A new step for Indo-Pak dialogue

S. Madhusudhana Rao

The outcome of the much-awaited meeting between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pak counterpart Nawaz Sharif can best be described as seeing the glass half full, or, half empty. It depends on which side the observer is: the ruling BJP or the opposition party Congress.

While the former hailed the one-hour talks between the two leaders in Ufa, Russia, held on the sidelines of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit on Friday, the latter slammed it. Are they a “step forward towards normalizing relations between the two countries” as Home Minister Rajnath Singh tweeted or surrendering India’s interests to the sworn enemy as implied in statements issued by Congress?

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S. Madhusudhana Rao

Obviously, it is hitting back with vengeance in a classic example of political role reversal. BJP, when it was in opposition, had been a fierce critic of UPA’s Pak policy and Delhi’s overtures to Islamabad rapped. Now, Congress is trying to force BJP eat humble pie, saying “… this is the government that made tall claims that they will teach Pakistan a lesson.”

No doubt, Congress barbs help sharpen the opposition knives, particularly at a time when the parliament’s monsoon session is about to begin and the saffron party’s vulnerability quotient is hitting a new high with every passing day. It is fighting its first major crisis on three fronts: External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s impropriety in securing British visa for tainted former IPL boss Lalit Modi; Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje’s untenable position in the same case and mystery deaths in Madhya Pradesh’s government jobs and college admissions scam.

Now, Congress seems to have included the Modi-Sharif Russian rendezvous in its ‘daggers drawn’ list to haul Prime Minister Modi over the coals. The newly-acquired aggressive public posturing may help Congress earn a few brownie points. But, its stand on the latest Modi initiative to restart Pak dialogue is counterproductive and lacks vision. His move should be seen from a broader perspective of forging new relations with the oil and gas rich Central Asian Republics and signing a number of cooperation pacts that will have a bearing on India’s power and energy sectors.

Modi attended the BRICS and SCS summit meetings in Ofa. While India is a founder member of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) grouping, Delhi has only the observer status, like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Mongolia in SCS. It was founded in 2001 in Shanghai by China, Russia, and the Central Asian republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Earlier, the politico-economic and military grouping, known as Shanghai Five (without Uzbekistan), was set up in 1996. When Uzbeks joined it five years later, it was renamed SCS.

 India and Pakistan are expected to be admitted with full membership status next year as 7th and 8th members of the bloc whose aims include forging cooperation to fight terrorism. Before arriving in Russia, Modi had also visited the Central Asian Republics opening a new chapter in India-Central Asia relations.

Though the Republics are predominantly Muslim, they are not aligned with any particular regional power and their disposition towards India has always been cordial. So, Modi’s visit to these Republics has some special significance and his reach-out foreign policy has included the small but important countries that can play a positive role in India’s geo-political strategy.

When India becomes a full-fledged SCS member, Delhi can forge further economic ties with these countries and press for concerted action against terrorism and its sponsors and perpetrators. This strategy will help us corner Pakistan which is expected to get SCS membership along with India.

Against this background, Modi’s meeting with Sharif  is a step in the right direction. It is also to prove to the world that India has not shut its door on a dialogue with Pakistan despite its ceasefire violations and war rhetoric, including the threat of using nuclear weapons if necessary. If Modi had taken a firm stand against meeting Sharif, which he did during UN session earlier, our Prime Minister would have strengthened Pak position. Of late, Pakistan’s ‘all weather’ friend China has increased its economic aid and sided with Islamabad on issues that are inimical to Indian interests. Our traditional ally Russia too has jumped on to the Chinese bandwagon to express its unhappiness over Delhi moving closer to Washington.

In no way Modi’s bid to break new ground will help push Indo-Pak dialogue to a logical conclusion. This is merely another attempt to restart the stalled dialogue beginning with a meeting of national security advisors of both countries in New Delhi and culminating in Modi’s visit to Pakistan next year for SAARC summit. Among other things that figured at the Modi-Sharif meeting was ways and means to expedite the 26/11 Mumbai attacks trial and release of fishermen.

What miffed the Congress and many people was the talks were held just a day after fresh round of firing between Pakistan and India across the Line of Control in which a Border Security Force jawan was killed. In fact, tension has been brewing ever since foreign secretary level talks were called off last August following Pakistani envoy’s meeting with Kashmiri separatist leaders. Unabated truce violations by Pakistan, verbal wars over allegations of sponsoring terrorist acts, row over Zakiur Rehman Lakhwi, among others, have further worsened the relations between the two countries. Now, the Ufa meeting has helped India and Pakistan prime ministers break the ice in Russia. Will this step take them down the peace path or will it hit roadblock?

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