The positive gloss that was injected into the brief statement that Nawaz Sharif read out to the media after his 50-minute meeting with Modi was saturated with glittering half-truths and was therefore, misleading
S IFTIKHAR MURSHED
[dropcap]N[/dropcap]arendra Modi is India’s second prime minister from Gujarat – the first was Morarji Desai, whose term from 1977 to 1979 marked a turning point in the country’s politics inasmuch as he was also its first non-Congress head of government.
It is strangely ironic that Modi’s first working day in office on May 27 coincided with the 50th death anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru. In a peculiar way it symbolized the replacement, perhaps permanently, of Nehruvian secularism by aggressive Hindu nationalism, or Hindutva, to which Modi has been committed since his childhood days.
Modi invited the leaders of Saarc countries plus Mauritius for his swearing in and they were all dutifully in attendance with the exception of Bangladesh which was represented by the speaker of its parliament. The message was unmistakably clear – New Delhi was the primus inter pares, or, the first among equals in the South Asian scheme of things.
The new Indian prime minister did not waste any time in rolling up his sleeves and getting down to work – the pomp and empty pageantry of Monday’s inauguration ceremonies were soon forgotten. An excruciatingly busy schedule was chalked up for the next day involving bilateral meetings with each of the eight leaders who were present in the Indian capital. Of these the Modi-Nawaz talks were of pivotal importance.
The positive gloss that was injected into the brief statement that Nawaz Sharif read out to the media after his 50-minute meeting with Modi was saturated with glittering half-truths and was therefore, misleading. He spoke about the positive outcome of the meeting as though there were no problems between the two countries. What he implied was that the hopes for the future could not be built by raking up the wounds of the past – confrontation had to give way to cooperation.
There was no mention of the Kashmir dispute in Nawaz Sharif’s hopelessly inadequate readout to the Indian media even though Islamabad has always maintained that this was the ‘core issue’ that had impeded the establishment of good-neighborly, tension-free and cooperative relations between Pakistan and India.
The three foreign policy gladiators who had accompanied the prime minister to India and the Pakistan high commissioner in New Delhi had probably drafted the statement. If they had been alert they would have known that an hour earlier the Indian foreign secretary, Sujata Singh, had already spilled the beans. A more balanced statement could accordingly have been conjured up.
In a press briefing that afternoon, Foreign Secretary Singh said that Modi had, in no uncertain terms, driven home the point to his Pakistani counterpart that terrorism was the biggest hurdle in the way of New Delhi-Islamabad normalization. Pakistan had to control the extremist groups on its soil and ensure that they do not perpetrate attacks against India. Furthermore, there was need for Islamabad to accelerate the trial of those responsible for the 26/11 terrorist outrage in Mumbai.
The implication was obvious. The dismantling of terrorist outfits on Pakistan’s soil is the sine qua non for the initiation of a structured dialogue between the two pathetically underdeveloped yet nuclear armed neighbors. Trust and confidence were the essential core ingredients for the establishment of mutually beneficial cooperation.
Though Modi regurgitated the hackneyed, but nevertheless weighty Indian stance, Nawaz Sharif’s adviser on foreign affairs and national security, Sartaj Aziz was inexplicably exultant that the talks in New Delhi had achieved much more than what Pakistan had expected.
To a question whether the extradition of Dawood Ibrahim had been raised by Modi, Foreign Secretary Singh responded cryptically that there are certain things that cannot be disclosed to the media. The two prime ministers had, she said, agreed to take “immediate” measures to expand trade, economic and cultural cooperation. Modi had also accepted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s invitation to visit Pakistan and mutually convenient dates would be worked out through diplomatic channels.
As if to play down the issue, she elaborated that similar invitations had been extended by the other South Asian leaders who had attended Modi’s inauguration and these had also been unhesitatingly accepted. It was uncertain precisely when the Indian prime minister would visit Pakistan. It could materialize next month, next year or some other, as yet, indeterminate date in the future. At all events it had been decided that the foreign secretaries of the two countries would meet to brainstorm the modalities for the restoration of the bilateral dialogue.
The omission of any reference to Kashmir in Nawaz Sharif’s grotesquely flawed statement to the Indian media and Shujata Singh’s press briefing set in motion a chain reaction of stern criticism in Pakistan. The analysts of the print and electronic media were all out with absurd theories – each one pretending that he or she is able to decipher the hidden implications of the Nawaz-Modi talks. A spirited commentator said that Modi had read the riot act to Nawaz Sharif and that the Pakistan prime minister had been served a “charge sheet”.
In what was obviously a fire-fighting exercise, Sartaj Aziz convened a press conference on Wednesday. In his opening remarks he was at pains to emphasise that the prime minister had told Modi that there was a need for the two countries “to pick up the threads from” the Lahore Declaration which was issued on the conclusion of the visit to Pakistan of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.
Sartaj then pointedly reminded the media, “As you are aware, the Lahore Declaration of February 1999 calls for both governments to intensify their efforts to resolve all issues including the issue of Jammu and Kashmir.”
This explanation fell on deaf ears and Sartaj Aziz was bluntly asked why the prime minister had not specifically raised the Kashmir issue to which he responded almost apologetically, “But this does not mean the issue of Kashmir has been sidelined.”
Nawaz and Modi, he said, dreamed the same dream of progress and prosperity for the peoples of South Asia, and, “in order to make this vision a reality the starting point of the talks with the Indian leadership was economic revival and development.”
The same day India’s new minister of external affairs, Sushma Swaraj, also addressed the media, and, without mincing words she said: “We want to have good relations with Pakistan but this can be successful only if terrorism ends. If the voices in our conversation are drowned by the sound of bombs, then the voice of neither nation will be heard – this is what our prime minister told the prime minister of Pakistan.”
Swaraj is considered a BJP hardliner. As the leader of the opposition from December 2009 to May 2014 in the 15th Lok Sabha, she demanded the heads of ten Pakistanis in retaliation for the Indian soldier who had allegedly been beheaded when tensions soared between the two countries on the Line of Control a few months back.
Nawaz Sharif’s visit to New Delhi has generated a measure of goodwill. But a single cross-border incident can administer a crippling blow to the hope for durable peace.
Modi and Nawaz have much in common, but more that sets them apart. Both are backed to the hilt by the corporate sector and both have returned the favor. Both fancy themselves as men on horseback destined to pull their respective countries back from the brink. The unanswered question is whether either of them has the ability to defuse the crises that are likely to emerge between their countries in the future.–Courtesy The News
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