Changing Asia

Pakistan and the Regime Change in Neighbouring Countries. After almost a decade, new leaders in the countries on eastern and western borders of Pakistan emerged. In India, after 10-year-long rule of the Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has come at the helm with Narendra Modi becoming country’s fifteenth Prime Minister. Similarly, in Afghanistan, end to a decade-long rule of President Hamid Karzai is on the cards. After two rounds of presidential elections in Afghanistan, either Ashraf Ghani or Abdullah Abdullah would be the country’s next president’ the election was so marred by the rigging allegations that the US had to interfere to foster a deal between both the candidates.

While policymakers in Pakistan are still searching for options to deal with the ‘East-West’ challenges, it is important to analyze the emergence of challenges as well as opportunities along with the very outlook for Pakistan at the beginning of a new era in our neighbourhood. We will also sort out how Pakistan can protect its interests in this changing scenario while simultaneously maintaining the spirit of cooperation.
Prospects of Indo-Pak Relations
Negating all the concerns and apprehensions found among Pakistanis during the election campaign, Indian premier Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif were successful in creating an atmosphere of mutual goodwill. Pakistani Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif telephoned Mr Modi, the very day the BJP won the elections, to congratulate him on his party’s phenomenal success. Modi shrewdly reciprocated the gesture and extended an invitation to him to attend his oath-taking ceremony along with other Saarc leaders.

Then, we witnessed a round of ‘Letter Diplomacy’ whereby both the leaders exchanged letters and expressed their desire to take the bilateral relations forward. However, they face the daunting challenges in their way to moving forward. Now let’s have a look at the challenges we face and the strengths that can help us move forward:

1. Kashmir & Other Disputes

The longstanding Kashmir dispute is the core hurdle in the normalization of relations between the two countries. The BJP’s election slogan regarding Kashmir has added fuel to the fire of concerns in Pakistan as the BJP kept on emphasizing the scrap of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir enshrined in Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. Then there are other issues including Siachen, Sir Creek, water and so on and they need to be immediately resolved, if both countries want to cultivate an environment of friendship.
2. Trust Deficit
The second stumbling block is the existing mistrust between the two countries. It partly emanates from the first challenge i.e. Kashmir issue, in particular. Former premiers of both countries, Yousaf Raza Gillani and Dr Manmohan Singh, during their meeting on the sidelines of Saarc Summit in Bhutan, assigned their foreign ministers to take steps to eliminate the trust deficit. However, all such efforts were thwarted by the circumstances and bigoted attitudes. With lack of exchanges of sportspersons, academicians, students, parliamentarians, civil society activists, and the general public the trust deficit won’t end anytime soon.Secondly, the Track-II or Track-III diplomacy in the context of Pakistan and India has always been dependent upon Track-I or formal diplomacy. It means if the governments are comfortable with each other and are in a mood to negotiate, only then the visas for all other forms of non-formal diplomacy will be made available.

Terrorism

Terrorism is another formidable challenge for both India and Pakistan. Unfortunately, instead of extending cooperation to each other to eradicate this menace, the two countries have been pointing fingers at each other. India accuses Pakistan of being behind all acts of terrorism in India ‘Modi also reiterated this stance in his first meeting with Nawaz Sharif.

On the other hand, Pakistanis blame India of patronizing terrorism in Pakistan, particularly Indian funding for insurgents in Balochistan and FATA has been a sourcwe of great concern in Pakistan. India has not been able to conclude the investigation of Samjhota Express tragedy so far.

Modi’s New Security Team

Narendra Modi’s new security and foreign policy team is also being seen as a challenge. Dr Manmohan Singh had Shiv Shankar Menon as his National Security Advisor. Mr Menon had served as India’s High Commissioner to China and Pakistan. So, he was privy to the concerns of India’s two most important neighbours. However, Modi chose a former head of Indian Intelligence Bureau, Mr Ajit Doval, as his new National Security Advisor, which also indicates some wrangling in future.

India’s obsession pointing fingers at Pakistan in any act of terrorism, and completely ignoring domestic extremists groups, could hamper the serious efforts aimed at normalization of relations. The Minister for External Affairs Ms Sushma Sauraj, a Hindu hard-liner, is known as a dove neither in domestic political arena nor on external affairs. Moreover, allocating a cabinet slot to former Army Chief General (Retd) V K Singh is also not a positive sign because throughout his career, Mr Singh had been engaged in war games against China and Pakistan.

Trade: The Ultimate Strength

Soon after taking over as Pakistan’s Prime Minister, in 2013, Mian Nawaz Sharif announced that his top priority will be economic diplomacy and development. In India, Narendra Modi contested the election on the slogan of development and good governance. Nawaz Sharif himself comes from Pakistan’s powerful corporate sector whereas Modi was also fully backed by that of India. If trade and business gets a driving seat in policies of both the countries, huge gains in bilateral relations will definitely be reaped.

Pakistan and Afghanistan

Two rounds of Afghan Presidential elections in a relatively peaceful environment have, undoubtedly, been a great success and a milestone in the war-torn Afghanistan. Pakistan, clearly, doesn’t have any favourites in Afghanistan and whosoever is elected between Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, it would be ready to work with him as the winner would be an embodiment of the wishes of Afghan people.

Conclusion

In an atmosphere of mistrust, antagonism and enmity, a good beginning has been made by the Prime Ministers of Pakistan and India. Mr Modi wrote to Nawaz Sharif that he wanted ‘to chart a new course’ in the bilateral relations in an atmosphere ‘free from confrontation and violence’. Similarly, the Afghan presidential contenders have also aired their desire for working with Pakistan. The real challenge for Pakistan still is the internal security threat. While it will be nave to remain oblivious to the external threats on our borders, it has also become imperative that we put our own house in order.

The security forces of Pakistan are engaged in an all-out operation in North Waziristan Agency for eradicating the menace of terrorism in Pakistan once for all. But, the events like the one that happened in Model Town Lahore outside the residence of Dr Tahirul Qadri and the ugly scenes witnessed in Islamabad and Lahore at the time of his arrival in Pakistan do not augur well. Instead of showing internal cracks, the entire nation has to show unity to stand behind the troops fighting against the real enemies of Pakistan.

By:Shaukat Piracha

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