Blame Nawaz

Published August 23, 2015
The writer is a member of staff.
The writer is a member of staff.

There is no point talking about Kashmir, but there is a point in talking to India. Nawaz knows that. The boys won’t accept that. And Modi doesn’t seem to get it.

What Nawaz doesn’t know is how to get the other two to listen to him. Not Modi, nor the boys. And it really is his fault this time.

There is no point talking about Kashmir because Kashmir isn’t going anywhere. Not for the Indians, nor for Pakistan.

There’s no point in talking about Kashmir. Not now. But there is a way to do it. And it’s not the way Nawaz has gone about it.

You don’t need to know anything about Kashmir to know that India hasn’t quite got everything under control in its bit of Kashmir. Nor is about to.

And you don’t need to know anything about global politics or diplomacy to know that the Pak-India relationship isn’t in a shape to get big things done. Nor is about to.

So there’s no point in talking about Kashmir. Not now. But there is a way to do it. And it’s not the way Nawaz has gone about it.

There were basically two things Nawaz had to play off each other in Ufa: terrorism and Kashmir.

Modi had made it known that it was terrorism first if talks were going to happen or else it was going to be Indian foreign policy minus Pakistan.

If that sounds stupid and self-defeating, it is. But that’s for India to decide and Modi to realise.

Over here, the boys are not in favour of rapprochement and would never countenance letting Kashmir slip off the agenda.

So, to make talks happen, Nawaz had to split the difference. But he didn’t. Have a look at the five points of Ufa and you’ll see how Nawaz got himself in trouble:

  1. A meeting in New Delhi between the two NSAs to discuss all issues connected to terrorism.

  2. Early meetings of DG BSF and DG Pakistan Rangers followed by that of DGMOs.

  3. Decision for release of fishermen in each other’s custody, along with their boats, within a period of 15 days.

  4. Mechanism for facilitating religious tourism.

  5. Both sides agreed to discuss ways and means to expedite the Mumbai case trial, including additional information like providing voice samples.

Number two is important but boring. Three and four are plain boring. One and five is where the trouble lies.

If No 1 had just read “A meeting in New Delhi between the two NSAs to discuss all issues”, Nawaz would have had some wiggle room. It’s the “connected to terrorism” that made it Indian.

Same thing with No 5: the “including additional information like providing voice samples” was too specific and too Indian-ish. Extra clauses can be dangerous things.

After that, the only way Ufa was not going to be vetoed by the boys was if there had been a sixth point about Kashmir — or Balochistan or Samjhota. Some kind of red meat.

Nawaz should have known this. Either Ufa had to be kept vague or it had to have specificity that was not just Indian but Pakistani too.

Or Nawaz should have waited until the next meeting, maybe at the UNGA or one of these big international conferences.

Remember, no one expected anything out of Ufa. The best-case scenario was that things would not blow up.

Remember also that the pressure was on Modi to talk. The Americans weren’t happy with him on Pakistan nor were the Europeans, and the year-long shenanigans along the LoC and Working Boundary had caused some alarm.

Nobody but nobody doubted where Nawaz stood on India. The only difference opinion-wise lay in whether he was viewed sympathetically or somewhat derisively for still, in a third stint, being unable to wrest any space from the boys.

So Nawaz had two options: either split the difference between Modi and the boys in Ufa or wait a few months more and let the outside pressure build on Modi.

He chose to be greedy. Or hasty. Or, sadly, just plain stupid.

You can see what he was going for — a commitment to get Modi in Islamabad next year for Saarc. You can see how a Modi visit would be a triumph for Nawaz. You can also see why Nawaz is such a bad foreign minister.

Be bold, but cover your flanks. Be daring, but look over your shoulder too. Try, but expect to fail. All of that would be a good foreign minister. None of that is Nawaz, the keeper of the foreign minister portfolio.

We’ve seen it twice now: he seems to have the vision, but he has no plan. Last time, last year, he was swatted away for being in too much of a hurry and getting Shahbaz involved.

That was entirely expected. And it was because he tried to circumvent the system.

This time he’s tried to circumvent the agenda and found himself punished by Modi and looking silly at home. What next time?

Unhappily, the vision too is beginning to look frayed. Boon as it would be for the rest of Pakistan, there’s always been the suspicion that Nawaz on India is really about Punjab.

Punjab has everything, but it doesn’t have a Karachi. Tear down the wall with India and the goodness would spread everywhere, but the real bonanza would be for Punjab.

You saw the same thing on CPEC, the instinct to funnel stuff to the base, to Punjab. Why should it be any different with India?

So, onwards we limp. Long muzzled by the boys, everyone knows that. Now on Nawaz we are learning again: the vision is limited, the agenda is small and the tactics non-existent.

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, August 23rd, 2015

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