- Posted June 29, 2014 by
Indo-Pak Bonhomie: Fear and Hope
That was the major takeaway from the day-long discussions that a group of Indian academics, politicians, retired ambassadors and journalists recently held with their Pakistani counterparts (who also included two erstwhile chiefs of the notorious ISI). Organised by the Regional Peace Institute, a think tank launched a year ago by Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri, a former foreign minister, with partial funding from the Hanns Seidel Foundation of Germany, the objective of the bilateral dialogue was to reduce the trust deficit between the two neighbours.
Easier said than done. The concerns on the Pakistani side related to the mushroom growth of terrorism and religious extremism in the country, the dire straits of its economy and the aftermath of the withdrawal of Nato forces from Afghanistan — factors, as they candidly acknowledged, pose a lethal threat to their state and society. All that the Indians wanted to know is: who calls the shots in Pakistan and to what end?
Ever since he won the last general elections with a handsome majority, Nawaz Sharif has tried time and again to assert the civilian government’s authority over the powerful military. But he has had to buckle in to the military’s pressure on several issues: closure of Geo, a private TV channel, for accusing the ISI of trying to kill its star anchor Hamid Mir; the trial of Pervez Musharraf on charges of treason; how to deal with the Pakistani Taliban etc.
On this last score, the prime minister favoured talks with them while the army wanted to bomb their hideouts in North Waziristan. But after the attacks on Karachi airport, the political class fell in line. Will the civilian and military establishments now also agree to crack down on terror groups that sow mayhem in India and Afghanistan? Our Pakistani interlocutors were coy on this subject just as they were coy on why the Mumbai terror attacks trial continues to drag on and how Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, amir of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, is able to move around freely to spew his venom against India.
The same interlocutors, however, repeatedly stressed that sound relations with India are crucial to tackle their domestic problems. They still harbour reservations about Modi given the communal violence that erupted in Gujarat under his watch. But they also gave the distinct impression that to deal with a ‘communal’ BJP-led government in Delhi might be tougher but also more productive than to deal with a ‘secular’ Congress-led government since the former’s rise to power vindicates, in their eyes, the two-nation theory!
The Pakistanis expect Modi to simultaneously address all contentious issues — from trade, development and a liberalised visa regime to Siachen, Sir Creek, Wullar barrage and, not least, J&K — without preconditions such as a clamp down on terror groups and an end to firing across the LoC. But that is precisely what India demands on the strength of the assurances given by the Pakistanis, officially and through back-channel parleys, to successive governments in New Delhi over the past 15 years.
So, despite the personal rapport that Sharif and Modi were able to strike during their very first meeting after the latter’s oath-taking ceremony, and the warm letters they subsequently exchanged, a great deal of ground needs to be covered. If Pakistan’s movers and shakers genuinely seek to crush terrorists of every stripe — a long haul by any reckoning — New Delhi should be more than willing to walk the extra mile. Meanwhile, both governments must ensure that jingoists in their countries, especially in the media, don’t derail their sustained engagement.