PM Nawaz Sharif

India and Pakistan Talk, Yet Again!

When Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi and his counterpart from Pakistan, Mr. Nawaz Sharif met on the sidelines of the SCO Summit in Russia in July 2015, one of the agendas they agreed upon was that the NSAs of their respective countries would meet in New Delhi “to discuss all issues connected to terrorism.” While the NSAs were all set to meet, India did not see eye-to-eye with Pakistan’s precondition to meet Hurriyat leaders while in New Delhi. After a lot of back and forth, and unwelcome additions to the talks, to discuss the “K-word” (referring to Kashmir) and about LoC violations, they were cancelled or how Ms. Sushma Swaraj put it, “Toh baat-chit nahin hogi”. The possibility of a re-start of dialogue between the two nuclear powers seemed bleak at best.

However, when the two leaders met again, this time on the sidelines of COP21, it seemed like a step in a positive direction. It was within a week after their handshake at COP21 that the NSAs from India and Pakistan met in Bangkok for a four-hour meeting on December 6th. It was held away from the scrutiny of the media in both countries. The purpose, agenda and the very existence of the meeting was revealed only after the meeting had concluded. This is unusual for the two countries as Pakistan has repeatedly insisted on including the dispute over Kashmir as a precondition for any dialogue with India. Dr. Aparna Pande, Research fellow at the Hudson Institute, mapped out a threefold trend in India-Pakistan dialogues. It begins with Pakistan iterating the importance of Kashmir, followed by Pakistan’s request for assistance by the United States on the issue, concluding with the United States asking the two countries to work it out. The NSA meetings earlier this year were cancelled following a similar trend. Given this round of the beginning of talks, Jammu and Kashmir is being discussed in terms of terrorism, according to the Joint statement issued after the meeting was held. In addition, ceasefire violations will also be discussed to establish “tranquility along the LoC.” This is the first step of the established trend. The “constructive engagement” moving forward might be the breaking of this trend. It may even take a more fluid path in order to achieve some realistic goals rather than India or Pakistan being stubborn about the agendas of their respective policies towards each other. The United States has welcomed the talks with optimism. While the BJP contends that the talks were in accordance to the Ufa Joint Statement as well as the Simla Agreement, Congress party has a bone to pick with the location of the meeting. Congress Spokesperson, Mr. Abhishek Singhvi, while welcoming the prospect of talking with Pakistan, demanded that the policy towards Pakistan be clearly “coherent, consistent and known.” Mr. Manish Tiwari, a Congress leader, criticized the NDA government calling the NSA talks on the soil of a third country a “grand betrayal.” This is what he had to say-

“If you look at the track record of this government over the past 18 months, their Pakistan policy has been an extravaganza, a somersault, flip-flops and 180-degree U-turns and this [the Bangkok meeting] is absolutely the crowning glory.”

Although these criticisms continue to be played out on national media platforms, the talks between India and Pakistan have officially begun. India and Pakistan continue to undertake this long-sought after process. This could very well fall into the specter of the same trend that has been observed over and over again. Or this shift, to talks that are private, untouched by the media or by external pressures, and off-the-soil of both nations to avoid domestic influences, could become the new template of how India and Pakistan interact to discuss and possibly resolve issues.

General Sharif returns to Washington!

Pakistan’s Army Chief, General Raheel Sharif, arrived in Washington DC, for a five-day visit to the United States. This is his second trip as Army Chief, the last one being in November of 2014. Michael Kugelman, Senior associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson Center, at the wrap of Mr. Raheel’s visit last year started his piece in the The Diplomat with this quip:

“Quick: Identify the civilian democracy that sends its army chief — not its president or prime minister — to the United States for a full week of high-level meetings with civilian and military officials. The answer is Pakistan”

It seems that on the eve of Gen. Raheel’s second visit, the same question can be asked once again given that Mr. Nawaz Sharif, Prime Minister of Pakistan, visited the US only a few weeks ago in October. While Pakistan has been a democracy  since 2008 and the civilian government of Pakistan is engaged with the United States Government, apparent from the Joint Statement by Mr. Obama and Mr. Nawaz Sharif, Gen. Raheel Sharif’s visit is contentious in terms of the ongoing power dynamic between the military and government in Pakistan and why the United States needs to engage with both those agencies separately. Kugelman, in his latest piece in anticipation of Gen. Raheel Sharif’s second visit, attempts to explain this very complicated relationship between the United States, and the strong military establishment and the elected civilian government in Pakistan. The core of his analysis is that the relationship between the United States and Pakistan has remained quite unchanged because of two reasons, fear and naivete. He quotes  Ambassador Husain Haqqani’s (Director South & Central Asia at Hudson Institute and former Ambassador of Pakistan to the US (2008-2011)) book “Magnificent Delusions” to reiterate that leaders in Washington have been satisfied and naive when providing aid to Pakistan in order to gain some leverage over Pakistan. This has continued in light of Pakistan’s continued policy to distinguish between good terrorists and bad terrorists. The ‘fear’ aspect in Washington has convinced it to be on the “good side of a volatile nuclear-armed nation than on its bad side.

 

While naivete and fear continue to feature in United States policy towards Pakistan, Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment has continued to protect terrorist organizations like the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT). Mr. Nawaz Sharif, for the first time, during his visit in October promised to take necessary action against LeT that Ambassador Husain Haqqani notes has traditionally been under the “protection” of the ISI (Pakistani Intelligence Services). Washington has rightly appreciated the clamping down of some terrorist organizations in areas like North Waziristan by the Pakistani military through Operation Zarb-e-Azb. And yet it is actively engaging, through Mr. Raheel Sharif, with “Pakistan’s security establishment (that) continues to nurture ties with militant groups that endanger U.S. interests and lives.” Mr. Raheel Sharif is to meet with US military and civilian leaders to discuss matters of Pakistan’s relationship with the United States, bringing the Taliban back to the negotiating table, the military’s role in progressing counterterrorism efforts and other security issues, topics very similar to what Mr. Nawaz Sharif discussed with Mr. Obama. Does the democratically elected Prime Minister’s earlier visit matter at all in light of this five-day, high profile visit by the especially popular, Gen. Raheel Sharif? “From a democratic perspective,” a Dawn editorial called this visit “discouraging,” as it starts to question the legitimacy and consolidation of power by the democratically elected civilian government.