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Ceasefire: Will it turn 10?

August 12, 2013

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif did the right thing when he expressed “sadness” at the recent “incidents” along the Line of Control (LoC). He said it was imperative for India and Pakistan to take effective steps to “ensure and restore” the ceasefire along the LoC.

As India reels from the deaths of five soldiers in the Poonch sector on August 6, questions are being raised on how the incident could have happened at the highest levels of the army and civilian leadership.

While India blamed the Pakistani army for the deaths, Pakistan denied that its troops were responsible.

After the guns fell silent on November 25, 2003, following a choreographed ceasefire, Indians and Pakistani civilians living on either side of the LoC could go about living their lives normally for the first time in decades.

The 2003 ceasefire was a result of prolonged back channel negotiations between the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government and the administration headed by General Pervez Musharraf. A question mark hangs over the longevity of the ceasefire agreement, which will soon complete 10 years.

After having scuppered the Lahore process when Nawaz Sharif was Prime Minister, Musharraf and Indian PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee put in place the first-ever comprehensive ceasefire agreement between the two countries.

To me, the moral of the story is that India-Pakistan relations “work” when there is a buy-in from Rawalpindi, or better still, Rawalpindi is running the affairs of Pakistan.

In November 2008, when the Mumbai attacks cut through the edifice of bilateral relations, Asif Ali Zardari had just been elected President of Pakistan and a civilian government had announced its desire to have the best possible relations with India.

Ashfaq Kayani, who succeeded Pervez Musharraf in November 2007, didn’t share his predecessor’s views on improving relations with India. Under his watch, India-Pakistan relations haven’t made much headway at all.

The challenges for Nawaz Sharif in his third time as Prime Minister are apparent. Having been packed off twice by the Army, Sharif must remain wary about the powers-that-be in Rawalpindi especially when it comes to implementing his stated policy of improving relations with India.

The Pakistani leader must also be aware of the implications of the Eid message of Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, who openly called for a jihad to be waged not just in Kashmir, but in Burma (Myanmar) and Palestine.

That Saeed was allowed to lead prayers inside the Gaddafi Stadium is the worst possible message that Pakistan could send out at this juncture. This is bound to raise questions about the new civilian government’s intentions of curbing jihadi elements.

In a recent opinion piece, military analyst Ayesha Siddiqa wrote, “We also know that there is sufficient infiltration of jihadi networks in the police department and security establishment. There are senior police officers in Punjab (serving and retired) who go around fixing appointments for Hafiz Saeed and other militant leaders.”

These are pretty scary words.

And, seen along with the ongoing terrorist attacks in Pakistan, including the latest in Quetta, this raises serious questions about the Pakistani State’s desire to deal with terrorist violence.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who even staked his government to strike a civil nuclear deal with the United States, needs to show some spunk when it comes to dealing with Pakistan.

Rather than allow the BJP, large bits of which remain ideologically opposed to Pakistan’s creation, to hijack the bilateral agenda, Dr. Singh needs to show leadership in dealing with Pakistan.

He’s allowed India’s Pakistan policy to drift and recent demonstrations by Youth Congress workers in Delhi only go to show that the ruling party is not averse to playing crass notes to a narrow jingoist constituency.

The fact is that whatever Dr. Singh does with Pakistan, the BJP and large sections of the Indian media will attack him.

So, why not then show some leadership and engage the new leadership in Pakistan, which should include the country’s army brass in some form or the other, in a serious dialogue about each other’s concerns?

While India wasn’t an issue in the recent Pakistan elections, Pakistan certainly will be an issue in the Indian elections if the BJP has its way.

Dialogue is not about speaking Punjabi, eating khurchan or even shaking hands. Dialogue is about engaging the other party in serious discussions on areas of difference in the hope of crafting acceptable agreements.

Had India and Pakistan built on the 2003 agreement by putting in place robust mechanisms to deal with violations rather than indulging in a cat-and-mouse game along the LoC, the ceasefire would not have been in danger.

For this, a quality dialogue between the Indian and Pakistani armies, supervised and led by the civilian leaderships, must happen.

Lack of incremental progress in India-Pakistan relations only leads to one thing – a reverse slide.