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Nawaz's overtures well-intentioned, but likely ineffective

Published Jul 23, 2013 03:42pm


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Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. — File Photo.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. — File Photo.

ISLAMABAD: Nawaz Sharif’s government may be enthusiastic about resuming back-channel negotiations with India – but the feelings aren’t mutual.

According to a senior Pakistani government official, Islamabad’s ambition is that this “secret” mechanism between the two prime ministers will prevent the fragile peace process from being derailed unexpectedly; but independent observers don’t see it as a viable option. Although reports and officials statements in both New Delhi and Islamabad indicate that such contact has already been revived, the efforts seem to have been lacklustre at best so far.

Nawaz recently reportedly told the British foreign secretary that his government has revived back channel negotiations with India. In addition, both Pakistani and Indian media has reported on the not-so-secret contact between former Pakistani foreign secretary Shahryar Khan and senior Indian diplomat S.K Lamba. In an off-the-record briefing at the foreign office last month in Islamabad, senior officials also told a group of journalists that they were in the process of reviving such talks with India.

Earlier this month, the Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz met Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khursheed on the sidelines of the Asean Regional Forum (ASF) in Brunei. It was obvious that Aziz was making efforts to revive cordial relations: Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) were ‘reviewed’, and both ministers publicly hoped that bilateral dialogue would resume.

So on paper, the wheels are in motion. However, Indian foreign policy analysts say New Delhi is apparently uninterested in reviving the process. “The unfortunate reality is that talks with Pakistan do not occupy Indian mind space anymore, at the official, political and popular or media level. It is doubtful too, that with elections just a few months away, any government will begin experimenting with India-Pak ties,” said Nirupama Subramanian, Deputy Editor at The Hindu, one of India’s leading newspapers, while talking to Dawn.Com.

The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in India, led by the Congress Party, is currently mired in several corruption scandals, and has seen a steady decline in popularity. In these circumstances, the elections will likely be focused on problems other than ties with Pakistan. The opposition, the Bharatiya Janatiya Party (BJP) will also be looking at how the upcoming Manmohan Singh-Sharif meeting in September plays out, which will also shape how much of an issue Pakistan will be in the 2014 India elections.

Composite dialogue on hold

The problem is, back-channel talks aside, the more public bilateral talks (the composite dialogue) aren’t doing so well either. The dialogue was initially stalled following the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. Since then, the process has been moving forward at a snail’s pace. Similarly, trouble along the Line of Control (LoC) in January also caused a setback to direct talks – India refused to send its representatives to the negotiating table.

But experts say that the idea of using back-channels as a ‘shock absorber’ for when the composite dialogue process is under threat, isn’t viable. “Back-channel talks could only be used to defuse a crisis, but there is no crisis in Pak-India relations right now,” says former foreign secretary, Shamshad Ahmed Khan.

According to Khan, there is “no need for special emissaries to sustain a composite dialogue process,” because, “Composite dialogue can produce results if it is sustained over a longer period of time … engagement should be there, but it should be diplomatic engagement through foreign offices.”

Independent experts in New Delhi are also skeptical about the utility of the back channel, but don’t completely reject the benefits of direct contact between two prime ministers in improving bilateral ties.

“It (Direct contact between two prime ministers) can definitely help but it is no guarantee by itself. There was direct contact between Sharif and Vajpayee, but that could not prevent Kargil,” says Subramanian.

The Mumbai attacks changed bilateral ties

In addition, India’s acceptance to resume talks is always followed by a caveat: Pakistan will have to punish all the perpetuators of the Mumbai attacks before any formal negotiations can resume. In his latest speech in New Delhi, Indian FM Khursheed said that Pakistan would have to implement CBMs (a code for punishing those responsible for Mumbai attacks) before the composite dialogue process could resume.

Although Nawaz has a history of holding secret negotiations with his Indians counterparts through special emissaries, things have changed beyond recognition since the last time he did so.

Fourteen years ago, the premier agreed with his Indian counterpart, during the famous Lahore Summit meeting in Lahore in 1999, to start secret negotiations on Kashmir. There was no public announcement about it from either side. The media and public in both the countries came to know about it much later through inspired leaks.

Now, a formal interaction between the two premiers is at least three months away and even in this expected summit meeting in New York, there is no assurance that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will agree to a formal resumption of the dialogue process given the Indian insistence that Pakistan will have to punish the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks.

In Nawaz’s second tenure, the composite dialogue process and back-channel diplomacy started almost simultaneously in the wake of the Lahore Summit. Experts and analysts in Islamabad say that it appears that the Pakistani prime minister seems to be convinced that now, again, the composite dialogue process and back-channel negotiations will have to start simultaneously.

The big question mark surrounding the initiation of back-channel diplomacy is certainly related to the issues that are to be discussed in these talks. The previous rounds of secret diplomacy between the two countries were almost exclusively focused on Kashmir and security issues. Given Indian aversion to discussing Kashmir with Pakistan as a bilateral issue, experts rule out the possibility of Kashmir becoming the focus of covert negotiations.

