy even before Nawaz Sharif had taken oath as Prime Minister. In response Nawaz Sharif also nominated Shahryar Khan, an old India hand with deep Bhopal connections as his envoy who visited India in the first week of July to continue the back channel dialogue with Indian interlocutors.
Khan not only met Prime Minister and delivered a personal message of Nawaz Sharif; he also had detailed one on one meeting with the Indian National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon, and an extensive discussion with Mr Lambah.
Mr Khan has also delivered an invitation from Nawaz Sharif to Manmohan Singh to visit Pakistan as soon as possible. Singh had earlier been repeatedly invited by the previous regime, but domestic political situation in Pakistan prevented Singh from committing such early visit, which will be devoid of any forward movement on resolution of some of the serious complaints India has. Among them are the demands of Indian government from the Pakistani establishment to show seriousness in taking credible moves to punish the perpetrators of the 26/11, 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai.
In spite of the dilly dallying attitude of the Pakistani government on 26/11, India moved ahead with various proposals to improve business exchanges and people to people contacts. The September, 2012 visit of the then Indian External Affairs minister S M Krishna to Islamabad and Lahore was a big move in this direction.
The visit which included the wreath laying on Minar-e-Pakistan, reconfirming India’s resolve to accept Pakistan as a nation, resulted in a landmark visa agreement, which intended to significantly ease not only the travel of businessmen but also tourism for religious and historical sites besides the children and older citizens.
But this agreement was also suspended after the soldier beheading incident on the LoC of Jammu and Kashmir. This incident evoked widespread anti Pakistan feeling in India after media made it a big issue.
However things have calmed down since then and the elections in Pakistan have brought back Nawaz Sharif as the Prime Minister bringing hopes of early normalization, because of his very positive vibes on India. He has taken over the reigns of the county at a time when the economic situation in the country is in shambles while the international credibility of the country is at its lowest.
Nawaz Sharif is facing great predicament. If he is not able to improve the economy of his country within few months, the Pakistani people and especially the youth will get restless and the situation will be exploited by the Jehadi elements in the Pakistani society.
Nawaz Sharif has won the election on the promise of providing 24x7 electricity and thereby improving the lot of the common people’s issues. But the electricity cannot be generated without attracting significant investment from domestic or international investors. The Pakistani treasury is empty.
Only India is in a position of providing electricity through Punjab borders for which India has made a serious offer and immediately after Nawaz Sharif took oath as the PM, India dispatched a high level delegation to Pakistan to discuss ways and means of supplying electricity to the power starved country. Though India is also a highly electricity deficient state, Manmohan government made a generous offer to its neighbor as a matter of courtesy for supply of power to the Pakistani homes, but the Chief of banned terrorist group, Lashkar-e-Taiba. Hafiz Saeed lost no time in warning the Pakistani government against the move.
Nawaz Sharif had begun his third innings as Prime Minister with a promise to revisit the famous Lahore Declaration of February 1999, when the Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee made a courageous move to cross the boundary line on a Bus. But at the same time something ugly, in the form of infamous Kargil invasion was cooking in the Pakistani pot to be poured hot over Indian body politic which shook the nation and put the relations a decade behind. This time also the Army led by General Parvez Kayani has warned Nawaz to move slowly on relations with India.
This explains lack of any serious move to put to use any of the already agreed decisions like the granting of MFN status to India. Easing of border restrictions and trade regulations for normal economic ties with India will go a long way in not only improving the economy of the country but also create a positive atmosphere of relations between the two neighbors.
The million dollar question is whether the democratically empowered Prime Minister of Pakistan will be able to move forward in relations with India ignoring the advisories from the Jehadi groups and the Generals.
However, this is considered the best time for fresh move to restart the dialogue process as there is new enthusiasm in Pakistan and high expectations from the Nawaz Sharif government. On the other hand Indian leaders will also enter high pitch election campaign for the Parliament and the present Manmohan Government will have a maximum of six months till the end of this year as the leadership and the country will go into election mode early January 2014.
Since the present Indian government cannot make any bold move for fast forwarding the talk process because of forthcoming General elections, the least the two neighbors can do is to take steps to normalize economic relations. This will provide a ground for the next Indian government to engage in serious negotiations with Nawaz Sharif on critical issues, who also will have to show that he is empowered enough to take forward the dialogue process for the final resolution of issues.
The least the two governments can do in the light of the present state of domestic situation in both the countries is to try plucking the low hanging fruits like the Sir Creek and the Siachen Glacier besides easing visa restrictions for easy flow of two way trade and tourists and visitors.