The Pakistan-India Stalemate

For once something isn’t entirely our fault. Nawaz Sharif’s meeting with Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session was a case of one step forward after a Great Leap Backwards but the regression seemed to have more to do with Indian internal politics than the usual Pakistani malfeasance.
Singh is a technocratic intellectual whose party has to face the populist firebrand Narendra Modi in the next election and so turning what should have been a routine Line of Control (LoC) mishap into an unforgivable international incident is a smart move domestically. Unfortunately it ends up risking the hesitant progression in relations between the two countries just to bolster Singh’s electoral prospects at home.
Let’s be clear about one thing: far too often in the past Pakistan has sent militants across the LoC to wreak havoc in Indian-administered Kashmir. We have trained and funded militants and then defended the end result at international forums as the justifiable uprising of locals. But now we have a bigger problem at home with militants who replicate the same strategy but target us. So, while it is possible we may be responsible for recent attacks across the LoC it is by no means certain.
And since India refuses to accept international adjudication over the matter because it opposes any outside involvement on the Kashmir issue, we have reached a stage where all India can do is scream itself hoarse at us without proving their allegations and only hurting the prospects of peace.
Nawaz Sharif, ever since he weaned himself off army patronage during his first stint in power, has realised the benefits of peace with India. Those who still consider him an army stooge have forgotten that he bickered with every army chief who served during his rule; Kakar, Beg, Karamat and Musharraf all fell out with him. And Nawaz did make a genuine effort to improve relations with India when Vajpayee was in power, culminating with the Lahore Declaration of 1999, only for it to be ruined by Musharraf’s Kargil fiasco. He has continued in the same vein since coming back to power but his counterpart in India has not been as forthcoming.
Manmohan Singh may or may not have been wrong when he called Pakistan the epicentre of terrorism but that he said it the day before his meeting with Nawaz betrayed a lack of interest in the niceties of diplomacy. If Singh had truly been interested in building bridges he would have brought up the issue in private rather than trying to score rhetorical points in public. The Indian media has been of little help, preferring to garner ratings by whipping up nationalist sentiment and egging on the beleaguered Congress government.
At least the main issue that has retarded the progress of peace was an important one – neither country wants the other to create incidents along the de facto border. What was truly galling was when it seemed like the breakfast meeting between the prime ministers would be scuttled by an analogy. One account of an off-the-record briefing Nawaz Sharif gave to a group of Pakistani and Indian journalists had the prime minister complaining about Singh’s UNGA speech and subsequent meeting with Obama where there seemed to be a one-point agenda of complaining about Pakistan.
According to that account, Sharif compared the Indian PM to a village girl, apparently an offence so deep that it could have undermined, or even led to the cancellation, of the meeting. Never mind that other journalists present at the briefing denied that any such thing had been said or even that there is a difference between a metaphorical analogy and a direct like-to-like comparison, this could have been enough to destroy even the extremely modest gains the two leaders made just by talking to each other. And then there’s the question none of our urban commentators thought to raise: what exactly is so bad about being compared to a woman with a rural background?
Have no doubt about it, whatever advancements towards peace made in the meeting were slight and easily reversible. For every seeming breakthrough there was a caveat. Yes, both leaders invited the other to visit their country but said that now was no time to set even an approximate date. Yes, they agreed that economic cooperation was necessary but not so long as there were outstanding disagreements over issues like terrorism remained. Yes, Nawaz Sharif promised that those behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks would be brought to justice but Manmohan Singh wanted to know why the Jamaat-ud-Dawaa was still operating with the patronage of the Punjab government. This is what successful talks look like only if the definition of success has been revised downward to mean stalemate.
Any perceived gains made after this meeting will be mostly illusory, about as useful as jogging in place – we may feel good ourselves but it won’t lead us anywhere. Manmohan Sigh is now a lame duck, even thought about by his party in the past tense. His successor will likely not feel the need to abide by decisions the prime minister takes in his final year. And if he is followed by Modi, a man who is to Pakistan-bashing what Roger Federer is to tennis then only God can save this relationship.
The best option Nawaz Sharif will have then is to join the tableeghis in Raiwind and pray for a miracle. Diplomacy, as frustrating as it seems now, will be pointless then.