Pakistan and India are likely to have a chance to make some progress toward improving bitter bilateral relations late next month when the foreign ministers of two archrivals will meet in Islamabad.
Reports say Indian Foreign Minister Sujatha Singh will travel to Islamabad for a meeting with her counterpart Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry next month, in an attempt at reviving the dialogue process that has suffered ceasefire violations along the Line of Control (LoC) in the disputed Kashmir state and allegations of patronizing terrorism and subversive activities in each other’s territories.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif must be happy that his bold venture to attend last month the swearing-in ceremony of Indian Premier Narendra Modi bore fruit. He put his government back home at great risk of being overthrown when he went to Delhi, defying the majority wishes on the invitation of Modi, who is facing criticism for remaining silent about incidents deemed anti-Muslim.
Critics noted with concern that Nawaz Sharif refrained from mentioning the Kashmir issue during his one-on-one meeting with Modi, nor did he meet the leadership of the Kashmiri freedom fighters’ political umbrella commonly known as All Parties Hurriyet Conference [APHC] contrary to the norms of visiting Pakistani dignitaries. That meeting was also devoid of the customary post-meeting communique.
A passionate supporter of friendly ties with the nuclear arch rival, Nawaz Sharif lost his government in 1999 while pursuing this dream against the wishes of military leadership. Former military dictator Gen. Musharraf crushed his dream but he began pursuing it soon after coming to power again. He seems to have had loads of luck.
The two nuclear armed neighbors have no other choice than to be good friends for the sake of peaceful coexistence.Mansoor Jaafar
India granted Pakistan the “Most Favored Nation (MFN)” status in 1999. Pakistan pledged to grant India MFN status by the end of 2012, meaning Indian exports would be treated without restrictions but it has not done so far mainly because Islamabad already suffers from a huge trade imbalance against India which is likely to multiply after Delhi gets MFN.
MFN status will mean India can export 6,800 items to Pakistan, up from the current 2,000, and both countries aim to lift bilateral trade to $6 billion within three years from the existing $2.5 billion with Indian exports accounting for $1.75 billion, according to the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
A few weeks back, a high-level Indian delegation participated in the meeting of the think-tank established by former Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri to discuss the pitfalls in bilateral ties and to look for opportunities to promote them. Former Indian diplomat and Congress leader Mani Shankar was also part of Indian delegation.
Another member of Indian delegation, Ved Pratap Vaidik, claimed that Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi had successfully resolved their differences during their one-on-one meeting but Modi’s spokesperson made a wrong impression in her media brief. I don’t agree with Vaidik’s claim: if it were true, the spokesperson would have lost her job.
In the backdrop of the meeting of Pak-India secretaries, both countries continue to display the simmering hatred against each other. A couple of days back, both Delhi and Islamabad summoned the deputy high commissioners of each other to their respective foreign ministries in a tit-for-tat move, registering strong protests.
The Pakistani foreign ministry told the Indian deputy high commissioner to convey to Delhi Islamabad’s strong resentment against what it called the “unnecessary delay” in conducting investigations into the involvement of Hindu extremists in the Pakistan-bound Samjhota [agreement] Express train fire that left more than 50 Pakistani travelers dead and scores of others wounded. The Indian foreign ministry responded by telling the Pakistani deputy high commissioner to convey Delhi’s annoyance over Islamabad’s delay in the probe into the accused masterminds of the Mumbai attacks.
Delhi accuses senior Pakistani cleric Hafiz Muhammad Saeed of being involved in the attacks but Pakistani courts exonerated him for lack of evidence.
Prior to the tit-for-tat accusations, it appeared that the environment had been conducive for the promotion of Pak-India friendship since the Pakistani army was engaged in an all-out war against the terrorists in the western tribal region and should be more than eager to establish peace on the eastern border. The previous army chief was quoted to have resisted the all-out military operation in the tribal region because that would have left the Pakistani army facing enemies on two borders. But the current operation does not mean the Pakistani army has given up on the traditional India-centric security model.
The core dispute between the two nuclear archrivals is the Kashmir issue which led in the past to four wars between them. Failing to solve the Kashmir problem means there can be no guaranteed peace or friendship between two countries. Besides that, the water dispute between the two countries has been taking alarming proportions as Pakistan has been accusing India of violating the Indus Water Treaty and illegally constructing dams on the rivers flowing from India to Pakistan, causing serious drought-like conditions. Islamabad has also been invoking international solicitation but failed so far, reportedly because of misrepresentation before the international court.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi won the elections on the basis of anti-Pakistan slogans. But he is yet to evolve a clear policy toward Pakistan. On the other hand, Pakistani Premier Nawaz Sharif must bring himself and the military leadership on the same page regarding friendship with India if he wants genuine progress on the matter. If he fails on that count, he could invite new threats to his government.
Many cabinet members of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif openly say that unrestricted trade relations between the two countries are beneficial for both sides. One wonders why they have been making a half-hearted tentative approach in this regard and never aimed for outright removal of barriers.
The two nuclear armed neighbors have no other choice than to be good friends for the sake of peaceful coexistence. But the military and civilian leaderships on both sides must bring significant changes in their thinking and approach to achieve that end.