However, there is a feeling within political circles close the Pakistani premier that they could, perhaps, resume dialogue with India in the context of framework agreed at the time of the Lahore Summit in 1999. Experts and analysts, meanwhile, describe this thinking within the ruling party as extremely naïve, which may prove to be hurdle in the way of resuming talks between the two countries.

But according to observers, it’s the Mumbai attacks, and not Kashmir, which have been the defining feature of Pak-India relations since 2008: “Forget about the Lahore declaration, remember the Mumbai attacks have happened and we have to live with its implications,” says Hassan Askari, a security analyst.

After the military coup in October 1999, the government of former military dictator, General (retd) Musharraf continued back-channel negotiations with India. According to the officials of the erstwhile military government, the negotiations were at a very advanced staged in terms of solving the Kashmir problem when Musharraf stepped down.

The good thing for Nawaz is that later, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government refused to own the back-channel negotiations on Kashmir held during Musharraf’s tenure. The then foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi told that “There was no record available in the foreign office about the back channel negotiations that took place during Musharraf’s time.”

It now remains to be seen whether whatever progress was made at the time – of which there seem to be no official records – can be reignited.


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Comments (25) Closed

Ebrahim Jul 23, 2013 05:51pm

What we see is the sincerity of Pakistan is never recognised by Indian Government. Further, anything happening in India, immediate reaction is to blame Pakistan although subsequently it transpires that it was from within India and Indians are found behind those actions. Keeping this in mind Pakistan should take it easy and not rush to start dialogue with them. Common sense will prevail and our cold attitude will force India to have dialogue with us.

Ravi Jul 23, 2013 06:35pm

@Ebrahim: See a doctor. You are suffering from delusion. Read something more credible than what your government shoves down your throat to find out great acts of 'Promoting Peace' that your country practices around the world.

Mandeep Jul 23, 2013 06:57pm

@Ebrahim: 6 dossiers containing the overwhelming evidence in case of 26/11 attacks have been handed over to Pakistan. UNSC has banned LeT, US convicted David Headely and Tawwur Rana, India hanged Ajmal Kasab Why you have changed judge over a dozen time hearing 26/11 attacks case? Remember, India is not the only country complaining about terrorism emanating from Pakistani soil. Read the leading newspapers you will know. I will save you the embarassment of listing such things here.

Abhishek Jul 23, 2013 07:39pm

@Ebrahim: Keep sleeping.

Avik Ray Jul 23, 2013 07:52pm

@Ebrahim: Common sense has prevailed and that is why India is not interested anymore to have a dialogue with Pakistan. These talks and so called back channels have been going on since last 60 years. The result is for anyone to see.

Javed Jul 23, 2013 08:13pm

Sincerity of Pakistan comes too late to table when India is not interested in talks. All previous attempts were sabotaged either by the terrorists or by the Pakistan Army.

Yogesh Jul 23, 2013 08:43pm

@Ebrahim:Don't consider your self to be so important that you could remain cool and world would come to you.

pathanoo Jul 23, 2013 09:03pm

Appropriate Title. Nawaz is too weak to take risks and risk is what he needs to take if this thing is going to get off the dime.

Shah Deeldar Jul 23, 2013 09:04pm

@Ebrahim: Why do you think India needs to have a dialogue with Pakistan?

(Dr.) B.N. Anand Jul 23, 2013 09:51pm

@Ebrahim: Sir, do you really believe that Pakistan had ever been serious and that India never recognised that sincerity? I doubt very much what you say. In any case let there be a cooling period. That will give both countries sufficient time to introspect. This will be a fruitful exercise only if there is no further Kargil, Parliament or Mumbai incidents. BNA

Mustafa Jul 23, 2013 10:10pm

Just a superpower wannabe attitude, "do more". An untouchable can never do enough to please a Brahmin.

Bilal Khattak Jul 23, 2013 10:24pm

Nawaz Sharif knows that the only way out is "through it", i.e reconciliation with India. That is the only viable option ( in my opinion) for the greater good. The problem is Pakistan Army which derails the normal evolution of things with power of gun. Now that the scum Musharraf is a thing of past, and Nawaz having had a lot of time to "think through the crapy aspects of his politics" I feel things are going in the right direction. Let peace prevail and let the crap settle.

Ali Jul 23, 2013 10:36pm

Mr. Nawaz Sharif calm down and take it easy. There is no need for a useless dialogues. It takes two to tangle or you need two hands to clap. Peace

Krishna Jul 24, 2013 12:08am

@Ebrahim: You seem to be ill informed. Was Mumbai attack created by India? With lot of information from Headley, you seem to be ignorant. Dig deeper and find out how manipulative Pakistan's past leaders have been. Previous Government was run by Military and not fully on its own. Zardari was just a puppet. Sharif seems to be most reliable leader Pakistan has till this day. Kashmir should never stand a major item to discuss. Both countries have serious internal problems and they must be addressed. Previous Foreign ministers were only targeting Kashmir issue. We both have same culture, same kind of food and same kind of behavior. Let us join together and be a family once again. I am one of those who has affiliation with both countries.

