Democracy has started striking strong roots in Pakistan. The massive turnout of voters during the election and smooth transition of power testified it. How this massive mandate helps in putting the country back on the track and restoring its image as a key global player will depend upon commitment of the PML (N) leadership to their country and its ideology.
On Wednesday, Nawaz Sharif started his third innings as Prime Minister of Pakistan- the earlier two much before his completing the full terms were aborted. One day after taking oath of office in a message for all heads of Pakistan missions across the globe, he highlighted broader contours of his foreign policy. Notwithstanding some Pakistan newspapers describing this document “shorn of ambition and short on vision,” two important points in it caught my immediate attention. One “developing regional consensus on supporting a stable government and peace in Afghanistan, and another, “the need to progressively pursue normalcy in bilateral relations with India, while actively seeking solutions for all outstanding issues, including the disputed Jammu & Kashmir region.’
Many international experts on South Asia hold the view that Kashmir was gateway to peace in Afghanistan. There has been a lot of debate on a regional approach for resolution of Kashmir. Some years back subscribing to this idea even President Obama ‘repeatedly said that ending Indo-Pak differences over Kashmir was one of the keys to calming tensions in South Asia and winning the war on terror.’ One can safely say the two are dovetailed. Nevertheless, from the statements made by Nawaz Sharif immediately after his elections it emanates that he sees improving of relations with India in isolation of other developments in the region.
In his enthusiasm after his victory at polls, he lost no time in inviting Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh for his oath taking ceremony and even stated that he was ready to travel to New Delhi ‘uninvited’. Moreover, for starting a dialogue with India, he wanted to pick up threads where they were left fourteen year back when Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee’s had visited the Minar-e-Pakistan. Notwithstanding, Prime Minister Singh congratulating him and sending a personal envoy to Lahore there has not been much a response from New Delhi. In fact, he is starting his innings at a bad note so far relations with New Delhi are concerned. Two day before and one day, after Nawaz Sharif took over three developments in a queue took place that do not bode well for overzealousness Sharif. One, the Pakistan High Commission lodged a strong protest with the Ministry of External Affairs over ‘alleged’ beating of Zargam Raza, First Secretary (Trade) and his driver by some people near Jawaharlal Nehru University. Two, at Chief Ministers’ conference on security matters in New Delhi Home Minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde accused Pakistan intelligence agencies of trying to recruit and train Sikh militants to attack across the border in the state of Punjab and other places in India. Third, one day after oath taking an army officer was killed on the LOC in Poonch sector in firing by Pakistan troops. Pakistan denied the report.
The timing of these developments has puzzled even some Pakistani commentators, if these developments were, going to dampen enthusiasm of Nawaz Sharif and put a brake on his speed.
From his message to Pakistan missions, it transpires that his focus essentially will be improving trade relations with India. Sharif’s decision to keep the foreign minister portfolio with himself, as a Pakistani newspaper puts it, ‘he intends to unveil a new foreign policy for his country himself.’ He appointed Sartaj Aziz a development economists with a vast experience in planning and one time his Foreign Minister as Advisor on National Security and Foreign Affairs. Although, it would be too early to comment on Nawaz Sharif Kashmir policy in his third inning yet the order of words in the first foreign policy document suggests that Kashmir has been put at end of the queue.
The new government in Islamabad needs not to follow policy of its predecessor in office on Kashmir. It needs to learn from the experiences to quote Munir Akram a former Pakistan Ambassador to United Nations, “It is axiomatic that negotiation pursued from a weak position cannot yield fair results,” this is exactly what happened to Musharraf entrusting job of back door diplomacy to a close aide with no knowledge of India-Pakistan relations or Kashmir. His moves on Kashmir would have only confirmed status quo, if not worsened it. Commenting on his Kashmir policy Akram writes, “Nowhere is Pakistan’s strategic decline more visible than on Kashmir dispute.”
Seen in the right perspective the Zardari’s policy on India-Pakistan relation also bore no fruit. In its endeavor to improve its ties with India the PPP led government during its full term in office forgot that ‘Kashmir and India-Pakistan ties–have inflamed each other for six decades and the dispute over Kashmir is only albeit most central and one, of the larger problem of India-Pakistan relations”. Putting Kashmir on back-burner, it pursued trade and commerce, granted MFN status to India but at end of the day Pakistan has benefitted neither economically nor diplomatically. It equally has brought no relief to people of Kashmir nor has ensured even a semblance of peace in the region.
To see real improvement in India and Pakistan relations the new government in Pakistan will have to bid adieu to hackneyed policies its predecessors in office- bordering on fear and inferiority complex. It shall have to change order of precedence instead of addressing ‘several baskets of problems’ it needs to focus first on the fountain head of all these problems. Now for the past almost sixteen years, with all its lows and highs the peace process between the two countries has been in place, all the issues involved have been discussed as part of composite dialogue but so far the net result has been a naught. Even if one believes some Pakistani scholars holding view the peace process has yielded some agreements – these too have be cosmetic. To see a real progress towards resolution of the dispute as rightly said by Teresita Schaffer some years back, “both the sides shall have to consider the proven value of the involvement of third parties in helping structure and manage a bilateral peace process”.