Old wine in old bottles is the best way to describe Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s speech before the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday . Islamabad’s old whine has been that India is a foreign occupier and oppressor of Kashmir and that the rest of the world should intervene and, preferably, hand over this part of Kashmir to Pakistan. The past several years, Pakistan has sought to divert attention from its sponsorship of terrorism to accomplish this goal by portraying itself a victim of violent extremism, even claiming, as Mr Sharif did, that this was also a creation of New Delhi. It is a sign of how little credibility these hackneyed lines command with the rest of the world that United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon paid them no heed, most major powers preferred to focus on the Uri attack and even China preferred not to take sides.
Nine out of 10 speeches at the UN and other major multilateral fora by Pakistani leaders who talk of Kashmir and India are dictated by the country’s military. It is almost certainly the case for Mr Sharif given his dire political situation at home. The UN speech only underlines what the slow-but -steady uptick in Pakistani-sponsored infiltration and terrorism the past few months has made obvious: Mr Sharif is now irrelevant to the India-Pakistan relationship. This was not the original view of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In their many meetings, Mr Modi found in Mr Sharif exactly what other PMs before had — a Pakistani leader who believed in greater economic relations, closer civil society linkages and desired that bilateral differences be resolved through negotiations rather than violence. Mr Modi also came to realise that Mr Sharif had no authority to convert these views into actual policy. Nonetheless, he persevered in what amounted to photo-op diplomacy with Mr Sharif, perhaps in the hope that one day he would wake up to find the generals back in the barracks.
There were some benefits to Mr Modi’s attempt to keep up appearances with Mr Sharif. It was applauded by the rest of the world, for one thing. Domestically, the positives have been more muted. Now, however, the dividends have been reduced to zero. Mr Sharif — battered by the Panama Papers scandal and the military if anything having an even tighter hold on Pakistan’s foreign policy — is now the straw man of South Asia. The wreckage of the Islamabad summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc), which was supposed to have been put a diplomatic spotlight on Mr Sharif, will be the denouement of the Modi-Sharif dialogue of nothing. New Delhi has no choice but to refocus on Rawalpindi. The generals have rebuffed earlier offers of engagement. The only language they understand, unfortunately, will be those spoken in the form of defence budgets, increased involvement in Afghanistan, striking sparks in Balochistan and putting up resistance to the Chinese economic corridor. Mr Modi has been able to avoid having a real Pakistan policy. That period is now over.