Vijay Jul 24, 2013 12:33am

@Ebrahim: Agree with you 100%. Pakistan should have no contact with India.

Abdul Qudus Jul 24, 2013 02:48am

@Ebrahim: I have difficulty in understanding the PM's overture for a dialogue with India. It is unfortunate that he has not learned any thing from the history. A troubled, weak Pakistan can not be taken by India seriously. The mindset of India has not changed, otherwise Pakistan would not have been created, otherwise Nehru would not have refused Ayub khan's offer, otherwise Pakistan would not have been divided into 2 parts in 1971. It was a civil war, if India was sincere then it should have stayed neutral. How Pakistanis can be so naive to trust India which is hellbent in occupying Kashmir & ignoring the UN resolution regarding the ceasefire. These new Pakistanis can choose to forget Indian police action of Hyderabad, Junagarh, Manavader & Mangrol. History will remember it. Jafar & Sadiq are not forgiven.

Raza Jul 24, 2013 02:59am

India is building another dam on Sutlej in clear violation of the Indus water treaty, the latest reports say. So there goes Sharif's confidence building measure.

Shri Jul 24, 2013 03:50am

India's demand to bring to justice the masterminds of 26/11 terror attacks is a genuine demand. India has acted by hanging Ajmal Kasab, US has acted by convicting David Headley and Tawwur Rana, UN has acted by banning LeT, Why Pakistan is dragging its feet after registering a case against so called "non-state" actors ? India has handed over 6 dossiers of evidence to Pakistan why it again and again changing the judge hearing the case ? Pakistan is trying to revive the composite dialogue without addressing a very reasonable Indian demand to fulfill its own promise to bring to justice the masterminds of Mumbai terror attacks. Indian PM is a great champion of India Pakistan friendship, but how far he can go against strong public opinion ? Nawaz Sharif's desire to have good relationship with India is welcome but he has to act against such powerful groups which have trans border capabilities, otherwise, he is not in control. It is not only India, these are 6 other countries also, whose citizens were killed who demand justice. If Pakistanis think that they have an argument for every demand that India makes on terrorism, they must realise it is not India alone who is complaining of terrorism coming from Pakistan soil, it is a global demand.

Srinivas Rao Jul 24, 2013 05:30am

It is a fact that there is no space for Pakistan in the mind space of Indian Politicians and Indian main stream media atleast till elections are over in 2014. Things can change if Pakistan does its judicial process sincerely on the people caught in the afternmath of Mumbai carnage. I can see India is covered by Pakistani media almost on a daily basis but I hardly see any news about Pakistan in the Indian News papers, even in the cases of big explosions and heavy casualities in Pakistan.

meow Jul 24, 2013 08:26am

@Ebrahim: I think, India doesn't know whom to reciprocate in Pak. whenever, you talk to left hand, the right is ready with Kargil, Mumbai attacks. Can you tell one office that can negotiate on behalf of Pak. There are too many people with no mandate. So how to negotiate with changing goalpost. it seems best to leave Pak alone for sometime

PAUL Jul 24, 2013 10:17am

We accepts and agreed the warmful efforts and good positive approaches of Nawaz. But Till Pakistan Govt operated fully by Military. Without their consent, even Nawaz also do anything. It is a well known one by India. Example. Pak General Kayani warned & advised To New PM to hold and don't take speed actions to develop Ties with India. After that immediately hold all such efforts. Then how can Indian reliable about PAK efforts?. Any thing happened, it happened according to Military Chief's decision. But we till appreciate the new PM's wants to peace with India. We also expect the day such as free trade, Movements between two brotherhood countries.

Anoop Jul 24, 2013 11:27am


Why would India come to negotiate? You would want to negotiate if you want something.

India is a status quo player. Its common knowledge that the status quo player can control the direction of the proceedings. SInce, Pakistan is revisionist and doesn't have the resources to force a change in the Status Quo, it'll always be Pakistan which will have to go the extra yard to please India.

Ashish Jul 24, 2013 01:03pm

@Ebrahim: Did your separatist founders not nail this thought of yourself belonging to a completely separate "nothing in common" race, deep enough into your mind? Interesting. Those who disown their own ancestors are seeking trust. After the 4 wars that you have initiated, there is little convincing anyone that there is no further mischief that you can do.

Arslan Jul 24, 2013 01:49pm

@Ebrahim: This is true, Pakistan has no need what so ever to have talks with India. Sort out things in west because Indians are to stubborn to change their thinking about Pakistan. But If Indians return to sanity it would be great if both nations can live in peace and don't threaten nuking each other on small matters like clashes on LOC.

Zain Jul 24, 2013 03:29pm

Now the cat is out and truth has spoken with solid proofs that India and its RAW is behind of all the terrorist attacks in India, then why expect Pakistan to punish terrorist. It can only happen if India handover all the involved parties in terrorist attack to Pakistan, than for sure Pakistan will punish them and make them an example. The truth is there is no need for Pakistan to have a relation with the nation who is an anarchic state torn by communal bias and caste-hatred," and on its way of self destruction due to all the insurgencies for separation in India.