One of the most heartening developments of 2015 was the resumption of the India-Pakistan composite dialogue process. On Wednesday Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday hailed the same. Moreover, Sharif went on to welcome Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s gesture of visiting Lahore on his way back from Afghanistan last week. “Indian Prime Minister came to Lahore and gave us his a few hours. It is high time the countries put aside their hostilities,” Sharif said at an event on Wednesday. “Goodwill gestures are the solution to many an ill,” he told reporters at Zhob airport in Balochistan. Last week Modi had sprung a surprise when he visited Lahore on the occasion of Sharif’s 66th birthday and his granddaughter’s wedding on December 25. “It has been agreed that we will re-start the dialogue between Pakistan and India,” Sharif said, adding that “progress is being made in bilateral negotiations with India”. The Pakistan premier’s comments came a day after his Advisor on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said that foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan will meet in Islamabad on January 14-15 to prepare a schedule of meeting for the comprehensive dialogue covering Jammu and Kashmir and other issues. Sharif also expressed optimism that India-Pakistan ties would improve in the days ahead and the “spirit of goodwill generated with Modi’s visit will continue to prevail”. Earlier, the two Prime Ministers had met in Paris on November 30, on the sidelines of the Climate Change Summit. Their handshake and brief chat had paved the way for warmer ties. The December 25 visit came rapidly after the two nations resumed dialogue with a secret meeting between the national security advisors in Bangkok earlier this month. Thereafter, Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj visited Islamabad for a multi-lateral meeting on Afghanistan, when she also met her Pakistani counterpart and Sharif.
In certain intellectual circles, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Lahore was compared to the “Nixon to China” moment. However, in a recent opinion piece, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States, Hussain Haqqani, argued that dramatic gestures are not nearly enough to improve relations between adversarial nations. Former US President Richard Nixon’s visit to China was “preceded by and followed up with several round of meticulous negotiations”. The early ‘70s saw the normalization of US-China relations and inadvertently laid down the path for China’s peaceful rise as a global superpower. Until then, the two countries had been staunch adversaries. However, Haqqani raises a more pertinent example to articulate the challenges ahead for both Modi and Sharif in their bid for normalizations of relations. Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem in 1977 witnessed the first Arab leader establishing diplomatic relations with Israel. Although Egypt and Israel are still at peace, the rapprochement witnessed between Sadat and his Israeli counterpart Yitzhak Rabin has not translated into a broader normalization of relations between Arab nations and the Jewish state. Both leaders were assassinated by extremists on either side. As Haqqani argues, “the pockets of hatred” on both sides were “just too strong to fashion and effective compromise”. Both Modi and Sharif will have to tackle similar pockets of hatred on their side of the border.
Although recent reports suggest that the Pakistan military is onboard for the normalization of relations, questions will emerge whether Sharif can shut down India-specific terror groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad. Across the border, it is an open secret that powerful elements within the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment continue to fund these terrorists to “bleed India with a thousand cuts”. Moreover, without a resolution on the Kashmir issue, can there be a normalization of ties? Both Modi and Sharif seem to increasingly indicate that it is possible. But how will they sell that proposition to powerful hawks on both sides of the border? Since 1963, New Delhi’s final offer on Kashmir has been “an adjustment along the LoC in which both sides largely jeep what they hold”. Suffice to say, Pakistan has never accepted such a solution. A hawkish Indian position would often entail blaming Pakistan for sponsoring terror across the border into Kashmir as a reason to suspend talks-something which the Modi government had earlier espoused. Although such a position is entirely reasonable, it is hard to see what tangible aims can be achieved through maintaining it. However, a crude manifestation would entail the concept of “Akhand Bharat”, which BJP general secretary Ram Madhav recently invoked in an interview with Al Jazeera. Votaries of Hindutva often invoke the concept of “Akhand Bharat”, according to which Pakistan and Bangladesh are re-united with India. Madhav’s subsequent clarification that his “Akhand Bharat” remarks were in relation to a “cultural” unification seems disingenuous at best. Watching the interview, it is evidently clear that Madahv makes a reference to a political unification. Suffice to say, it was mere coincidence that Madhav’s interview with Al Jazeera aired on the same day as Modi’s visit to Lahore. Fortunately, the BJP’s decision to disown Madhav’s remarks was a clear indication that the Modi government does not wish to support such a position now.
Suffice to say, many landmark Indo-Pak peace moments have come through the Composite Dialogue and the much reviled Track Two process at different levels of government. Initiatives such as the mutual exchange of prisoners, the Delhi-Lahore bus service, a new visa regime and various initiatives to better Indo-Pak trade have come through the composite dialogue and track two processes. Probably the strongest example of their success was the 2003 ceasefire on the Line of Control, which had then saved countless lives, both civilian and military. The ceasefire across the border was further strengthened during the Manmohan Singh era until the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008. Suffice to say, greater trade across the two borders is another way to enhance relations on either side. Nawaz Sharif hails from the Pakistani province of Punjab, which is home to strong business elite. They want trade with India and as a member of that elite, Sharif does too. Moreover, in recent years, we have witnessed greater trade through the Line of control, albeit under very restrictive conditions. From $0.3 million (cumulative) in 2008-09 to $97.2 million in 2011-12 to $303 million in 2013-14, trade across the LoC has rapidly grown. With a growing trading community across both sides, the number of people with a stake in peace and development in the region has also increased. In Jammu and Kashmir, where unemployment is a major social concern, trade across the LoC could serve as a source of employment for the local youth.
To conclude, the year 2015 saw the Modi government embark on a coherent Pakistan policy after months of flip-flops. One hopes that the following year will see such a coherent policy grow stronger, with solid incremental gains.