On the side - Talking Points

What has been the most significant juncture in Pak-India ties?

Updated Aug 15, 2016 03:04am

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Illustration by Ayesha Haroon
Illustration by Ayesha Haroon

On December 25, 2015, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a surprise visit to Lahore. Every time top leaders from the two sides meet, it is generally hailed as a historic moment. Similarly, every time there is a lull in their dialogue, it is also regarded as a step of historical significance, though not in a positive sense.

Earlier, on December 1, Modi had an informal brief conversation with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif at the climate change conference in Paris. A few days later, on December 6, the security advisers of the two countries met in Bangkok to discuss outstanding issues including terrorism and Kashmir. This was followed by Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Islamabad on December 8 to attend the Heart of Asia conference; after her meeting with Sharif and his adviser on foreign affairs, Sartaj Aziz, the two countries announced resumption of their long-stalled dialogue process.

Every time such developments take place, observers and analysts bestow them with adjectives such as critical, significant and historic. Only in retrospect can we gauge if they really were all that. Here, the Herald curates opinions on what has been the most significant juncture in Pakistan-India relations since 2000.


The violent shift

Bharat Bhushan

The Mumbai terror attacks | Reuters
The Mumbai terror attacks | Reuters

The Mumbai terror attack of November 26, 2008 changed the nature of India-Pakistan relations fundamentally. The unprecedented brazenness of the attack, televised live, changed the psyche of the Indian public towards Pakistan. The attackers were Pakistani and even as they killed innocent people, it transpired that they were being guided by their handlers back home in real time including by monitoring Indian television.

What unfolded in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, in the last eight years, has only made matters worse. That Pakistan would deny that any of its ‘agencies’ had helped the terrorists was understandable. But Indians were appalled that it even refused to admit that the attackers were Pakistanis, including initially refuting its own media reports that the only arrested terrorist, Ajmal Kasab, was its citizen.

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The dossiers of the investigation handed over by India were dismissed by Pakistan as “not evidence” and derisively even as “fiction”. The Pakistani state not only failed to marshal evidence against the main conspirator Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, he was kept in relative comfort in jail with access to television and a mobile phone. Lakhvi even fathered a child while in jail and was finally released for lack of evidence.

When the sole surviving terrorist Ajmal Kasab was hanged, Lashkar-e-Taiba, alleged to have masterminded 26/11, issued a statement saying that Kasab will be remembered as a “hero” and “will inspire other attacks”.

The 26/11 attack firmly put terrorism directed against India as the primary issue of discussion between the two countries — relegating everything else to the background.

It shrank the constituency for peace, muted the voices for normalising ties and converted Pakistan into India’s primary security threat in the public mind. The recovery from that setback can take place only when the 26/11 conspirators are prosecuted by Pakistan’s courts and punished.

Bharat Bhushan is the editor of catchnews.com and the founding editor of Mail Today.


Solutions and resolutions

Naseem Zehra

One of the many Musharraf-Vajpayee meetings | ATP
One of the many Musharraf-Vajpayee meetings | ATP

Military ruler General (retd) Pervez Musharraf’s four-point approach on the resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir issue has been the most important peace initiative since 2000. This approach politically legitimised the exploring of different options for initiating a process for the resolution of the Kashmir issue. This approach was a continuation of what the ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had initiated during the 1999 Lahore summit.

Presented in October 2004, Musharraf’s four-point approach can provide an effective road map to peace in Kashmir in accordance with the following steps: 1) self governance; 2) demilitarisation; 3) the removal of irrelevant borders implying free movement of people and trade between India, Pakistan and the two Kashmirs; 4) joint management of Kashmir, which will mean that India, Pakistan and the two Kashmirs will form a group to manage common interests and common issues like trade, tourism, river water, etc.

Also read: When Pakistan and India went to war over Kashmir in 1999

The January 2004 Musharraf-Vajpayee meeting on the sidelines of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) set the stage for essentially restarting the post-Lahore summit type peace process. The composite dialogue and backchannel diplomacy were begun simultaneously. The focus on breaking the stalemate on Jammu and Kashmir, and on the need to think beyond the stated positions of the two countries, did lead to the opening up of trucks for trade and buses for peoples’ routes along the Line of Control (LoC).  While the Pakistan-India dialogue does remain vulnerable to the security and political situation of the two countries, the concrete developments along the LoC beginning with the ceasefire to opening the trade and travelling points, does offer the structure for the two governments, with the agreement of Kashmiris as the principle party, to proceed ahead towards the resolution of the Kashmir dispute.

