Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif finally succeeded in breaking the ice when they met in Ufa, Russia, and managed to take the India-Pakistan relationship out of what many strategic experts call the ‘deep freezer’.
Relations between the two neighbours had nosedived after the Modi government drew a new red line in August last year when it abruptly called off foreign secretary-level talks after the Pakistani high commissioner met with Kashmiri separatists. Pakistan’s interference in India’s ‘internal affairs was unacceptable', was the message that had been squarely delivered then. The decision surprised many because it came within two months of Sharif attending Modi’s swearing-in.
A few months later, when guns boomed along the international border between India and Pakistan, another stern message was sent: The Border Security Force was told to hit Pakistan hard and its officers were instructed not to seek a flag meeting. India’s response then was seen as part of a new policy being carved out by Modi for Pakistan in particular: Masculine nationalism.
The meeting in Ufa has changed that and there seems to be a realisation that engagement is the best way forward. Of course, the change in stance comes a few months after the power-sharing arrangement between the BJP and the PDP in Jammu and Kashmir. PDP patron Mufti Mohammad Sayeed had made talks with Pakistan a pre-condition.
The thaw in Ufa has in fact come at India’s insistence for it was Modi who sought a meeting with his Pakistani counterpart. Till now, Pakistan’s position had been that the first move must come from India for it was the one that called off talks.”We cannot be dictated to. Talks were suspended by your government and the ball is squarely in India’s court,’’ Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan’s security and foreign affairs advisor, had told this paper last year.
The Congress may be questioning the ‘breakthrough’ in Ufa, but the Centre has been able to put much more into the joint statement from India’s perspective than Sharif has. India’s concerns on terrorism have been flagged as has the issue of the slow pace of the 26/11 trial which allowed the Lashkar-e-Toiba military commander Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi to walk free.
Quite unlike the infamous Sharm-el-Sheikh joint statement of 2009 in which the Manmohan Singh government agreed to delink terror and talks and surprisingly mentioned ‘India’s role in Balochistan’, the Ufa statement is totally silent on Kashmir. The joint communiqué says both sides are ‘’prepared to discuss all outstanding issues’’ but the missing ‘K’ word is bound to create problems for Sharif as soon as he returns home.
While Sharif manages the domestic fallout, he will also have to work towards finding ways of delivering on the voice samples of Lakhvi and the other 26/11 accused. The anti-terror court, the defense lawyers of the accused — and the Pakistani Army and ISI who provide open patronage to Lakhvi — have been blocking the samples for years.
For the immediate, Ufa has opened up a window of opportunity, one that extends up to next year when Modi travels to Pakistan for the Saarc Summit.