This Article is From Jul 13, 2015

How Pak Has Reacted To News of Modi Visit

As Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit in Russia, the expected noise was heard in the media on both sides. And as expected, the hawkish brigade  - politicians, analysts, and TV anchors - were adamant in their trivialisation of the outcome of the meeting.

Many in Pakistan agreed that the talks brought many breakthroughs, including Modi's acceptance of the invite to the SAARC summit in 2016 in Pakistan. But there is considerable scepticism which warns not to attach too much importance to a visit that is not even an exclusive one, and meetings that promise much (between the National Security Advisors, for example) but effect no tangible change.

Although Pakistan Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry, accompanying the Pakistani premier, announced after the meeting, "They are prepared to discuss all outstanding issues," there appears to be a sentiment among some Pakistani analysts and politicians as to how certain issues - read Kashmir - have been excluded in totality, while highlighting the "important" ones. There is much that is to be read between the lines, and there is much that is being read where there is nothing to read. 

"Both leaders condemned terrorism and agreed to cooperate with each other to eliminate this menace from south Asia," Chaudhry added. Indeed some would take this as terrorism in myriad dimensions, proven or alleged, whether in Kashmir, Mumbai, Balochistan, or near Panipat. But there is loud condemnation in some quarters of Pakistan vis-a-vis Sharif's silence on the alleged role of India's R&AW in directly or indirectly inciting trouble in Karachi and Balochistan, and of the Indian army's alleged violations of the ceasefire and much more along the border in Kashmir.

Pakistan is on the back-foot while indulging in diplomatic overtures with India, and that is being thought of as a failure of the Sharif government by some political leaders. 

The reaction of politicians in opposition is nothing but expected. While all endorse peace initiatives between Pakistan and India, the response is lukewarm if not outright critical. While Rehman Malik, former PPP interior minister, terms Modi's behaviour "rude and undiplomatic" (the reference, he says, is to Sharif walking towards Modi while the latter didn't move to meet his counterpart), criticizing Sharif for "badly hurting the feelings of the Pakistani nation," Sherry Rehman, the former PPP minister and Pakistan's ambassador to the US, terms the meeting as "one-sided. She further added, "Successful diplomacy is always about stating your case - in this case Pakistan's concerns look as if they have been put on a collective back burner." Not one to mince words, PTI's Shireen Mazari seemed angry when terming the meeting "India-appeasement", vociferously criticising Sharif's silence over the Kashmir issue and alleged Indian complicity in unrest in Balochistan.

I find it all bewildering, to say the least, but expected. What was expected from a meeting that was too brief to be even labelled a proper meeting? While attending a summit, in which Pakistan and India have become permanent members of the SCO, the meeting on the sidelines is at best a thaw in the icy silence that existed between the two after the cancellation of the foreign secretaries' meeting last year. The last few months have seen exchange of verbal machismo and reckless words between ministers and media of Pakistan and India, thus worsening the stalemate of nothing-doing between the two nuclear-armed nations. The long-standing issues between Pakistan and India need years of bilateral talks, formulation of strategies to find solutions acceptable to both, and treaties to assist in cases of alleged terrorism. And to say that for that purpose, brief meetings on the sidelines of big summits are sufficient is tantamount to announcing racism is not an issue in the USA. 

In all honesty, those few like me who wish to see Pakistan and India exist side by side as cordial neighbours if not best-friends-forever are not very optimistic about any substantial alteration in the status quo. The ghosts of a very painful past posses the present, and haunt the future that remains bleak. We see Modi's statements of "intervention" as boasting of India's blatant involvement in East Pakistan's secession in 1971 and many Pakistanis wonder why then the allegation of Pakistan's complicity in the Khalistan movement is deemed such a huge deal. While the Pakistan Establishment is said to be responsible for the ongoing militancy in Kashmir, R&AW is alleged to perpetuate terrorism in Pakistan. While one Indian minister announces terrorism-for-terrorism, a Pakistani minister issues a threat of nuclear retaliation. 

Be it Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek water disputes, Mumbai attacks, Samjhauta Express attack, cross-firing and loss of life at the Line of Control, allegations of intelligence agencies enabling, funding and perpetuation of terror in two countries, there is no way forward unless there is a dialogue between Pakistan and India. The dialogue that is not thwarted whenever something unsavoury happens. My endorsement, like that of all peace-seeking Pakistanis and Indians, echoes the sentiment of columnist and activist, Sudheendra Kulkarni: "There's no alternative to India-Pakistan talks. And talks must become Uninterrupted and Uninterruptible."

Pakistan and India have so many domestic issues - of poverty, human rights violations, gender-discrimination, unemployment, inflation, infrastructural failures, religious divides - that it is intrinsically fallacious and harmful to have tensions on the border. If Germany can be friends with all the countries Adolf Hitler attacked once-upon-a-Nazi-imperialism-time, Japan can shake hands with the USA after the latter's unmentionable nuke-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, why is it impossible for Pakistan and India to become friendly neighbours if not friends? 

I am not holding my breath for any answer, or an impasse that would work. That's the problem with being a realist. But I hope for peace between Pakistan and India. And that's the good thing about being optimistic. 

(Mehr Tarar is former Op-ed Editor, Daily Times, Pakistan)

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