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Improvement in ties?


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MUCH has already been made of Nawaz Sharif’s overtures to India during his election campaign. The Indian high commissioner last week called on Sharif at Raiwind to discuss ways in which to boost bilateral ties.

For the international community, the prospect of improved Indo-Pak relations as an outcome of our recent elections is even more tantalising than the promise of a democratic Pakistan. But will the calendar of politics undermine Pakistan and India’s renewed chances for a rapprochement?

In many ways, the time is ripe in Pakistan for serious progress in its ties with India. Sharif, as a right-wing politician from Punjab, cannot be labelled a traitor for engaging with New Delhi. Having campaigned on an economic platform, he can sell better ties with India to the public as a means of kick-starting Pakistan’s (and more specifically, Punjab’s) economy.

The option of importing electricity from India is an additional sweetener at a time when reducing load-shedding must be one of the next government’s top priorities. Moreover, Sharif has an incomplete legacy in the form of the Lahore Declaration that needs tending during his third term.

The military is also more amenable to improved Indo-Pak ties at this juncture. Earlier this year, the army doctrine underwent a paradigm shift, identifying homegrown militancy, rather than India, as the biggest threat to Pakistan’s national security. Given that Pakistan’s use of ‘asymmetric warfare’ is a major sticking point for New Delhi, this shift is an important starting point for the dialogue going forward. As the country’s largest corporate player, the army also stands to benefit from the economic fillip that would result from better trade ties with India.

But how long will this window of opportunity stay open? The political calendar in the coming months leaves little time to build on the momentum that Sharif created during his election campaign.

To demonstrate his sincerity and ability to deliver on promises, Sharif’s first point of business vis-à-vis India should be granting the MFN status. However, his immediate need to make tough decisions about an IMF bailout and the economic reforms it will necessitate could deflate energy around other economic initiatives.

Similarly, India is closely following Sharif’s call to form a commission to investigate Kargil. The incoming prime minister has already made it clear that such a commission will focus on retired Gen Musharraf’s role and not spiral into a scrutiny of the army’s security policies. There has been talk of spiriting Musharraf out of Pakistan before the new government is sworn in. If this proves correct, in his absence, a Kargil commission will be an awkward business and unlikely to proceed.

Across the border, meanwhile, India is preparing for elections in 2014. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is looking inwards and will be more invested in addressing domestic issues such as economic growth and corruption than flirting with Pakistan. Moreover, Singh, who has made restraint towards Pakistan a political hallmark, is likely to avoid any cross-border engagement that could get him attacked from the right during an election cycle for being soft on terrorism.

In the run-up to elections, India is also more likely to focus on trade with China, as evidenced by Singh’s recent meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. India is seeking improved access to the Chinese market to address a soaring bilateral trade imbalance in China’s favour, all while working towards a trade turnover target of $100 billion by 2015.

The looming 2014 deadline for the International Security Assistance Force troop withdrawal from Afghanistan is also likely to hijack the Indo-Pak dialogue, leading to a focus on security rather than trade. India’s growing presence in Afghanistan — ranging from civilian aid and economic investment to training Afghan military and police personnel — is deeply problematic for the Pakistani establishment.

New Delhi urgently needs to clarify perceptions about the intent of its activities in Afghanistan and work with Islamabad to develop bilateral mechanisms for transparency in both countries’ engagements with Kabul. This difficult conversation could, however, minimise bilateral goodwill in other contexts.

The endgame in Afghanistan is also likely to focus international scrutiny on Pakistan’s position on militancy. In this context, India will be very interested in Sharif’s dealings with the Pakistani Taliban. He has called for talks, which echoes the shift in strategy on the part of Afghanistan and the US as well. But the nature of these talks (appeasement or one aspect of a robust counterterrorism strategy?) is an open question. And this question has greater significance given PML-N’s perceived linkages with Punjab-based militant groups, including sectarian and anti-India outfits.

Some analysts have expressed concerns that post-2014, the drawdown of US troops from Afghanistan will leave many jihadis out of a job. This could lead to a resurgence of militancy in Kashmir. These fears mean that India will be directly interested in Sharif’s overall strategy for tackling the terrorist threat, including the anti-India variety. Without a clear stance against militancy, Sharif is unlikely to make serious headway with New Delhi despite his best intentions.

