Originally Published 2015-07-13 00:00:00 Published on Jul 13, 2015
To characterise the Modi-Sharif meeting and joint statement in Ufa as a "breakthrough" would be a gross exaggeration. It is another move - a positive move, but only one small move in the larger reckoning - in the elaborate chess game of India-Pakistan relations.
Modi-Sharif meeting: A small move in larger reckoning

To characterise the Narendra Modi-Nawaz Sharif meeting and joint statement in Ufa, Russia, on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit, as a "breakthrough" would be a gross exaggeration. It is another move - a positive move, but only one small move in the larger reckoning - in the elaborate chess game of India-Pakistan relations.

Both sides have walked away from the table with something to show. India has got tight language on terror and a very business-like joint statement that cut out the frills and is focused on the tangibles of the 26/11 trial, terror in general, with the facilitation of religious pilgrimages in each other's countries thrown in. Pakistan has got India to agree to give it some attention and a set of meetings, whatever the nature of the meetings.

There are three points that flow from the Ufa meeting (or its immediate backdrop) that merit thought. First, despite the initial enthusiasm in some quarters, it is not as if the so-called "peace process" is back and that Mr Modi has reverted to the initiative that his predecessor as Bharatiya Janata Party Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, had undertaken with

Mr Sharif in 1999, or with President Pervez Musharraf a few years later. This should be apparent from the length of the joint statement. At barely 200 words, it ended almost as soon as it started and was a contrast to the detailed joint statements Mr Modi has produced after his interactions with leaders of other countries, whether the United States and China, where the joint statements ran into several pages, or even Nepal, where the joint statement of 2,300 words was 11 times as big.

The joint statement and its wording reflected the Modi government's belief that India's Pakistan relationship is now primarily a security-driven relationship, with a focus on terrorism, mitigating tensions on the border and so on. In the absence of adequate response from Islamabad, trade and economic cooperation have just not taken off. As an official in the Prime Minister's Office in New Delhi said recently, the inability of Prime Minister Sharif to deliver on even small promises and his weakened position vis-à-vis the Army have hurt his credibility with the Modi government.

As such, the important point to note is not that military officers are meeting to discuss the situation at the border. Indeed, this should be entirely expected and conversations between the chiefs of the Border Security Force and the Pakistan Rangers are part of an ongoing process anyway. The scheduled interaction between the director-generals of military operation of the two armies is also understandable. It is the minimum military protocol between two neighbouring countries, especially those with a testy border.

The key point to note is actually an absence. There is no schedule for a meeting of Indian and Pakistani power and commerce/trade ministers, no engagement promised between health and education officials, no discussions planned on energy cooperation or disaster management, no joint projects of a socio-economic nature. These are the meat and bones of any normal joint statement or any regular bilateral relationship. Projects and initiatives of this nature have been discussed by Mr Modi with almost all of India's neighbours, from Sri Lanka to Bhutan and Nepal to Bangladesh. Pakistan is very visibly the odd man out, and not just because Mr Modi wants it to be.

Second, despite the fact that the national security advisers of the two countries will soon discuss the gamut of issues related to terrorism, there are no illusions as to what is achievable. No matter what evidence India might give Pakistan - the joint statement talks of "additional information like providing voice samples" - it is doubtful any meaningful action will be taken against Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi or any of the others associated with the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and with 26/11 attacks. LeT is an auxiliary of the Pakistani Army and state. No court or police authority is going to act against it, never mind the voice samples.

That aside, in Gen. Raheel Sharif, Pakistan has a surefooted Army Chief who is serving his country well. His hand is guiding neighbourhood policy and has helped advance Pakistan's cause in Afghanistan. There are also the beginnings of a China-led strategic arrangement that involves Pakistan, Russia (now heavily dependent on China) and sections of the ruling establishment in Afghanistan. In these circumstances, Pakistan reckons it is very much in the game and has only to bide its time.

Third, the Ufa meeting was a bit of a course correction on the part of the Modi government. In the past year, the contours of Mr Modi's Pakistan approach have gradually (if fitfully and sometimes unpredictably) become clear. He is not going to expend his political capital chasing a blockbuster solution to Jammu and Kashmir, Siachen and so on. He believes he does not have the mandate, Pakistan does not have the will, and overall conditions are not conducive. This is the principal area of difference with Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Vajpayee.

Mr Modi has indicated that he would rather see any outreach to Pakistan in terms of the economy and trade as part of a regional, Saarc mechanism. This would probably be easier for Pakistani politicians to sell domestically, but as things stand they are not making much of an effort anyway.

Mr Modi's priority is to prevent any "event" such as a terrorist attack from Pakistani soil. The consequences of this are uncertain but there will be pressure on him to respond with a public decisiveness. Understandably, he would be keen to avoid this.

However, even within this umbrella of modest expectations, Mr Modi is required to keep up an optimal communication with the Pakistanis. The world expects this of two nuclear powers. It is also necessary to prevent Pakistan from exaggerating the possibility of conflict in the subcontinent. Finally, and paradoxically, it also serves to anticipate and attempt to defuse possible impetuosity in the security-military establishment in Rawalpindi and Islamabad. For a year, the Modi government seemed to be less sensitive to these factors than would be recommended. Ufa suggests it has recognised and addressed the gap.

(The author is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

Courtesy: The Asian Age

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