When Prime minister Nawaz Sharif landed in New Delhi with a message of peace for the newly elected Prime Minister of India, little did he know he would face tough-talk from a blunt, hardliner Modi on his very first day in office. It seemed that Pakistan’s goodwill gesture of releasing 150 Indian fishermen prisoners on the eve of the visit had little effect on Modi’s hostile mood.

 Nawaz Sharif’s visit  took place amidst  heightened  tensions between India and Pakistan. Recent weeks  saw a rise in ceasefire violations from the Indian side on the Kashmir LOC  coupled with the denial of  visas to 500 Pakistani pilgrims to visit the shrine of Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti at Ajmer Sharif, the fourth such incident in a year.  Furthermore, Pakistan denied visa extensions to two Indian journalists based in Islamabad.

Modi’s ‘do more’ mantra should have been reciprocated by Nawaz Sharif in the same spirit.  Pakistan was asked to abide by its commitment to prevent its territory from being used to stage terror attacks in India. In the same breath, Modi should have been conveyed Pakistan’s deep concerns over continued allegations of India’s efforts to destabilise  Balochistan.

When Modi demanded the speedy trial of the alleged Mumbai terrorists accused by Pakistani courts, perhaps he should also have been reminded about the delay in bringing to justice all those involved in the 2007 bombing of the Lahore bound Samjhauta Express by Hindu extremists, including  an Indian Army officer. The tragedy led to 68 fatalities many of whom were Pakistanis.

Nawaz Sharif should have communicated Pakistan’s concerns over an increased Indian military presence in Afghanistan as well as the strengthening of Indian intelligence network on Afghan soil. Apart from the $2 billion economic investment India has made in Afghanistan in recent years, it has stepped up training and capacity building programs of the Afghan National Army  in anticipation of the US- ISAF’ s drawdown  from Afghanistan by end 2014. In case Abdullah Abdullah, an ethnic Tajik, is elected the next Afghan President (one who is known for his  closeness to India),  a Modi – Abdullah nexus could prove to be dangerous for the security of Pakistan’s western borders.     

Will Modi  continue with  former BJP leader and Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpaee’s  vision of  peaceful co-existence with Pakistan?  During his visit to Lahore, both Prime Ministers signed the  historic  Lahore declaration on February 21, 1999, embodying their ‘shared vision of peace and stability between their countries and of progress and prosperity for their peoples.’

The Lahore declaration also stressed the need for mutually agreed confidence building measures for improving the security environment and the resolution of all outstanding issues including Jammu and Kashmir through dialogue.

While Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif remains committed to picking up the threads from the Lahore Declaration, there was no such indication from Narendra Modi. The  Indian foreign ministry spokeswoman reiterated that India’s position on Kashmir was well known, which implied that India would show no flexibility in resolving the Kashmir dispute according to UN resolutions or through bilateral talks. Nawaz Sharif disappointed the Kashmiris as well as his countrymen by not mentioning  the ‘K’ word in his statement before leaving New Delhi.

What options does Modi have vis a vis future relations with Pakistan?  If the hardline Hindu nationalist adopts an aggressive anti-Pakistan policy of confrontation, South Asia’s peace could be the biggest casualty.  In such a scenario,  the  Modi–military-media nexus in India could disrupt the peace process.

The Indian corporate and business sector that was instrumental in promoting Modi from Gujrat to New Delhi,  is eager to enter Pakistani/ Central Asian markets. Thus India stands to gain economically if a moderate Modi shows vision by cooperating with Pakistan  and resolving  outstanding disputes.  The Indians fully understand that their dream of becoming a global economic power will remain unfulfilled unless Pakistan grants India the strategic transit trade route to Afghanistan onto Central Asian states via Wagha/ Torkham in Pakistan. While granting such major trade concessions to India is part of the greater international agenda for the region, this could become a reality provided there is a strong quid pro quo like a breakthrough on  Kashmir and water disputes between India and Pakistan. Similarly, energy starved India needs gas from Central Asian gas fields through the TAPI (Turkemanistan- Afghanistan – Pakistan – India) gas pipeline.

Prime minister Nawaz Sharif showed great statesmanship when he urged Modi to change ‘confrontation into cooperation’ for the sake of peace and security in the region and the prosperity of the 1.5 billion people of India and Pakistan.

The emphasis of the Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers on enhancing trade as well as  greater people to people contact  may not be sufficient to  reduce the  wide trust deficit or lead to normalization in relations between the two neighbors. As a strong Prime Minister with a historic mandate, Modi must show courage to restart the  composite dialogue in the spirit of the Lahore Declaration to achieve meaningful results.

The people of Pakistan desire peace through dialogue with India as two equal sovereign nations without compromising our vital national interests and maintaining the country’s dignity and honor. The nation will back Nawaz Sharif  if he shuns the policy of appeasement towards India and deals with Modi from a position of strength as the democratically elected Prime Minister of a nuclear armed nation comprising 200 million people.

 The writer is a retired Brigadier and political/ defence analyst

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