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Change of heart?



By Imtiaz Gul

Friday Times, March 06, 2015


As expected, Indian Foreign Secretary Subramanyam Jaishankar and his host Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhary discussed “all issues, including India’s alleged involvement in Balochistan and Fata, the investigation of Samjhota Express incident and the simmering ceasefire violations across the LoC.”

If taken on the face value, Chaudhry’s post-meeting interaction with the media implies that that both chief diplomats exchanged their respective complaints against each other, and promised to maintain contacts.

“It was decided to reflect on these issues, and then determine on how to proceed further,” national newspapers quoted Chaudhry as saying. Both, he said, reaffirmed their commitment to eradicate terrorism, and that they should work towards promotion of greater people-to-people contact and eradication of terrorism. “I conveyed that Pakistan attached great importance to Saarc… It is an important vehicle to increase regional cooperation.”

On this leg of “Saarc yaatra”, Jaishankar also brought a letter from Prime Minister Narendra Modi for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, following up on the phone talk the two prime ministers had two days before the India-Pakistan cricket world cup match.

Viewed in the context of talks cancellation and the ensuing shelling and firing along the Working Boundary and the Line of Control, Jaishankar’s visit was clearly an attempt to “extinguish the fire” that had engulfed both countries since August last year.

Cloaked in the “Saarc yaatra”, this endeavor to resume contacts after months of belligerence and brinkmanship reflected a departure – within weeks – from “give u a damn” posturing to “why not talk peace with neighbours” overtures.

Secondly, the resumption of contacts reflected the Indian pragmatism in the context of the unfolding regional situation, particularly with regard to Afghanistan.

Obama’s phone calls to Modi and Sharif may have brought about the turnaround

Thirdly, the reversal in the Indian attitude towards Pakistan also underscores the influence that exogenous factors may have had on its decision to send its chief diplomat to Islamabad. US president Barack Obama’s phone calls to Modi and Sharif apparently brought about the turnaround in the Indian position.

For months, particularly until Modi’s call to Sharif last month, we all endured seething debates with BJP spokespersons, Indian analysts and intelligentsia, particularly those on TV, with most of them discounting the possibility of resumption of contacts any time soon. But here we are with foreign secretary Jaishankar sitting across the table with his Pakistani counterpart.

And interestingly, while most Indian commentators still drew on the Mumbai attacks and the cases against the LeT leader Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, they also resonated what may be in Modi’s letter to Sharif – the desire to engage with neighbours in view of Pakistan’s perceptible movement on the counter-terrorism front.

An accompanying assumption – both in New Delhi and Washington – is that Islamabad will eventually also demonstrably address their mutual concern, ie Lashkar-e-Taiba, which besides its Kashmir focus, is also a tentacle of the global Salafist Islam. It may not be anti-Pakistan, but it certainly uses the Pakistani soil for germinating the toxic Salafist version of Islam that sees the “Indo-American-Israeli” nexus behind all the evil in the world. These entities view Pakistan as pivotal to their trans-border militant campaign. Hizbut Tahrir, which claims to be a pacifist Islamist movement vying for a global caliphate, considers Pakistan key to its objective and the Pakistan military as the vehicle for that change. Intrinsically, they hardly differ in the rejection of the US-led western model of governance.

Fourthly, New Delhi appears to be positioning itself for the UN Security Council membership, an aspiration that can translate into reality if it can rub off frictions with Pakistan and win Beijing’s support.

It is of course up to the five permanent Security Council members to eventually say yes or no to the expansion of the Council, but most do favour such a move and the majority of UN members would most probably support it too. But the big elephant in the room is obviously the United States, with its strong influence in global geopolitics.

Even China, Pakistan’s closest geopolitical ally, wouldn’t probably come India’s way, particularly in view of the growing regional synergy on Afghanistan.

Therein lies the hope for a healthy engagement among all big regional countries for peace in Afghanistan and commercial cooperation. As of now, Afghanistan has provided an opportunity for them to synchronize their steps and strategies on counter-terrorism. This should be seen as a welcome scenario. Cooperation on Afghanistan also provides both India and Pakistan to move beyond “reflection” on issues that bedevil their relations and translate verbal commitments into fruitful engagement to the benefit of the hundreds of millions of those living below the poverty line in both countries.

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk