Two instances this week pointed again to the ambivalent condition that India-Pakistan ties find themselves in. Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called Prime Minister Narendra Modi just before he was “wheeled in” for an open heart surgery in the UK. PM Modi duly wished him a speedy recovery and good health on Twitter. But personal equations rarely transcend structural constraints as Pakistan President Mamnoon Hussain’s remarks on bilateral ties indicate. Addressing Parliament this week, Hussain framed the relationship in ways that reflect Mr Sharif’s congenial outlook while conveying the military’s misgivings about the relationship. This balancing act unfortunately achieves little beyond irritating Indian policymakers, aggravating public opinion and highlighting the cul-de-sac that bilateral ties are in.
Mr Hussain did not mention India explicitly but spoke of Pakistan’s desire for friendly relations with neighbours. He reiterated that the main cause of tension was the Kashmir issues and said that as long as this issue was not resolved in accordance with the wishes of the people of J&K and UN resolutions “the problems of this region will remain unresolved”. This is standard rhetoric that is usually deployed during a hiatus but India is well within its rights to argue about Islamabad’s reasoning about stalled dialogue. Mr Hussain reckoned that Pakistan’s “warm and sincere offer” to conduct an uninterrupted and meaningful dialogue had not been reciprocated and said that the abeyance of foreign secretary-level negotiations was a matter of “serious concern” to Islamabad. This is all unfortunately a bit self-serving. The fact is that India is still waiting for Pakistan to show the requisite urgency to prosecute those behind the Pathankot attack.
New Delhi rightly assumes that successful prosecution of terrorist attacks, be it Mumbai, Gurdaspur or Pathankot, will not only rally public opinion behind dialogue but that it will break the cycle of terrorist violence disrupting resumed dialogue as has often happened in the past. Islamabad must understand that the BJP-led NDA government cannot be seen as substantively discussing J&K without a measure on action against terrorists that satisfies Indian public opinion.
The Dawn newspaper dismissed Hussain’s remarks as “a speech to forget”. But Indians will be interested in the way it articulated Pakistan’s ambitions, notwithstanding the difficult circumstances it finds itself it. It refers to its expanding ties with neighbouring West Asia and Central Asia in the context of connectivity projects that are driven by China and other multilateral ventures. But Islamabad needs to remind itself that its prosperity is linked to linkages with India — and for its interests to be served it needs to both imaginatively tackle economic constraints (like granting transit rights for Indian goods to Afghanistan) and be more purposive about countering India-focused terror.