It’s time to emancipate India-Pakistan ties from the scourge of cross-border terror and violence. This was the overarching message of India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the day India celebrated its 67th Independence Day.
In his last Independence Day address before the country goes to polls in the summer of 2014, this is not the grim message Manmohan Singh, a robust proponent of India-Pakistan peace, would have liked to convey to Islamabad but the brutal killings of five Indian soldiers at the Line of Control in Kashmir, allegedly by Pakistani specialised troops, left him with no choice but to talk tough.
There was a note of disappointment and bitterness in Manmohan Singh’s voice as he underlined that although India has strived for friendship with its neighbouring countries, for “relations with Pakistan to improve, it is essential they prevent the use of their territory and territory under their control for any anti-India activity.”
Alluding to the “dastardly attack” by Pakistani troops on August 6, that killed five Indian soldiers in Jammu and Kashmir, he vowed to “take all possible steps to prevent such incidents in the future.”
The killing of Indian soldiers has cast a shadow on the prospects of reviving the dialogue process between India and Pakistan that was stalled after the brutal beheading of an Indian soldier in January this year. The killings have also called into question the proposed meeting between the prime ministers of India and Pakistan on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September.
The atmospherics in bilateral ties, which till the August 6 incident was bristling with optimism, has been now clouded, with both sides trading in mutual recriminations and rhetorical posturing. Pakistan’s National Assembly August 13 passed a resolution accusing Indian troops of “unprovoked aggression” on the LoC and extending support to the “struggle” of the Kashmiri people.
In a counter-response, India’s parliament passed a resolution August 14 on the eve of Independence Day rejecting the Pakistan National Assembly resolution, saying it levelled “absolutely baseless and unfounded” allegations against India. The resolution asserted that Pakistan army was actually involved in “unprovoked” attack on the Line of Control (LoC) last week.
Pakistan’s hawkish military establishment is widely suspected to be behind engineering this gloomy turnaround in ties, but the new civilian government in Islamabad has been tenaciously pitching for a revival of dialogue. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has declared improving his country’s relations with India a major priority of his regime, has not given up on his peace initiative. In his Independence Day message to people of India August 14, Sharif spoke about Islamabad’s “desire to turn a fresh page in our bilateral relations.” He stressed that the people of his country aspire to “promote friendly, cooperative and good neighbourly” ties with India and he looked forward to meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New York.
Promise versus Reality
“Turning a fresh page,” – this visionary turn of phrase the people in India and Pakistan have heard ad infinitum in recent past, but such inspired locutions sound increasingly hollow with sections in Pakistan’s establishment stubbornly refusing to give up the terror option vis-à-vis India. India has been relentlessly making a simple but telling point that any substantive and meaningful improvement in bilateral relations can only happen in the absence of terror and violence. Islamabad, on its part, has repeatedly assured India that it will not allow its territory to be used for terror and anti-India activity. But this pledge has been repeatedly betrayed in practice, and the enemies of peace in Pakistan have made sure that every time India and Pakistan talk the language of peace, trade and shared prosperity, it remains precisely that: a lot of talk sans action.
As the two sub-continental siblings, the people of India and Pakistan, if their rulers don’t deliver fast enough, should seize the initiative to free up this promising relationship from the curse of terror and those who thrive on subversion, half-truths and plan lies.
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