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Games neighbours play

 Mohit Sharma |  2013-08-11 19:20:32.0  |  New Delhi

Games neighbours play

India-Pakistan peace dialogue predicament was reinforced during the course of writing this article. Even as an ambience of possible peace talks was unfolding between the two countries, a repugnant ambush at the Line of Control (LoC) stirred the pygmy momentum which was beginning to build for things to move ahead after a protracted pause.How consequential this incident, wherein five Indian soldiers were allegedly killed by 20 heavily armed infiltrating terrorists (some of whom were wearing Pakistani army uniforms), would be is a matter of time. 

Expectedly, a fervent outcry erupted in Parliament and another step backward has already been taken as far as the diplomatic relations are concerned. The Indian government is now stuck in an inextricable maze with the respective prime ministers, tipped to be meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session next month, under pressure to call off the toplevel meet.This incident, unfortunately, comes at a time when Pakistan has been trying to chalk a new peace discourse. For the past three months, peace is being pursued affirmatively by Pakistan and quietly by India, at least, on the opinion pages. And, the ball putatively is in India’s court. From the record third time prime minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif enthusiastically expressing his will to approach India with a friendly arm to former Pakistan ambassador to USA, Sherry Rehman, exhibiting her provocative pragmatism at a recent talk in New Delhi, Pakistan has been, for a while since the general elections held in May this year, brewing an atmosphere of perseverance. The stagnation of checkered IndiaPakistan peace dialogue had begun to be questioned. Nevertheless, Indian reluctance to move forward until Pakistan brings the perpetrators of Mumbai 26/11 to books and stops nurturing terrorists on its soil (which was reinforced by this attack) is indisputable. However, the message sent from across the Line of Control had been, until now, to draw a parallel and make some tangible movement in the direction ‘forward’. Having said that, the outcome of this newfound peace rhetoric is bound to become even more unpredictable in the wake of the 5 August violence. It is also imperative to analyse the role which 2014 general election scheduled in India would play in pursuance of this initiative.

Pakistan’s renewed intention for peace

Surmising the intent in her country to take the dialogues forward, former Pakistan information and broadcasting minister Sherry Rehman alleged the absence of implementation from both sides. She said that Pakistan no longer sees India as its ‘principal enemy’ and that there has been a ‘fundamental course correction’ on resolving long pending issues. She also cautioned that years of ‘accumulated animosities’ being reflected by media may endanger futures of both the countries and stressed on the need for ‘political will’ to resolve long-pending issues, although the military establishments of both countries still eye each other with suspicion.The day when five Indian soldiers were killed, allegedly by Pakistan troops, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif wished the two countries set a limit to their defence budgets, arguing that due to the previous wars between them, damages had been incurred only by the people and the countries had gone backward. ‘We (Pakistan and India) have been piling up weapons for the past 60 years. 

Instead of spending so much on arms, we should focus on investing in social infrastructure for the benefit of our people,’ he had daringly said.Sharif had been at the centre of one of the boldest peace initiative with India when the BJP-led coalition under the prime ministership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee had reciprocated unequivocally. However, once bitten, hence twice shy, Sharif would have to be extra cautious this time in handling India vis-a-vis the powerful military establishment in his own country. Bypassing the rogue military last time had cost the prime minister way too dearly.Former Indian bureaucrat and a visiting professor at Jamia Millia University, Rana Banerji said,

‘Nawaz Sharif would not be having any personal interest as far as this attack is concerned. There are vested interest groups in Pakistan who don’t want the relations between two countries to move forward.’

It is never easy

Pakistan’s enthusiasm for reconciliation, at least from some corners, is welcome. However, unlike pacifists who would like to make most of any peace initiative, the state-centric realists would be keen on throwing counter arguments. In fact, Sherry Rehman’s statement is qualified enough to invite cynicism considering her diplomatic back ground and holding India responsible for non-action. 

‘The execution of Afzal Guru was not big news in Pakistan. It just came on television for a day and there was no obsession. It is India which was obsessed with it,’ she had said.Officially, till now, Indian diplomatic channels have not received any correspondence from the new government in Pakistan, thereby exposing the hollowness of the hoopla created about hopes of better IndiaPakistan relations after 11 May general elections in the country. It is, perhaps, swiftly turning out to be a farce. Even with Nawaz Sharif’s unprecedented gestures for strengthening ties with arch rival India soon after his win and his counterpart Manmohan Singh’s reciprocation with bonhomie, all momentary announcements seem to be fizzling out. The rudimentary exchange of greetings and invites on Twitter are exactly what it ended at.

2014 General Elections in India

However, Nawaz Sharif is mindful of the political activities unfolding in India. He might adhere to waitand-watch strategy until 2014 general elections as commitments made now to the present United Progressive Alliance (UPA-II) government and vice-versa may alter with regime change in New Delhi. A new survey conducted by Edelweiss Financial Services Ltd has projected a hung Parliament in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections despite the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerging as the single largest party with 145-155 seats. This is because the Congress party is expected to lose ground. Surely, Pakistan would be monitoring political developments in India closely. Moreover, Pakistan doesn’t have any close associations with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh owing to no visits by the latter to the neighbouring country in the past nine years.

India’s response?

A recent India poll conducted jointly by the Australia India Institute and the Lowy Institute for International Policy revealed that while an overwhelming majority of Indians identify Pakistan as a threat, nearly 90 per cent agree that ordinary people in both countries want peace, and a similar number believe that a real improvement in relations requires courageous leadership in both countries. More importantly, nearly 80 per cent felt India should take the initiative in seeking peace with Pakistan. Pakistan’s most circulated national daily The Dawn ran a report on 6 August with headline ‘India’s new foreign secretary hints at restarting talks with Pakistan’. Sujatha Singh was quoted as saying in NewDelhi on the first day of her job, ‘There is a new government in Pakistan now. We will be picking up the threads from where we left off with the old government.’  Though Rana Banerji said that incidents of infiltration in Kashmir should be judged on their merit by India, he maintained that expecting any immediate positive movement on IndiaPakistan relations might amount to trading in delusions. ‘This is usual time of infiltration in Kashmir and Pakistan would like to keep the area boiling. The Indian government will have to be careful,’ he added. 

The future of two rounds of official level talks this month followed by talks between the two principals on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly next month now hangs on tenterhooks. The probability of smooth rapprochement in relations is now obscure.Peace between the two countries is imminent. But is the ball really in India’s court? The BJPled opposition’s scathing reaction to this development may have dented UPA’s accumulation of intent to dialogue with Pakistan. It is now to be seen whether UPA maintains calm amidst this inevitable chaos.

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