Despite these many challenges, Pakistan and India should not let the current window of opportunity close. The following months should be spent brainstorming ways of improving relations through matched concessions by both Pakistan and India. Not only Pakistan and India, but also the entire region stands to gain from the opening up of our eastern border.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

Twitter: @humayusuf

Comments (56) Closed

S.S.VERMA May 27, 2013 03:37am
An article on Indo Pak rapprochement without a mention of Kargil/Mumbai? Pipe Dreams.
BRR May 27, 2013 03:38am
One swallow does not a summer make, one election in Pakistan does not a friendly people make. Nothing is likely yo happen - both India and Pakistan will stumble along their merry ways, and the Pak army will continue to sit on top of the hill in Pakistan afraid to make any meaningful changes.
B R Chawla May 27, 2013 04:30am
Why not ! India and Pakistan must engage itself to dialogue without setting very high watermarks. They must start with areas of agreement, to areas of areas of academic discussions on merit before taking hard issues like Kashmir that too in not unmanageable considering that both realize that talks and negotiation is a better option to wars. First of all Pakistanis must own up their real ancessrory than trying glorify the medieval invaders, marauders and rapists. Secondly not only Pakistan must become a secular state as envisioned by the Quaide Azam. They must learn to coexist with their coreligionists like the Shias and Quadians. Religion is private affair why make it a public affair. One has to face his God all alone by himself afterall.Chawla
Komal S May 27, 2013 05:52am
While i agree trade, understanding on Afganistan are very important steps it is surprising that progress in Mumbai investigation finds no mention as positive steps Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif can do. I think Kargil investigation is more for internal consumption within pakistan, India does not really care how Pakistani army hoodwinked the elected government there.
Rumi May 27, 2013 05:59am
India is ready for the much emphasized friendship with pakistan since the last 65 years but it seems pakistan is not ready for this yet.
Rajesh May 27, 2013 07:53am
Hope everybody benefits by working towards business with the correct mindset. If the militants are going to restart their activities, it will multiply the negative effects and pull the whole of SE Asia into the chaos
R.Albuquerque May 27, 2013 09:07am
Excellent analysis by your writer Huma Yusuf. What was not mentioned however, is the fact that India and Pakistan would be better able to resolve their various conflicts in a spirit of friendliness rather than enmity. There would be other benefits as pointed by an old Chinese proverb - better a friend who is close than a relative who is distant.
Taimur May 27, 2013 09:21am
The region is actually known as 'South Asia'. In fact, Pakistan should be aligned with Central Asia or West Asia due to its cultural and historical links and less so with its eastern neighbours.
Micky May 27, 2013 10:51am
yeah.. actually pakistan should try its best (if not trying already) to be formally recognized as Arabic country. And, should try to build some kind of technology that will uproot it from South Asia and place it somewhere next to Saudi Arabia. It will solve all of Pakistan's and India's (infact, world's problem of terrorism) problems.
Imran May 27, 2013 11:44am
Nawaz Sharif, this time would find everything going in his favour to improve relations with India. I feel an improved relation between the two countries would also bring solutions to most of the problems these two countries are facing
FactCheck May 27, 2013 12:21pm
India will support and provide in all manner including economic assistance to Afghanistan. It is forgone conclusion that Afghanistan prefers to do business with India than Pakistan. India is the only democratic model in South East Asia Afghanistan can model itself after. Afghanistan knows week that India
kanak May 27, 2013 12:37pm
Not much will happen as coming elections and lack of progress in Mumbai killings will give very little elbow room. MFN will not be granted to India as politicians will oppose it in Pakistan and trade will not improve significantly. With power cuts upto 4-5 hours in many states of India, it will be tough to give power to Pakistan as it may not pay cash for it. Unfortunately wishes can not be horses and India is more concerned with Free Trade agreement with Europe, Japan and the USA than MFN from Pakistan.The coming elections will tie Mr.Manmohan Singh's hands as he is very weak.
aditya May 27, 2013 01:21pm
india just wants to be left alone..please keep yr problems at home
madhugiri ramesh May 27, 2013 02:37pm
