ISLAMABAD: While newly-elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made some positive overtures to India soon after his party won the election, senior Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) officials say no major foreign policy initiative towards the neighbouring country is likely to take place soon.
His inner party circles as well as foreign policy-making institutions in Pakistan have given him the same advice: As far as normalising relations with India is concerned, keep it slow.
PML-N officials said that it had been decided in party meetings that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will focus on tackling domestic problems. “For the next one year our government will be focused on the energy sector … our number one, two and three priorities will be the energy sector,” PML-N senior leader, Ahsan Iqbal told Dawn.com.
He added: “The electricity crisis has overshadowed everything else, it has even overshadowed diplomacy. Nobody is taking us seriously in the international arena. A country where there is 18 hours of load shedding, how can anyone take it seriously?” he said.
Nawaz Sharif’s decision to manage the foreign affairs portfolio himself, and his upbeat statements about relations with India during the election campaign, created the impression that he might rush for a 1999 Nawaz-Vajpayee summit-like event immediately after coming to power. This had given rise to the impression that a major foreign policy initiative is on the cards.
Former foreign secretary, Shamshad Ahmed Khan, who is considered close to Nawaz, also confirmed that the prime minister has been advised from all sides that he should not show haste in making any major shift in policy connected with relations with India. “Nawaz Sharif knows my opinion and he knows the opinion prevailing within the foreign office – that we should not rush for it,” Shamshad told Dawn.com
Nawaz’s desire to rush for improving ties with India is likely to be further blunted when senior military officials brief him sometime next week, about the security and military situation, including the situation on the eastern and western borders.
Although the country is facing no immediate threat on its eastern border, the situation, nevertheless, is far from normal. Indian military planners have been considering the dangerous ‘Cold Start’ doctrine, under which they believe they can punish Pakistan with their conventional military superiority and yet stop short of invoking Pakistan’s nuclear response.
Besides, security and foreign policy experts believe that there is hardly any enthusiasm visible in New Delhi for undertaking a major foreign policy initiative towards Pakistan. In India, the Congress-led government is facing a lot of domestic pressure and the opposition, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has adopted a very strident approach towards Pakistan. Experts say that in this situation, the Indian government will not go out of its way to normalise relations with Pakistan.
“The only major policy shift expected from the Congress government is that perhaps it will agree to resume dialogue with Pakistan, which they suspended in January following an incident on the Line of Control (LoC),” security expert Hassan Askari explained.
Ironically, Pakistani and Indian leadership is diametrically opposed as far as the agenda of potential talks is concerned. The countries have a completely different set of priorities in dealing with each other.
A senior PML-N leader told Dawn.com that Nawaz is clear that he wants to normalise relations with India in the spirit of the Lahore declaration. This would, in practical terms, mean that Kashmir has to be given primacy, after which come the issues of nuclear security , followed by a set of issues ranging from trade, to people-to-people contact and other disputes like Sir Creek and Siachen.
On the other hand, Indian leaders have come to focusing exclusively on a single point agenda of terrorism, in the wake of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks.
Yet, despite the stark difference in priorities, there is still hope. Opposing ideas about the agenda of the talks have, in the past, led to a stalemate in the dialogue between the two countries. But many former diplomats of Pakistan say that the two countries can overcome these problems, if given a chance. “These are the challenges for diplomacy, the best solution for reaching common ground is to let the diplomats make bridges and you will find the way forward,” Shamshad concluded.