Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has taken a second leap of faith with India’s Narendra Modi government. First was when the Pakistani PM visited Delhi on Modi’s invitation to the oath-taking ceremony. I met him just after his meeting with India’s newly-elected Prime Minister and Sharif was upbeat. Prime Minister Modi had agreed to talk on all issues, including Kashmir, and was sending a special envoy to initiate political dialogue. But even before Sharif spoke to the Indian media gathered in his hotel, the Indian foreign secretary upstaged Modi’s guest by announcing that the talks largely covered terrorism. The rest unravelled in no time. By November a new shooting front along the Line of Control had opened up.
But on improving ties with India, Sharif, even with Modi, has not been risk-averse. Sharif, however, has continued to engage with Modi, perhaps via back-channels. In Pakistan, Sharif’s meeting with his Indian counterpart is being welcomed, and Modi is seen as taking a U-turn on his own arm-twisting policy towards Pakistan.
However, it is the Ufa joint statement that has essentially put Sharif on the mat in Pakistan; the statement itself is seen as being ‘authored in the South Block’. Pakistan’s foreign secretary was reportedly discouraged by the Pakistani PM from any word-wrangling. The outcome was a statement which has been criticised on several counts. The statement does not mention the ‘K’ word; it does not raise the issue of the 2007 inquiry of the Samjhauta Express blast, the British government’s alleged findings that India was supporting the MQM, and also the Pakistan government’s charge that India is supporting terrorist groups in Pakistan. The statement is viewed as asymmetrical with India’s concerns for an inquiry into the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks clearly spelt out, and Pakistan’s key concerns, including Kashmir, are referred in a phrase as “all outstanding issues”.
For Pakistan, the resumption of the dialogue was sufficient and the joint statement was not necessary. The September meeting between the two security advisers in Delhi would now be the next good step.
Sharif has put his political capital at stake by opting for this controversial statement, especially in an environment when the Modi government took unprecedented steps to shrink the space for dialogue and conflict resolution.
Beginning with the August 2014 decision to call off the foreign secretary-level talks, key members of Modi’s cabinet have opted for aggressive posturing through statements directed at Pakistan and issues raised with third parties. Be it India’s complaint against the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor with the Chinese, or its attempt to push for UNSC sanctions on Pakistan or raising its military role during the civil war and the breakup of Pakistan.
The Ufa statement is obviously proving to be a hard sell. Sharif’s men at the foreign office are busy holding pressers to explain how Kashmir will always be the central issue in any India-Pakistan dialogue and that the term ‘outstanding issues’ in the Ufa statement includes Kashmir. They also insist that Kashmir figured in the talks between the two prime ministers. Foreign office officials have documented this in the official records of the Sharif-Modi meeting.
The adviser on national security, Sartaj Aziz, has been particularly busy responding to the widespread criticism of the statement. In his opening statement at a July 13 presser, Aziz stated, “Kashmiris have suffered for three generations now. Their right to determine their destiny has not been granted…” Aziz listed all the issues that were discussed in the Sharif-Modi meeting, but he did not address the criticism over why none of the issues concerning Pakistan were mentioned in the statement.
Aziz’s opening statement provides explanations on three important issues. On Kashmir, he reiterated on a back-channel dialogue that is in process. Interestingly, Sharif and Modi seem to have resorted to the 1999 mode of engagement on the issue of Kashmir. However, unlike 1999, the BJP under Atal Bihari Vajpayee acknowledged, for the first time, the need to discuss the Kashmir dispute and reflected that in the Lahore Declaration. Sharif, however, has accepted the silence on Kashmir in the joint statement.
On the matter of voice samples, which, according to the statement, will be given to India, the adviser states, “On Mumbai trial case, our view has been, and was so in this meeting, that we need more evidence and information to conclude the trial.”
Hence, contrary to India’s expectations, as reflected in the Indian media, that Pakistan will provide Lakhvi’s voice samples, Pakistan is likely to seek voice samples from India. Invoking Pakistani law, Lakhvi’s lawyer has already announced that Lakhvi has refused to provide his voice sample. Interestingly, questions have been raised regarding India’s demand for the voice samples when India has already concluded the case and has brought the prime suspect Ajmal Kasab to the gallows.
The next important point, as explained by Aziz, is that the joint statement merely referring to holding routine meetings between the director general, Pakistan Rangers and the Military Operations. This implies that no meetings, other than the routine, as outlined in the 2003 ceasefire agreement, are being planned or proposed.
Now, with this statement having queered the pitch against Sharif, the Delhi meeting between the two national security advisers will decide how far Pakistan can go on the dialogue front. A dialogue that fails to factor in Pakistan’s concerns will obviously be short-lived. Sharif’s task is now to convince the opposition and Pakistan’s policy stakeholders that more was discussed and agreed upon that what is reflected in the Ufa statement. That, like the statement, will not be asymmetrical.
Nasim Zehra is a Pakistan-based security analyst. The views expressed are personal.