The New York meet

By K.N. Pandita

Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan drove to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s hotel, New York Palace in midtown Manhattan, for a meeting that had previously run the whole gamut of suspense and uncertainty. Not deterred by Pakistan’s belligerence at LoC and IB, and also resisting the pressures from BJP-led opposition to call off the talks, the Prime Minister demonstrated his mature statesmanship, and keeping a steady course, met with his Pakistani counterpart for about an hour. Evidently, he had weighed the pros and cons in the background of the statements of Mian Nawaz Sharif before and after the National Assembly elections in Pakistan. Prime Minister Singh must have meditated over Mian Nawaz Sharif’s earlier trysts with Pakistan’s military-dominated domestic politics. In the text book of international diplomacy, the pulse is to be felt, vibration recorded.  

Indian Prime Minister had already hinted that expectations from the meeting should be toned down. The two leaders met in rather surcharged background. The process of bilateral talks had been suspended owing to Pakistan’s recurrent violation of LoC cease fire agreement of 2003 leading to a wave of anger sweeping the length and breadth of the country. Obviously, the Indian side had to prioritize the meeting to restoration of peace and normalcy along the LoC, which depended on how the other side responded. And the response has come in the shape of two sides tasking respective DGMOs to examine and report how at present and in future, the ceasefire agreement of 2003 will be enforced and stabilized. This meets the pre-condition of the Indian Prime Minister for sustained and uninterrupted dialogue. India trusts Nawaz Sharif will provide wherewithal to its DGMO to conduct positive and result-oriented exchanges with the Indian counterpart. That no time-frame has been stipulated is an indication of seriousness both sides attach to this remedial or reconstructive measure.

Remember this was a meeting held on the sidelines of the UNGA session. As such, it is not to be taken as Indo-Pak Summit. Naturally, neither any joint communiqué nor a press statement needed to be issued about the event. However on the Indian side, PM’s Security Adviser, Shiv Shankar Menon, and the Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid did reflect succinctly and evasively on the precise content of the talks. Bureaucrats usually reveal nothing particularly when the entire matter is highly sensitive. That Shiv Shankar made evasive and strictly non-committal observations is what every political observer expected. However, our EA Minister was more obsessed with his party’s political struggle at home than with Indo-Pak prime ministerial meet. Therefore his supercilious comments on the BJP prime ministerial candidate and related cacophony pass for a classical example of sycophancy and claptrap.  But it was the Pakistan foreign secretary who struck the right cord. Succinctly, he told the media that this meet was to create climate conducive for resuming sustained, uninterrupted and meaningful dialogue. We think Nawaz Sharif gave sufficient assurance to his counterpart that he was serious in pursuing peace process in the region. Apart from agreeing to entrust the ceasefire violation issue to DGMOs, he firmly said that action against the perpetrators of 26/11 would be taken once the report of Pakistan Judicial Commission was received and examined. The Commission has already completed its task in Mumbai.

We can give weight to the statement of Pakistani Foreign Secretary that the “meeting was extremely positive and useful”, which endorses Menon’s view of “cordial, useful and constructive” meet.  He minced no words in saying that the purpose was to create atmosphere conducive to resume peace process. The feeling is that this purpose has been achieved, no matter how many ifs and buts one may attach to it.

The fact is that the basis of carrying forward the peace dialogue has been defined and agreed upon. Terrorism was discussed and the two sides agreed that this menace had to be eradicated. They also agreed that outstanding issues had to be resolved through dialogue only and that the LoC agreement of 2003 had to be respected and normalcy had to be restored on the border.

Discounting media gaffe – usually serving as appetizer to meetings between sensitive parties -, the two sides have shown seriousness about the business they are in. While on the part of Nawaz Sharif, it is resumption of the talks where these were left in 1999, on the part of Manmohan Singh it is a courageous step of giving Nawaz Sharif a chance of turning a new page in the history of the relations between the two countries and a transformation of sorts in the political scenario in the sub-continent. India does clearly and unmistakably understand the position of Mian Nawaz Sharif vis-à-vis traditional political landscape of Pakistan. She has taken a step in the direction desired by Mian Sahib and will watch and assess the course of history shaping in Pakistan after this meet. Understandably there couldn’t be any commitment for the next round of talks at one or the other level. If within a reasonable time India is satisfied that LoC peace is stabilized, it would encourage the two sides to take the second step for improving bilateral relations. Let us not make unnecessary hurry and rush to conclusions. With green signal from India that she is deeply interested in restoration of peace and normalcy in bilateral relations, Nawaz Sharif will find himself equipped with better tools to move forward with his agenda. In all probability, Nawaz Sharif wanted that a bigger step was taken as a sign of initiation of meaningful dialogue but the Indian Prime Minister seems to have cautioned and convinced him that a patient, modest and non-volatile beginning had to be made in the interests of both sides. Perhaps the Prime Minster had the impending parliamentary elections in mind and as such he would not make hasty and nervous movement. Even for Pakistan also, low key negotiations are advisable so that hawks in civil of mufti are not provoked.

In final analysis, the success of this maiden meet will be gauged from what is seen on the ground. If the DGMOs produce a peace formula for LoC that works and if on the report of the Judicial Commission of Pakistan a move is made towards bringing the perpetrators of the crime to book, it will boost the sides to open up and focus on major issues awaiting resolution. The taste of pudding is in eating.

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