Nawaz Sharif’s decision to go to India to be a part of Narendra Modi’s coronation was not the right decision. The question to reckon with should have been whether someone with Modi’s dreary past and junky baggage would respond with the same sincerity. Modi’s invitation to the Saarc leaders to attend his oath-taking ceremony was nothing but a patronizing gesture from someone who had been speaking of other countries in the region and their leaders with contempt. As Chief Minister of Gujarat, Modi had noticeably been spiteful of Pakistan. He had not even laid out the basic contours of his Pakistan policy.
We should have at least waited for him to step into office and lay out his plans on how he wanted to deal with the long-outstanding problems with Pakistan before embarking on an illusory peace journey. Relations are not built on the sidelines of oath-taking ceremonies or through exchange of gifts. For protocol purposes, Nawaz Sharif could have deputed a cabinet minister to represent him at the ceremony. It was no honour for a Pakistani prime minister to be attending the Modi ‘coronation’ with the region’s other leaders, all standing in a long line to be able to shake hands with the new Indian prime minister.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif would certainly have been better off by not making a gesture that everyone knew would remain unanswered. As expected, it was no more than a ‘missed’ call. For Modi, there could not have been a better occasion to reduce Pakistan to the level of other scrawny South Asian countries which because of their small size and limited clout cannot but acquiesce to oversized India’s supremacy. Pakistan’s very creation was a manifestation of its rejection of Indian hegemony. It has never accepted Indian designs of regional supremacy. We became a nuclear power only because we were not ready to accept a subservient role to India’s supremacy in the region.
In his first speech after his inaugural ceremony with South Asian leaders in full attendance, Modi had reason to express satisfaction over what he claimed a ‘mission’ accomplished. Later, addressing a party meeting of the BJP, he was candid enough to gloat that by getting the presence of the regional leaders at his oath-taking ceremony, ‘we sent out a message to the world about India’s strength…that we are a big country, we are a big power.’ It is clear Sharif was invited not to be honoured but to be reduced to the level of the other South Asian leaders. No wonder, Modi showed no special gesture to Sharif. He did not even join him in a media stake-out after his meeting with him.
Nawaz Sharif’s Delhi yatra also sent a wrong message to the people of Kashmir who have always looked toward Pakistan for support in their just cause. In a clear departure from our known Kashmir position, he did not utter the K-word even once while in India and also did not invite the Hurriyat leaders for a meeting which has been a tradition with every Pakistani dignitary visiting India. Not only this, Nawaz Sharif on his return from Delhi has addressed an excessively effusive letter of thanks to Modi in which he chose to refer to Kashmir only as part of what he described ‘unsettled matters.’ Kashmir is an internationally-recognized and cannot be wished away just because India desires so.
With the sole exception of General Musharraf, no leader in Pakistan ‘elected or unelected’ ever deviated from Pakistan’s principled Kashmir position based on the UN Security Council resolutions. Now the position taken by Nawaz Sharif goes even beyond Musharraf’s deviation and has had a demoralizing effect on the people of Kashmir. To them, there couldn’t be greater betrayal of their cause. They know that Musharraf had compulsions to gain legitimacy for his October 12, 1999 military coup. But Nawaz Sharif has no such compulsion to be seeking peace with India on its terms. On the other hand, the Indians are overjoyed at Nawaz Sharif’s growing complaisance towards India.
Nawaz Sharif’s peace rhymes are music to them. Speaking of peace, there can be no two opinions on the need for peace between India and Pakistan ‘the only nuclear-capable countries in the world with a legacy of outstanding disputes and a history of conflictual situations. Their problems are real and will not disappear or work out on their own as some people in Pakistan have lately started believing. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should have understood this reality as he did during his last term in the late 1990s. He then was conducting himself with some dignity and did receive the dividends that only honourable initiatives bring.
I remember his very first directive to me after nominating me as his foreign secretary in February 1997 was to improve relations with India. His three-point policy direction was succinctly clear: resume dialogue; improve relations; no compromise on Kashmir. He wanted peace with honour. I delivered what he wanted. For the first time in their 50-year history, India and Pakistan agreed in black and white on pursuing a structured, agenda-based dialogue process to address their outstanding issues. The peace process was then derailed by the Kargil crisis in 1999.
Even after Kargil, the region remained under dark war clouds. While the post-9/11 world was focused on the US military campaign in Afghanistan, India thought it could also take advantage of the global anti-terror sentiment. It quickly moved all its armed forces to Pakistan’s borders as well as along the Line of Control in Kashmir after blaming Pakistan for ‘terrorist’ attacks in Srinagar and New Delhi without any investigations or evidence. South Asia was dragged into a confrontational mode that served no one’s interests, not even India’s. Intense diplomatic pressure by G-8 countries averted what could have been a catastrophic clash between the two nuclear neighbours.
It was again under pressure from the same influential powers that the stalled India-Pakistan dialogue was resumed in January 2004 on the basis of ‘6 January 2004 Islamabad Joint Statement’ which was not only an implicit acceptance by General Musharraf of India’s allegations of Pakistan’s involvement in cross-border activities but also a solemn undertaking not to allow any cross-border terrorist activity in future. No wonder, since then, India has spared no opportunity to implicate Pakistan in every act of terrorism on its soil, including the Mumbai attacks in November 2008 and has kept the dialogue process hostage to its policy of keeping Pakistan under constant pressure.
And that’s where we are stuck today. Meanwhile, taking full advantage of our domestic weaknesses, India has come to realise that there could be no better opportunity to redefine India-Pakistan issues by obfuscating them into the issues of terrorism and LoC violations. Nawaz Sharif will be mistaken if he now thinks he can restart from where he left at Lahore in 1999. The world has changed since then; so have India and Pakistan. It is not the same Pakistan that he ruled in 1999 when he hosted BJP’s Atal Bihari Vajpayee at the Lahore Summit. The only starting point for him now will be from where General Musharraf left his ‘out-of-the-box’ shady back-channel Kashmir deal in 2007.
There couldn’t be greater betrayal of the Kashmir cause by an ‘elected’ leader. What must be clear to him is that peace in South Asia will remain elusive as long as Kashmir remains under Indian occupation. There is only one fair, just, legal and moral solution to Kashmir, which was provided by the United Nations, and which both India and Pakistan mutually accepted in UN Security Council resolutions. There can be no compromise on this issue. Likewise, we cannot also ignore India’s illegality in Siachen, its ongoing water terrorism in Occupied Kashmir by building dams and reservoirs on Pakistani rivers in violation of the Indus Waters Treaty.
Nawaz Sharif’s passion for peace is understandable. But as long as India doesn’t come out of its nay bind, there is no point in begging for dialogue. A dignified pause is what he needs. Instead of pursuing an illusory peace with India, he should be focusing more on his domestic perils including the curse of terrorism. To negotiate an honourable peace with India, our own country must first be at peace with itself. Only then, can we sit at the negotiating table with some dignity and honour. Aman Ki Asha with motivated business and commercial interests will lead us nowhere.