After a year of hostile statements by Modi and some of his hawkish ministers, in India and Bangladesh as well as LOC and border shellings, the Indian Prime Minister agreed to invite his counterpart in Pakistan, to a meeting in the Russian town of UFA where the two had gone to attend the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation) Conference.

The meeting was not a break-through. It however was a welcome move towards a new beginning of talks between the two countries and the lowering of tensions.

A Joint Statement was issued after the meeting. This statement has for considerable comments and criticism in Pakistan and even by some elements in India (the Congress spokesman called it an “eye-wash”). This brief statement needs to be read and reread to understand the nature and meanings of the one-hour talk that took place between the two leaders. Here is the Joint Statement text:

“The Prime Ministers of Pakistan and India met today on the sidelines of the SCO Summit in Ufa. The meeting was held in a cordial atmosphere. The two leaders exchanged views on issues of bilateral and regional interest.

They agreed that India and Pakistan have a collective responsibility to ensure peace and promote development. To do so, they are prepared to discuss all outstanding issues.

Both leaders condemned terrorism in all its forms and agreed to cooperate with each other to eliminate this menace from South Asia.

They also agreed on the following steps to be taken by the two sides:

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.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reiterated his invitation to Prime Minister Modi to visit Pakistan for the SAARC Summit in 2016. Prime Minister Modi accepted the invitation.”

Even a cursory look at the five points of the statement leaves little doubt that the text was prepared by the Indian officials to which their Pakistani counterparts willy-nilly agreed. Leaving aside the two points regarding the release of arrested fishermen and religious tourism, the substance of the other two is skewed towards the Indian agenda and the remaining one relates to meetings of military officers essentially for matters pertaining to LOC and the borders. While the preface sentence prior to the listing of the five steps does refer to collective responsibility for peace and development and the need for discussing “all outstanding issues”, the meeting envisaged between the Security Advisors is to be confined to “all issues connected to terrorism”. Add to this the 5th step which specifically speaks of expediting the “Mumbai case trial including additional information like providing voice samples”.

The question is, if a specific issue pertaining to an Indian demand was to be included in the Joint Statement, why correspondingly, was there no mention of a matter of deep concern to Pakistan? Nawaz Sharif  was rightly criticised for this lapse, as a reference to Kashmir should have been included? It is understandable that the statement did not go down well with the Pakistan military. Notice also needs to be taken of the reaction of the Hurriyat of Kashmiri leaders, especially the veteran freedom fighter Ali Geelani, who by way of protest has declined to accept the invitation of the Pakistan High Commissioner in India for an EID get-together. Further it may be noticed that no specific dates have been indicated for the meetings mentioned in the text.

How was it that Mr. Modi persuaded himself to descend from the high horse, to ask Nawaz Sharif to meet him in UFA on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation conference? While taking into consideration the goading and prodding by USA and Russia, C. Raja Mohan in a recent Indian Express article, has spelt out the real reason for Modi’s change of mind. According to him it has much to do with the changing “dynamic rapidly altering the regional context” because of US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Russian and Chinese desire to stabilise Afghanistan and Pakistan, Moscow’s eagerness to mobilize India into an inner – Asian coalition and Beijing’s interest in rebuilding the Silk Road across Eurasia. Raja Mohan observes that, “Partition and its geopolitical consequences made Pakistan a great barrier between India and inner Asia.” And “to be an effective player in Central Asia, India must find a way either through Pakistan or around it”. While Mr. Modi during his five-nation tour of the region worked hard to deepen connectively to central Asia through Iran and called for an accelerated development of the North-South Transportation Corridor (NSTC) established by India, Iran and Russia, he did not forget Indian’s shortest route to Central Asia which runs through Lahore, Rawalpindi and Peshawar.

Modi, in fact, in his speech at the Nazarbayev University in Astana, the Kazakhstan capital, said, “We can restore the traditional route to Central Asia through Pakistan and Afghanistan”. Also during his visit to Turkmenistan, he emphasised the urgency of implementing the TAPI pipeline project for “promoting regional integration between the sub-continent and Central Asia”. Relevant here, would be to recall Senator Mushahid Hussain’s perceptive observations: “Pakistan’s importance in regional politics and connectivity is not lost on New Delhi, especially the warming of ties with Moscow. India realises it is being isolated in trying to “isolate” Pakistan. The international community recognises that the road to peace in Kabul runs through Islamabad. Besides, Pakistan’s outreach to Russia and China has changed the dynamics in favour of Pakistan”.

Nawaz Sharif will have to tread carefully in dealing with India, all the more so, now that the LOC is heating up again and a spy drone from India has been shot down by Pakistan forces. Such irritants need to the managed promptly and with sagacity. Nawaz has also to see that the reservations and apprehensions of the army are not only recognised but also addressed through continuing mutual consultations. Sartaj Aziz, has sought, through press conferences, to do some damage control with regard to the Joint Statement full out, but a lot will depend on how our government counters Indian designs to keep Pakistan pinned down to charges of cross-border terrorism and in particular on matters relating to the Mumbai incident. Also of importance is how intelligently Pakistan succeeds to convince the world of Indian’s involvement in various ways, in spawning and supporting terrorist and subversive activities in Pakistan.

The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and a freelance political and international relations analyst.

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