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MANMOHAN-NAWAZ MEETING & INDO-PAK TIES

The much-hyped meeting between the prime ministers of India and Pakistan, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session (UNGA), has raised hopes for bettering the often-battered bilateral ties. But sceptics say that the meeting is merely another round of parleys at the highest level and is unlikely to produce any solid results. Nevertheless, such a summit, coming after a long gap, augurs well and would at least help arrest the trend of escalating tensions.

The meeting between the two premiers evoked interests, and hopes too, not only in both countries, but also beyond for the reason that Nawaz Sharif is now leading Pakistan after acquiring a fresh mandate in May 2013 Elections. He was ousted in 1999 by the then army chief General Pervez Musharraf, at a time when his government was making serious efforts on improving ties with India. At that time, Nawaz Sharif and the then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee made effective strides towards bettering the relations. Vajpayee later travelled by a bus from India to Pakistan. It was a symbolic gesture that he also intends to better and further the bilateral ties between perennially hostile neighbours. But his overtures and overambitious attitude for improved ties with India had angered and perplexed some quarters in his country, probably also within the army, which ultimately toppled his regime. Another cause of the coup is said to be the Kargil War between May and July, 1999 that resulted in numerous casualties on both sides. Supposedly Musharraf did not see eye to eye with Nawaz on the issue of bilateral relations with India. The army chief went on to stay in power for long nine years — a period that was particularly very difficult for Nawaz Sharif. Nawaz finally made it to power for his third stint as the prime minister. His return at the helm of power has once again created an opportunity for improving the relations between the two neighbours, even though the path is strewn with many obstacles.

It is not too long that Nawaz Sharif has taken over as the head of the government, and in this short period of time, he has shown some encouraging gestures like releasing Indian fishermen from Pakistani prisons. But all the positive omens were overshadowed by the unfortunate happenings at the Line of Control in the disputed Kashmir region. India points fingers at Islamabad for such incidents while Pakistan totally denounces these allegations. Nevertheless, both sides affirmed in the New York meeting that efforts must go on for establishing cordial Indo-Pak relationship.

The two countries have several key problems, including the Kashmir dispute, but it is the deficit of trust and confidence that often acts as a stumbling block to improving the bilateral ties. New Delhi is harping on Islamabad for its alleged failure to punish the India-nominated perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Though all attackers were killed in the encounter and the only captured attacker, Ajmal Kesab, was later hanged in India.

Mian Nawaz Sharif has pledged to work for expanding economic cooperation as there is an impression that both prime ministers sincerely want bettering the chequered relations. Dr Singh is originally from West Punjab, which is now in Pakistan, and Nawaz from East Punjab that is part of India after the 1947 Partition.
On the Indian side, Narendra Modi, who has recently been named by the main Indian opposition party BJP as its nominee for the post of prime minister, has severely criticised Manmohan Singh as a “weak” person who would not succeed in dealing with Pakistan. Modi told a public meeting in New Delhi that Pakistan needs “tough” treatment from India because of its “hostile” acts. Modi, known for his communal politics, is disliked by the secular and progressive forces in India, but is credited for transforming his Gujarat state, as its chief minister for the last decade, into an economic power house. He is also well-known for his anti-Pakistan attitude and it seems that any effort by the present Congress-led government for improving ties with Pakistan may be frustrated by the opposition. Pakistan, too, has its compulsion to improve relations with India. Thus, sincere efforts by both sides can make some difference.

There is no denying the fact that the main bone of contention between both India and Pakistan is the Kashmir issue. Encouragingly, the two prime ministers also agreed to work out a more effective mechanism to stop ceasefire violations on the borders between the two countries.

Indo-Pak relations are contingent on several factors and domestic issues are inextricably linked with the efforts towards good ties. It is precisely for this reason that sceptics are not much hopeful about any solid outcome of the recent Manmohan-Nawaz talks dismissing them entirely by saying that it is a routine exercise. Nonetheless, many hope that the meeting is likely to impact positively the Indo-Pak ties.

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