Amid mounting tensions and rising political temperature in India over the killing of Indians soldiers in Kashmir, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has struck a placatory note by calling for restoration of ceasefire and stressing that both countries should not allow “the situation to drift” and deflect from building trust in the relationship.
Sharif, who has been pushing for a rapprochement with India since he took charge in Islamabad after winning elections in June, voiced his hope that he looked forward to meeting India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New York in September.
Sharif’s attempt to cool down tensions came hours after India’s Defence Minister A.K. Antony accused Pakistan’s military of killing the five Indian soldiers at the Line of Control, that serves as de facto border between the two estranged neighbours, and warned Islamabad not to take India’s restraint for granted. This was the first time India has directly accused the Pakistani Army of the August 6 ambush, which has sparked a national uproar over Pakistan’s alleged duplicity in its relations vis-à-vis India.
Taking a strident tone, Antony bowed to the opposition’s onslaught in parliament, accusing the government of a soft line on Pakistan, and warned that “this incident will have consequences on our behaviour on the Line of Control and for our relations with Pakistan.” “It is now clear that specialist troops of Pakistan army were involved in this attack,” he said.
Antony’s strongly-worded statement suggested mounting compulsions on the Manmohan Singh government to rethink its plan to revive the dialogue process with Pakistan, which was stalled after the brutal beheading of an Indian solider by Pakistani Army in January this year.
The killings have cast a shadow over the planned meeting between Manmohan Singh and Sharif on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York in the last week of September.
Officials familiar with latest developments say the government has not made up its mind on either reviving the dialogue process or the proposed meeting in New York. There are still six weeks to go before the New York meeting and it will all depend on the how the situation pans out in this period, says a circumspect official.
Analysts familiar with the government’s thinking on the subject say that Antony’s strong statement was primarily meant to pacify a belligerent opposition and given Manmohan Singh’s unwavering commitment to turning around relations with Pakistan, all options are open. India’s External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid has said this is not the right time to talk about a meeting between Manmohan Singh and Sharif. “There will be lot of work necessary if we are to talk … but will it be conducive, we need to look at it,” he said.
Dousing the Fire
Sensing the scale of national outrage in India, Nawaz Sharif expressed “sadness” over “loss of precious human lives” and called for “effective steps” to restore peace on the border.
In a statement, Sharif stressed that it was “imperative” for both sides to take steps to ensure and restore the ceasefire on the Line of Control. “It is incumbent upon the leadership of both sides not to allow the situation to drift and to take steps to improve the atmosphere by engaging constructively with a view to building trust and confidence,” Sharif said.
In an indication that the much-speculated New York meeting may still be possible, Sharif said he was looking forward to meet Manmohan Singh to “build trust and consolidate this relationship.”
Sharif’s placatory statement has been seen in New Delhi as evidence of a sharp disconnect between the civilian government and Pakistan’s powerful military, which sets the agenda on Islamabad’s relations with New Delhi.
Will India revive dialogue?
Manmohan Singh, who has invested enormous political capital in easing strains with Pakistan, may, however, find it difficult to go ahead with the resumption of dialogue or the meeting in New York in view of the renewed politicisation of India-Pakistan relations. He has repeatedly told his Pakistani interlocutors that he is willing to walk the extra mile provided Pakistan addresses upfront India’s concerns on cross-border terror and delivers on 26/11 justice. He has also been relentlessly telling Pakistan’s leaders that in the absence of Pakistan’s visible action on these two issues, it will be difficult to find public support to continue any meaningful engagement.
One will be naïve to expect anything dramatic from Pakistan in the next few weeks, but concrete steps like appointing a judge for 26/11 trial could ease things for Manmohan Singh to take yet another gamble on restarting the dialogue process with Pakistan. Another factor that could weigh in favour of the restoration of the dialogue process is the persuasive argument that by not talking, India will be playing in the hands of those who masterminded and perpetrated 26/11 attacks as well as the latest August 6 cold-blooded murder of Indian soldiers. Handing a victory to saboteurs is hardly a sensible strategic choice.