On the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, after making their speeches and after having their other meetings, the Pakistani and Indian Prime Ministers, Mian Nawaz Sharif and Dr Manmohan Singh, met and agreed to bring down tensions on the Line of Control. The holding of the meeting reflected the tension that had arisen between the two countries ever since India had accused Pakistan of raiding one of its checkposts and beheading Indian soldiers. This had led to a breakdown of the ceasefire on the LoC. The resumption of artillery duels between the two countries was made more worrisome by the fact that the two countries had gone to war with each other three times on the Kashmir issue. The two Prime Ministers agreed to a restoration of the ceasefire, but left it to their respective DGMOs to get in touch and work out the details.

It was worth noting that the last time India had gone to war with Pakistan was in 1971, when it broke off East Pakistan to form Bangladesh. This Indian war was a post-election exercise, and the ruling Indian Congress won, with an assumed mandate that it could fight. It has not escaped notice in Pakistan that a Congress government is now facing an election and thus highlighted an important part of the rhetoric surrounding the meeting, what with one Pakistani province facing an insurgency from Indian-assisted elements. East Pakistan faced a natural disaster, the 1971 cyclone, Balochistan faced one very recently, the earthquakes that flattened Awaran district. Indeed, the day before the meeting, a second earthquake struck in Awaran district.

However, one major difference is that Congress in 1971 did not face such a strong opposition, symbolized this time by the rally in Manmohan’s capital by Narendra Modi, the opposition BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. Modi slammed Mian Nawaz, and incidentally sent the message that Manmohan was a lame duck, for even if his party wins the coming election, it is likelier than not to find another Prime Minister. Modi served notice that Nawaz might have to deal with him very soon, and thus highlighted an important facet of the meeting: that it was taking place against a background of Indian elections.

It is also worth noting that the two Prime Ministers met after their ‘American’ meetings. Manmohan met President Barack Obama, while Mian Nawaz met Secretary of State John Kerry, who promised him a meeting with President Obama on October 23. The USA has been interested in the two countries talking to one another, because it wants them to avoid a fourth war. That would be the first since both countries went nuclear. This would ignore the fact that there were 26 years of peace between the two countries before they declared possession of nuclear weapons. In fact, India’s first nuclear test, in 1975, came just four years after the 1971 War.

It is worth noting that the meeting at least paid a gesture towards the other issues bedeviling the Indo-Pak relationship, apart from Kashmir, which is the core issue. There was also a mention of the other pressing issues in the relationship, such as the Sir Creek and Siachen Glacier disputes, as well as the water dispute. The discussion on terrorism was reduced to a trading of charges, with Indian claims of Pakistani involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attacks being met by Pakistan raising the question of Indian involvement in the Balochistan insurgency.

There was no mention of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan being discussed, though there were two major reasons why it merited discussion. First, because the USA has given a disproportionate role to India in the country, but it has virtually no prospect of surviving the American drawdown. Second, and related to this, is the Indian use of its consulates in Afghanistan to foment trouble in Balochistan. It is difficult to imagine any meaningful discussions with the USA that excluded this subject.

Another subject that should have come up is the nuclear issue. Mian Nawaz spoke about it during his address to the General Assembly, but the main reason the USA is involved is because of the civilian nuclear accord which the USA has signed with India, and which it has denied to Pakistan. While India uses that accord to build its stockpiles of nuclear arms, Pakistan is also left to wonder why the USA reciprocates all its obedient help in the USA’s War on Terror by discriminating against it in favour of a power which is dedicated to its destruction.

It should be noted that Pakistan would like good relations with India, based on a solving of all outstanding problems. However, the Indian political scene offers little hope. On the one hand there is Congress, which has been against Pakistan since its inception, and which was at the helm during all of India’s wars against Pakistan. On the other is the BJP, which attacks Congress for being too soft on Pakistan. Add to this a Sikh Prime Minister and a Muslim Foreign Minister (not to forget an Italian party chief), and you will have an Indian team which is more interested in covering itself against BJP noises of a sell-out than of making progress with Pakistan.

Another important dimension is that Singh is noted as an economic reformer, not as a diplomat, with his main claim to fame before becoming PM being as Finance Minister in the 1990s. The BJP has thus put up another supposedly good economic manager as its standardbearer, based on his performance as Gujerat Chief Minister since he took office. However, Modi also presided over anti-Muslim riots in 2002 that add to his patriotic credentials, and lend point to his anti-Pakistan rhetoric. Whether or not the Indian electorate realizes it, there is a policy consensus on Pakistan. However, the area on which the competition is taking place, the economy, which has begun to sputter, should indicate that the government will have a relatively freer hand in dealing with Pakistan. At the same time, it is this sputtering which has tempted Congress to fight the election on an anti-Pakistan platform, on which the BJP is also willing to meet it. In his desire for good relations, Mian Nawaz may be overestimating the strength of the Indian business lobby, which wants good relations with Pakistan so that it can penetrate its markets.

It is not as if Mian Nawaz is new to dealing with Indian Prime Ministers. Manmohan is actually the fourth he has had as a counterpart. He must not need telling that the traditional stubbornness has been shown once again. One reason why Pakistan might have seemed apologetic is because India has shown its characteristic wish to establish a regional hegemony by trying to control the agenda, and have it reflect only its concerns. Pakistan must not let a desire for goodwill allow anyone to ride over its sovereignty.