The much-awaited and arguably the most sensitive event of Prime Minister’s trip to Russia is over : his bilateral talks with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The hour-long talks, on the sidelines of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Ufa (Russia), went on for twice as long as the two leaders had planned to meet.
The biggest positive from the India-Pakistan meet in Russia is that it happened given its the last time the two PMs met was in May 2014. A more cynical view would be that the event was nothing more than a photo opportunity, but that would be an unfair assessment.
The Congress is waiting to pounce upon the Modi government should it decide to embark on a peace mission with Pakistan.
Sample the reaction of Congress leader Manish Tewari after the Modi-Sharif meeting in Russia: “These are the same people who said that terror and talks don’t go hand in hand, what has changed?”
But India-Pakistan summits are not like India-Sri Lanka cricket matches that happen at the drop of a hat. The Modi-Sharif meeting showed that the two nuclear powers will continue to engage with each other despite events like Pakistani defence minister Khawaja Asif warning India two days ago that they always had the option to use nuclear weapons against it. Asif’s provocative remark was followed by Pakistani troops violating the ceasefire along the Line of Control on Thursday.
Asif’s statements were perhaps Pakistan’s way of asserting its defiant stance vis-a-vis India. In fact, the Pakistani defiance and aggressive posturing have increased after China pledged $46 billion worth investment in Pakistan, a major part of it on the proposed China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, and protected it on the Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi issue before a UN committee recently.
While the Modi-Sharif meeting is more than a photo opportunity, as proven by Modi accepting Sharif’s invite to travel to Pakistan in 2016 for attending the SAARC summit, the fact remains that the two sides are unlikely to break new ground in resuming and reviving the stalled dialogue process any time soon.
The talks covered issues ranging from terrorism to trade. But when it comes to a meaningful engagement, the two sides do not have much to report even after the meet on Friday morning. The two sides remained stuck in the groove of contentious issues and repeated their respective positions that are well known to each other.
In that sense, though the meeting as such was a positive development and promptly welcomed by the US State Department, the two sides continue to be so opposed to each other on almost everything which makes it nothing more than a dialogue between the deaf.
Here is what India expects from Pakistan:
Pakistan should show its seriousness in addressing genuine concerns of India on
(i) progress in Lashkar-e-Taiba operative’s Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi trial and ensuring that culprits are punished;
(ii) take immediate steps to ensure that peace along the LoC is maintained and totally abstain from initiating violence
(iii) put an end to extending assistance to terrorism in Kashmir in the name of moral support to Kashmir movement
(iv) stop infiltration of terrorists into Indian territory
(v) take immediate steps to control activities of internationally wanted terrorists like JuD’s Hafiz Saeed
(vi) hand over wanted criminals like Dawood Ibrahim that enjoy Pakistan’s patronage
(vii) take all necessary actions to ensure that Indian interests in Afghanistan are not damaged through terrorists acts sponsored by Pakistani state and non-state actors.
Pakistan’s wish list from India is even longer. It accuses India of aiding and abetting separatists in Pakistan and has stepped up its attack on Indian external agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) for anything going wrong with Pakistan. It alleges that India is a bully and wants to divide the nation yet again. Pakistan wants India to desist from these actions, and it constitutes just a part of what it expects.
Needless to say that both the neighbours have rejected each other’s allegations, showing zero progress in resumption of the much-stalled dialogue process. In all engagements, Pakistan has harped on the so-called Kashmir issue while India has raised the terror issue and both sides have routinely agreed to disagree. Today’s meeting between Modi and Sharif was no different.
There can be no meaningful dialogue between India and Pakistan unless the two sides agree to set aside their age-old practice of indulging in a blame game and focus on building on possible convergences. But the problem is that while Indian political and defence establishments speak in one voice, the Pakistani military remains the invisible but most potent hand which is not prepared to shed its anti-India mindset.
The logjam is unlikely to be resolved in foreseeable future. Though PM Modi took the initiative for today’s meeting with Sharif, he can ill afford to go beyond talks with him.