Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s attending of the swearing-in ceremony of newly elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi — a hardliner leader of Bharatiya Janata Party — has been widely welcomed as a positive gesture, breaking the ice between the two arch rivals.
Terrorism and trade were PM Modi’s key points in the almost 50-minute long meeting with PM Sharif, Indian media reported. Sharif reminded him of Lahore Declaration, signed by him (Nawaz) and BJP’s Atal Bihari Vajpyaee in February 1999 in Lahore to improve ties between the two countries. “I intended to pick up the threads of the Lahore Declaration from where it was left off in October 1998,” Sharif told Indian media after the meeting.
The BJP, this time, got a record majority in the Lok Sabha winning 282 out of a total of 543 seats — a result that has been termed historic. The BJP, with its hardline religious views and hegemonistic aspirations in the region, has been criticising Pakistan in its electoral campaign. Modi’s views on the Muslims and Pakistan have been openly expressed in public statements.
“We want friendly relations with Pakistan. However, for such relations to proceed, terror and violence must end,” Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh told the media after the meeting.
“Pakistan takes it as a good starting point and, going back to Lahore Declaration, there will be no interference in each other’s affairs, and efforts will be intensified regarding different issues including Jammu and Kashmir,” said Sartaj Aziz, PM’s advisor on foreign affairs. He said both countries have agreed that the two foreign secretaries would be meeting soon “to review and carry forward our bilateral agenda, in the spirit of prime ministers meeting”.
Pakistan and India’s composite dialogues started in 1998 and covered eight main issues facing both countries. Since then many incidents, including Kargil and Mumbai attacks, took place and the talks were suspended.
Pakistani analysts have termed the recent Pak-India ice-breaking as good news for the development of bilateral relations. “It seems the situation has taken a positive turn and both countries emit positive signals and good gesture,” says Imtiaz Alam, veteran journalist, columnist and peace activist, adding, “Modi took a welcome step by inviting all the Saarc leaders, especially PM Sharif.”
He hopes that trade ties would move on and the pending matters between the two countries would take a positive turn in coming days.
Hardliner Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) also welcomed Sharif’s decision of “not missing the opportunity to improve relations with India”. On the other side, in Pakistan, some hawkish media, selective analysts and political opponents criticised Sharif’s visit terming his attending the oath-taking reception and courteous meeting between the two PMs as a ‘fall-down’ with a ‘charge-sheet’ from the Indian side.
Former ambassador Zafar Halali terms Sharif’s visit to India, “a bad judgement”, that Modi lured Sharif into a trap. A day after the visit, Hafiz Saeed, chief of Jamaat-ud Dawa and leader of defunct Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), whom India has alleged as the one instrumental in masterminding Mumbai attacks, held a rally with a few hundred activists in Islamabad. He reportedly said, “Mr Prime Minister, you have stabbed the Kashmiris at their back by shaking hand with Narendra Modi. Kashmiris would never forgive you.”
“We should take it as an introductory meeting between the two PMs who recently came up with heavy mandates on both sides,” Salman Bashir, former Pakistani High Commissioner to India says, adding, “We should ignore old mindset and step forward.” He says the core issues between the two countries are still present and would have to be addressed in the long run. “In the elections, Modi’s slogan was the same as that of RSS. However, his leadership is yet to be seen. The world will see the direction of PM Modi in coming days and weeks — of how he takes ahead India as a country.” He expects more ice would melt in the coming days through various level meetings.
After the meeting between the two PMs, Maryam Nawaz Sharif, daughter of the Pakistani PM, tweeted that Modi called her father a ‘Man of Peace’. On the other side, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, in a public statement, blamed Pakistan and LeT for the May 23 attack on Indian consulate in Herat, Afghanistan.
Pakistan says the issue of the Mumbai attacks raised by Modi is nothing new. Indian government has been saying this for the past five years and they have asked to expedite the trial process so that justice can be met.
Prominent political analyst Hassan Askari Rizvi says, “The meeting between the prime ministers unfroze the interaction between the two countries. Now it has to be seen how this unfreezing turns into a dialogue process. The challenge is if India turns the whole dialogue process into a single issue of terrorism or emphasises its concerns on terrorism as precondition for comprehensive dialogue, then the whole dialogue process will again be stalemate.”
“What is needed at this stage is a multi issue approach in the dialogue process that should include terrorism, Kashmir and other issues. Such an approach can facilitate a dialogue, although the progress in different areas can vary. But the whole process cannot be confined to a single issue,” he asserts.
He says Pakistan faces acute internal challenge of stability in the declining writ of the state. “Unless it controls the non-state actors using violence and establishes its authority over most of its territory and enhances its capacity to deal with internal challenges, dialogue — especially with India — will be greatly undermined,” he says, adding, “Pakistan needs to realise that its strength lies within itself.”
Pakistan has to first put its house in order politically, economically, and in terms of internal security; only then will its foreign policy options increase, he concludes.