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Shall We Dance?

 

By resorting to contrasting diplomatic postures in public and private, while dealing with Nawaz Sharif, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has redefined the way realpolitik needs to be pursued
SAURABH SHAHI | Issue Dated: October 11, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : Minister Manmohan Singh | Nawaz Sharif | New York | India-Pakistan | DGMOs | Asif Ali Zardari |
 

President Ronald Reagan, while dealing with the then Soviet Union, used to frequently say a quote in both public and private. “Doveryai, no proveryai”; trust, but verify. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who made his bones ostensibly around the same time, appears to have taken a leaf out of Reagan’s book. And that sums up what happened between him and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in New York.

 

 


There were ample indications that things will not be hunky dory in New York. Far from that. There was a special envoy level meeting between both the nations and that was months before New York possibly even came into picture. Pakistan’s foreign policy advisor met with Salman Khurshid in Bishkek. In both these meetings, the statements that were released to media from the Indian side were indicative that India was to continue taking a tough line on the issue of terrorism and was not ready to offer any breather to Pakistan. However, both the Pakistani Foreign Office as well as the office of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was expecting a climb-down. Especially the latter. But it did not happen. At least that was the impression given by the Indian officials who were privy to what happened between both the leaders behind the closed doors.


There was some forward movement. The details of which, as normally happens in India-Pakistan quadroon, were a bit different. Indian officials insisted that the agreement was to look for ways to restore and maintain peace along the Line of Control in Kashmir. “The two leaders directed the two DGMOs to come up with measures”, the version stated. Some officials categorically maintained that the “stage for a broader dialogue has not come.”


There were no surprises here. However, it was suggested by sources that Sharif wanted the joint mechanism to be led by the Foreign Secretaries whereas Singh had the opinion that DGMOs will be better. Nawaz agreed to the proposal. Now this is curious. There is much more in this that meets the eye. Naturally, by involving military, Singh wants to include Pakistani Armed Forces as stakeholders. He knows that DGMOs, who talk once a week, will not cross that mandate. And what’s better, the appearances can be kept. General Kayani had given his blessings to the dialogue and Nawaz Sharif had come with the maximum political capital that any leader in the history of Pakistan had while dealing with India, with the exception of Pervez Musharraf. One does not have to go further than Asif Ali Zardari to understand that quagmire.  


While Singh’s move earned him and his embattled government quite some capital at the domestic front, it made Nawaz’s position weak.


“One can argue that India shared Pakistan’s desire to resume the dialogue but it wanted Pakistan to undertake some measures to assure India that Pakistan is serious about curbing terrorism that spills over to Indian administered Kashmir or India. The outcome of the meeting is a diplomatic embarrassment for Nawaz Sharif because he was an ardent supporter of dialogue and normalisation of relations with India. A section of Nawaz Sharif’s support base, the political far-right and Islamists, opposed his policy of friendship with India. He resisted their pressure and pursued his passion for improved political and economic relations with India,” argues noted Pakistani Defence Analyst, Hasan Askari Rizvi.
Indeed, it will only help ultra right-wing elements’ case in Pakistan. They are now more emboldened than ever and are openly propagating the theory that India will never deal with a Pakistan that is weak internally, and hence for appearance purposes, it should not give away quarters easily.


In spite of the setbacks, Nawaz’s entourage kept its composure and showed cucumber like coolness in the post meeting environment. Experts in Pakistan believe that Nawaz understands Manmohan’s domestic compulsions and has taken his comments, including his outburst in front of President Obama, in stride. But it would be foolish to believe that Nawaz will either have unlimited patience or unlimited political capital to keep going. Nawaz’s composure comes from the understanding that Manmohan Singh will return the favour either by restarting the broad dialogue in due time or making a historic visit before the elections in 2014. Some assurances or at least indications to that affect must have been given by Singh in the closed door meeting. Indian experts believe that Manmohan is an astute politician and will in no way squander the opportunity.

 


“Singh is a tough political personality who does not lack the grit to push the caravan along down the difficult road ahead, while the detractors are galore. The New York talks underscored without doubt Sharif’s manifest desire to move forward in relations with India, which in turn has encouraged Manmohan Singh to place trust in him. It’s a dangerous gamble for Manmohan Singh in a crucial election year in India but the chances are that he may pull it off,” argues noted former diplomat and foreign policy expert, M Bhadrakumar.


But there appears to be clear fatigue setting in among the liberal opinion makers and experts in Islamabad. For years, these liberal voices kept cajoling successive Pakistani governments to shed a single-point agenda (read Kashmir) as a pre-condition for talks. And it is because of them that Pakistan did a climb down. Now these opinion makers are baffled that India has put action against terrorism as the single-point pre-condition for the talks. This fatigue is dangerous.


It is very clear that there are forces in Pakistan who don’t want talks to move forward and will do whatever it takes to achieve this goal. It has always been like that. But what is surprising is that there appears to be sudden spurt of similar forces in India who now share the same goals. What is worse is that while such fringe voices get little space in mainstream English media in Pakistan, their counterparts in India appear to have cornered a lion's share of space in the mainstream media here.


Singh understands that. He has time and again showed that he does not dither while biting the bullet, jokes about him being a mute notwithstanding. One shouldn't be surprised if one sees the quintessential blue turban in Islamabad before he takes a final bow in May next year.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017