An excellent analysis of the current situation between the two nations, but any progress will be slow unless the line of control in Kashmir, with few minor changes, is accepted by Pakistan as the international boundary and may sign a no aggression treaty.
Mustafa Razavi May 27, 2013 02:40pm
I see you did not use your favorite term "Indian sub-continent".
P,Mishra May 27, 2013 02:50pm
Pleas go ahead. But do you know how the west Aseans view you? Pleas try to distinguish between common religion and commen culture.
pathanoo May 27, 2013 02:57pm
An excellent, balanced and well thought through article which deals with the ground reality honestly. Questions posed by the author are the crux of the problem. I am fearful that the Army and more so the Taliban (TTP) will keep Nawaz Shair on tight lease. The indications will come early........and the first one would be if Musharraf is allowed to bail out of Pakistan before the Kargil investigation committee is formed. the second obviously would be how he deals with the TTP as the author so correctly pointed out.
Naseem May 27, 2013 03:16pm
Yes,, India have been ready to crush Pakistan for the last 65 years. It has to-date not accepted Pakistan with a sincere heart and it is understandable.
G.A. May 27, 2013 03:17pm
Judging from comments here so far from both Indians and Pakistanis its quite apparent that Indians are in no mood for normalizing ties. Majority would rather live as enemies and at the same time covering their misadventures in Siachen, Baluchistan, Afganistan and East Pakistan. No saints on the Eastern border that's for sure. Wish they had bigger hearts.
G.A. May 27, 2013 03:27pm
All those elections in India and you're not too friendly yourself. Atleast Pakistan Army has admitted that India is no longer the biggest threat. Unfortunately, because of your small-mindedness we will indeed keep stumbling along.
HNY2013 May 27, 2013 04:57pm
"Pakistan should be aligned with Central Asia or West Asia due to its cultural and historical links and less so with its eastern neighbours". Would THEY want you to be a part of them too? :) Those who deny history .....become history.
HNY2013 May 27, 2013 05:04pm
We need STRONG financial relations benefitting the common people on both side. We have had 65 years of hate ....lets give peace a chance.
Avik Ray May 27, 2013 06:30pm
This statement is an example of the identity crisis the Pakistanis have. The language of Pakistan, Urdu that is, is understood and also spoken by 'South Asians'. How many Central and West Asians understand it? Also, why Pakistani artists want to get recognized in 'South Asia' rather than in the Arabic countries? I would like to know what Taimur has to say about that.
V. C. Bhutani May 27, 2013 06:41pm
Dear Madam, Things will lift up if Mr Nawaz Sharif can deliver on his idea of not allowing Pakistan
Babu Khan, Lucknow, India May 27, 2013 06:49pm
What cultural and historical links you have with West Asia except Iran? You are living in fools paradise and are in denial.
akhlaq May 27, 2013 07:25pm
pakistanis can never be trusted. simple as that.
Mohammad Saleem May 27, 2013 10:10pm
Pakistan needs soul-searching and should be a civilized regional player, instead using jihadi proxies as its foreign policy tool which is self-destructive.
bharat May 27, 2013 11:46pm
The onus has always been on you to do the right thing. From India's point of view, if you are not trustworthy any more, then all India has to do is stirr up trouble for Pakistani Taliban, who are already resident in Afghanistan with no trouble for that country. Other countries have been patient with this . It is time that Pakistan started behaving itself. Time for people like Kayani to stop giving advice on dealings with India
Bakul May 28, 2013 01:25am
Very true, Justice to Mumbai victims is top on agenda both for Indian government as well as public. Honest steps in that direction by Pakistan establishment can improve relations more than any thing else.
Nobluc May 28, 2013 02:52am
When UK and Germany and Japan and US can be good friends after bitter history, why can't we?
Shakeel May 28, 2013 06:14am
It will be 'good riddance' for South Asia. Another matter that you need to focus on is the treatment Pakistanis, in general, are given by the Arabs in the Arab world.
Sachcha Pakistani May 28, 2013 06:26am
those in favor to improving ties let me tell this india never accept pakistan and through the design of friendship india wants to have long term plan of dismantling pakistan, pakistan is in precarious position what will happen to its future.
Ganesh May 28, 2013 06:32am
Improved relations will help only pak as for India pak is miniscule in trade or as a threat...hahahah
oriental philosopher May 28, 2013 09:49am