Naseem Zehra is a national security strategist, analyst and anchorperson on Channel 24; she also teaches at National University of Sciences and Technology.


The icebreaker

Mani Shankar Aiyar

Indian foreign secretary KPS Menon and his Pakistani counterpart Dr Humayun Khan signing an agreement in the presence of the then prime ministers Rajiv Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto, in December 1988. | File Photo
Indian foreign secretary KPS Menon and his Pakistani counterpart Dr Humayun Khan signing an agreement in the presence of the then prime ministers Rajiv Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto, in December 1988. | File Photo

I regret there has been no “defining moment” in Pakistan-India relations since the turn of the century. There has, however, been an important – though unfinished – development in the draft framework agreement for a settlement of the Kashmir dispute that was worked out on the backchannel between 2004 and 2007 under the overall aegis of President Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The process has been described in detail in then Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri’s recent publication, Neither a Hawk Nor a Dove. From the Indian side, the only published statement about the framework has come in a speech delivered by Ambassador Satinder Lambah, the Indian interlocutor on the backchannel, in Srinagar on May 13, 2014. However, since both sets of documents revealed that the process of finalising the framework was aborted when the lawyers’ agitation disrupted the domestic scene in Pakistan, one cannot describe that development as a “defining moment”.

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If I may stretch the question back by a little over a decade, I would regard the “most defining moment” as Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to Islamabad for the Saarc Summit in December 1988, the first visit by an Indian prime minister to Pakistan in 28 years, after Jawaharlal Nehru went there in 1960. Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto invited Rajiv Gandhi to extend his stay by an afternoon in order to convert what was initially a visit for a multilateral summit into a bilateral summit. That broke the ice.

It was followed in July 1989 by a substantive bilateral visit which almost led to a breakthrough on Siachen but was more significant, in a long-term sense, as a declaration of intent by both countries to engage with each other rather than stay apart. It marked the emergence of a new generation of leaders who did not carry any personal marks of the trauma of Partition and inaugurated an era of normalisation in talks at the highest level between the two countries. In that sense, it was truly a “defining moment”.

Mani Shankar Aiyar was the first Consul General of India in Karachi, 1978-1982; he has since frequently visited Pakistan and closely followed developments in India-Pakistan relations.


Sworn frenemies

Syeda Abida Hussain

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is greeted by his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif after Modi took the oath of office at the presidential palace in New Delhi. Also seen are India's President Pranab Mukherjee, Vice President Hamid Ansari, Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa Right and Mauritius Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam. | Reauters
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is greeted by his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif after Modi took the oath of office at the presidential palace in New Delhi. Also seen are India's President Pranab Mukherjee, Vice President Hamid Ansari, Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa Right and Mauritius Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam. | Reauters

The defining moment for India-Pakistan relations into the 21st century came when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif decided to proceed to Delhi to attend the oath taking ceremony of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister of India in 2014.

Being cognisant of the sad reality of Modi’s hands being covered in the blood of hundreds of Muslims during the Bombay carnage of 1992, it was a courageous step for Sharif to take. Presumably he took the step in good faith, banking on Modi’s sense of humanity in holding out the hand of friendship and ensuring equity for the Muslims of India.

Had Sharif declined to attend the oath taking ceremony, since the Prime Minister of Bangladesh was not attending, it would have deprived Modi of lustre and credibility. This makes one wonder whether the oath taking without the presence of the second and third largest countries of the Saarc region may have made a difference.

Sharif may, perhaps, have been taken aback when, upon his return to Pakistan, he realised that a large number of his countrymen did not appreciate his attendance to an event where a veteran Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) activist with declared antipathy for Muslims, was going to be the beneficiary. But the gesture had been made and the Pakistani public hoped that it would secure the rights of the minorities in lndia, including that of Muslims.

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Subsequent events have shown that Modi’s basic hostility towards Pakistan combined with his communal bias have become the governing reality of his dispensation. His reluctance to come to the table for talks, which continue until mutually acceptable terms and conditions are arrived at, indicate a less than positive frame of mind.

Nothing could be more suitable than a durable improvement in relations between India and Pakistan, both armed with nuclear weapons, with millions living in considerable poverty. Therefore, it is tempting to be optimistic and to hope that we will enshrine values of good neighbourliness and enter into a future which is an improvement upon our past.

Syeda Abida Hussain is a Pakistani politician and former ambassador to Washington.


This was originally published in the Herald's 2016 Annual issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.