Hopefully, Prime Minister Modi will at some stage retrieve his Pakistan policy from the security and intelligence lobby
The suspense over a possible meeting – formal or pull-aside or chance encounter – between the prime ministers of India and Pakistan petered out as the two leaders completed their peregrinations in New York. All we got instead was an exchange of hand waves – reminiscent more of departing passengers at an airport terminal than of responsible leaders heading states that possess nuclear weapons.
The bilateral theatrics were eventually left to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and India’s External affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj during the UN General Assembly debate. The Pakistani leader ran through the full gamut of standard national arguments, leavened this time by tart observations on how a reformed UN Security Council cannot be an “expanded club of the powerful and privileged”. This reflected Pakistani concerns over the G4 summit and the path that has been cleared for text-based inter-governmental negotiations on UNSC reform to proceed.
Then followed arguments about Pakistan being both a “primary victim of terrorism” and a sword arm against it, reiterating their determination to fight “terrorism in all its forms and manifestations”. His government’s first priority Sharif maintained was peace and development. As the co-creator of the composite dialogue in 1997, he claimed he had resumed the role of a peace seeker since his return to power.
In the end, he unfurled his “New Peace Initiative”, consisting of four points that deserve analysis.
Four points to nowehere
First, he proposed formalising the 2003 cease-fire agreement for the Line of Control, which he then qualified by seeking an expanded role for the UN Military Observers Group in India and Pakistan. UNMOGIP observers first arrived in the region in January 1949. Following the 1972 Simla Agreement, India argued that the mandate of UNMOGIP had lapsed as the old cease-fire line had now become a Line of Control, not requiring supervision. Pakistan, wishing to retain the UN as an intermediary in Jammu and Kashmir, disagreed and continues to allow UNMOGIP full freedom to function on its side of the LOC. India, on the other hand, has severely curtailed their role. Thus Nawaz Sharif’s constructive proposal came laden with an unacceptable condition. In the light of his proposal, however, it seems that the incessant cease-fire violations by the Pakistan army over the last year – besides often providing covering fire to infiltrators – are also aimed at creating the environment for UNMOGIP to become active again.
The second proposal is for India and Pakistan to reaffirm not to use or threaten to use force to resolve bilateral disputes. This is a commitment already enshrined in the UN charter as indeed the Simla Agreement. It seems that under the garb of stating the obvious, Pakistan is reviving its old proposal for a conventional weapons restraint regime. India’s response has been that Indian security and defence concerns go beyond Pakistan and thus no such agreement is possible at a bilateral level. Revival of this old idea seems driven by the Pakistan army’s concern over Indian plans for greater defence equipment purchases, driven by an assertive NDA government.
The third suggestion for demilitarisation of Jammu and Kashmir is in contravention of the UNSC resolutions of 1948, by which Pakistan swears, as it is Pakistan which was first required to withdraw all its forces. India was, thereafter, required to reduce its forces commensurate with the exigencies of law and order. In any case, post-1990, when Pakistan started pushing trained terrorists into the valley, its demand for demilitarisation lacks any moral validity and is plain duplicity.
Nawaz Sharif’s final suggestion – something very dear to the Pakistani army’s heart – is for mutual withdrawal of forces from the Siachen glacier, where India holds the dominant positions. On the 50th anniversary of the 1965 war, it merits recalling that the handing-back by India of critical features like the Haji Pir Pass have been since then used by Pakistan to facilitate infiltration into the valley by trained terrorists. The moral of the story is not to make unilateral concessions out of misplaced goodwill.
India reacted to Nawaz Sharif’s four-point peace offer, gift-wrapped like an improvised explosive device, by using its right to respond by fielding a first secretary, thus adding insult to injury. It was then followed up in the address of External Affairs Minister S Swaraj’s by her one-liner: “We don’t need four points, we need just one: Give up terrorism and let’s sit down and talk”.
While rhetorical exchanges with Pakistan have occurred at the UN in the past too, the tone is distinctly sharper this year, indicating that red-lines are being more firmly etched. The Indian counter-attack in raking up the brutal suppression of demonstrations in Gilgit and Baltistan is a belated attempt to put Pakistan on the back-foot and defang its tirade about the Hurriyat and the “forcible occupation” of the valley.
In conclusion, as winter approaches, India-Pakistan relations too appear headed to a deep freeze, with Nawaz Sharif reduced to carrying messages from an army chief whose pictures adorn huge bill-boards, with a three star general as his head of public relations. However, it is not in India’s interest for a civilian government in Pakistan to be so weakened. The absence of good diplomacy cannot be an excuse for jeers and taunts.
Hopefully, Prime Minister Modi will at some stage retrieve his Pakistan policy from the security and intelligence lobby. To ask Pakistan, as Sushma Swaraj did, to “give up terrorism” is to ignore the complexity of the issue as indeed to give a veto on India-Pakistan relations to the military-jihadi combine in that country. The answer is to devise a more imaginative Indian response – one where new redlines need not be brandished in public nor rhetoric allowed to degenerate, while defending national interests firmly.
K.C. Singh is a former Indian ambassador