some people loves live with false ideas forever.. i mean how u can ignore that pakistan first correct its internal situation. Afganistan is an independent country why pakistan expresses peculiar ides... as if afganistan is a satelite state of pakistan.. is it wales of pakistan .. strange!!!!!!!
javaid bashir May 28, 2013 10:29am
Ms. Huma Housaf has nailed Nawaz Shadif's eagerness to promote trade with India. She raises interesting points in this regard. Mr. Sharif would loe to start from where he left the last time With the Lahore declaration. We will wait cautiously of the put come pf his unilateral offerings in the field. It is to be seen How India responds to his good will gestures. We have lot of issues to settle with India, like Kashmir. anti terrorism, and granting MFN status to India. Improving trade ties is one pf the important issue that he would lie o take up. Manmohan Singh must respond to these good will gestures of Nawaz Shstif The time is of the essence. The trade balance has to be ept normal. We need to improve upon exisring list of items to be traded. He will have to tackle other urgent matters to appease the citizens. The crisis faced by the industrial sector due to shortage of energy needs to be addressed on the immediate basis. with out further delay. JAVAID BASHIR LAHORE
ashok May 28, 2013 12:10pm
Process of improvement in Indo-Pak relations may begin post 2014, after due election here, it seems that rightist BJP lead by Modi will come to power so like PMLN they too will not be branded as traitor. What an irony, hawkish rightist parties at both the side of border is far more conducive in improvement of relations than secular liberal parties.
Dr Hemant Junnarkar May 28, 2013 12:26pm
To Sahha Pakistani, My friend, you are under wrong impression. India has no plans of dismantling Pakistan. India knows that dismantling Pakistan will cause more problems for India. It is the tactics played by military rulers of Pakistan to create feeling of insecurity among Pakistani people to perpetuate their rule I hope this situation will change under the able leadership of Mr Nawaz Sharif. As a saccha Pakistani I pray, you also look at the situation with open eyes.
Shridevi May 28, 2013 12:40pm
Economic reforms in a democratic Pakistan is not only goods news for Pakistan, but for the entire Asian continent. Let's hope things get better for Indian and Pakistan.
Prashant May 28, 2013 03:41pm
Thats right, some Indian cities are facing power cuts to an hour or so once in a while including Bangalore, Indian govt will find it difficult to convince people to sell power while there is a power cut.
Mustafa Razavi May 28, 2013 05:00pm
Just like India is miniscule for China.
Mustafa Razavi May 28, 2013 05:22pm
One-sided does not a peace make.
Mustafa Razavi May 28, 2013 05:24pm
The treatment Pakistanis get in the Arab world is far better than Muslims get in India. There are no Narinder Modi's in the Arab world.
Zak May 28, 2013 08:18pm
Wish we cut ties with India they are 17 different nations caught under one boundary and unnatural. Hence they have to teach hate towards Pakistan to keep their people togather.
Zak May 28, 2013 08:21pm
Central Asians view us well and they have no opinion of India except the grandeur of the Mughals and Muslim culture.
an indian May 28, 2013 08:25pm
We are happy to watch China fight it out publicly with the US and leave us to quietly work on our economy. As long as China remins preoccupied with the US it not be a nuisance to us.
an indian May 28, 2013 08:27pm
well you need to ask if Central Asia or West Asia would want to have anything to do with you? they do not see any common cultural link with wonders what historical links you hallucinate about?
Zak May 28, 2013 08:28pm
an indian May 28, 2013 08:30pm
Babu Khan ji the Pakistanis have been living in denial on everything. Their identity crisis began in 1947 and they still don't know who they are and what their country is about.
Zak May 28, 2013 08:31pm
Kpk is closer to Afghanistan, balochistan to Iran, Sind to Arabs, Punjab to Central Asia. The Mughals are gone and with them went the one common factor. End of story.
an indian May 28, 2013 08:36pm
Zak- wake u- the Central Asians will sell gas and oil to India because India can "pay". will they give you anything free?
Romulus May 28, 2013 10:51pm
That's because they don't share a common border.
Akil Akhtar May 28, 2013 11:13pm
What free afghanistan, the one that is under western occupation for almost 3 decades
Akil Akhtar May 28, 2013 11:16pm
Both sides have to want it but sadly india just wants its way not friendship
Akil Akhtar May 28, 2013 11:19pm
They need an enemy more than we do to keep the states together. No wonder india has a problem with all its neighbours.
Akil Akhtar May 28, 2013 11:23pm
So much hatred...
Akil Akhtar May 28, 2013 11:23pm
I have nothing similar with a south indian hindu either.