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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 37 New Delhi September 5, 2015

No Prospect of Normalcy

Saturday 5 September 2015, by Kuldip Nayar

My reading is that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has had a second thought on the talks with India after fixing the meeting of Chief Security Advisors of the two countries. Otherwise, he would have intervened to clear the air and said that when he met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Ufa, Russia, they had agreed to confine their talks to tackle terrorism which was bleeding the two countries. It is possible that the Army pulled the rug out from under Nawaz Sharif’s feet. It is hard to buy this theory. Pakistan would not have fixed the meeting’s date if its Chief of Army Staff had been opposed to the talks.

The criticism of the Pakistan Army in this regard is not fair. What seems to have happened is that the omission of word, Kashmir, from the Joint Statement issued by the two Prime Ministers at Ufa infuriated the radical elements in Pakistan. It is they who put their weight behind the demand not to have talks if Kashmir was not on the agenda. Even tactic-wise, Pakistan went wrong. While talking on terrorism, it could have raised Kashmir during the meeting. If India had walked out, it would have lessened its stock in the eyes of the international community.

Unfortunately, the impression that has gone around is that the talks between India and Pakistan can never take place. Naturally, people on both sides are disappointed because they had expected some sort of normalcy to return and a let up in violations of ceasefire at the line of control, bristling with troops and weapons. It must be hell for the farmers who have stretched their cultivation right up to the border. The breakdown in talks has left a feeling of emptiness which may take the two countries still more apart. It may take months before the thread is picked up again. Behind-the-scene channels take time to come into being and function fruitfully.

Nawaz Sharif could not sell to the Army and radical elements in his country the idea that the talks are only confined to terrorism, without discussing Kashmir. Their reaction in Pakistan was hostile when the people there did not see the mention of Kashmir in the Joint Statement issued after the meeting between the two Prime Ministers.

Where do we go from here? Much would depend on the outcome of meetings between the Directors of Military Operations and chiefs of security forces on the border. Pakistan’s National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz said even after the cancellation of dialogue between the chief security advisors that meetings at the other levels would take place as scheduled. Fortunately, the meeting between the chiefs of BSF and Rangers has been fixed. However, I wonder if they would come to anything concrete when the main talks did not take off.

Voices from Pakistan are that the two countries should have a third party to mediate. One, it would violate the Shimla Agreement between Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. When the 90,000 Pakistani soldiers were India’s prisoners after the fall of Dhaka in 1971, Pakistan had agreed not to demand the third party in future to settle the matters between India and Pakistan.

Two, which country in the globe is altruistic in its approach to world problems? A third country would try to introduce its own point of view, keeping its own interest at the top. There is no alternative to an uninterrupted dialogue between New Delhi and Islamabad. True, nothing has come out from the attempts made so far. But war is no solution either, particularly when both countries have nuclear weapons.

Both Modi and Nawaz Sharif will be in New York to attend the opening of the UN General Assembly session. They should meet to clear the impediments in the way of a dialogue. The partition is a reality. I wish the line drawn had not been on the basis of religion. This has created bad blood between the two countries. Muslims in Pakistan may have benefited. But they have ceased to count in decision-making in India. The two-nation theory has told upon the Muslims and they lost the importance which they enjoyed in India before partition. The hostility between the two countries has affected relations between them. There does not seem to be any prospect of their normalising relations, much less strike friendship.

I never liked the Modi-type of politics, parochial and point blank to the right. His hand behind the killings of Muslims in Gujarat in 1992 made me more distant. However, when I found him getting an absolute majority in the last Lok Sabha election, I tried to search qualities in him so that I would be positive in my comments.

I really believed that his claims of achhe din ayenge (good days will come) had a ring of truth. After one year of his prime ministership, I feel I was led up the garden path. There is not even a semblance of change from the slow, slovenly rule of the Congress Government.

True, economic reforms have a gestation period. But some seeds should have sprouted by this time. In fact, agriculture has come down from the four per cent growth to a mere one per cent. The industrial sector is shrinking relentlessly. And the much-needed employment has not expanded at all. There is no implementation of steps promised for development or improving the lot of the common man.

Modi still has more than three-and-a-half years of his rule ahead. He should abandon such measures which have not yielded any fruit and adopt new ones that will help the country to develop. The plus point in his favour is that despite the relentless criticism of the Congress party people on the whole expect him to do something for their betterment. Now it is up to him to take stock of the situation and introduce reforms and other measures to let the economy grow. For this, as he must have realised, relations with Pakistan have to improve. n

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is www.kuldipnayar.com