By Amit Baruah
September 30, 2013
The first-ever meeting of Singh and Sharif as prime ministers takes the rust off Indian and Pakistani channels of communication.
Going by our year-on-year falling India-Pakistan standards, the Sunday meeting between prime ministers Manmohan Singh and Nawaz Sharif was something of an achievement.
In Pakistan, every type of terrorist-militant element led by Hafiz Saeed and his ilk remain opposed to any kind of dialogue with India.
In India, Singh is under political fire from the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party for meeting Sharif and taking forward a dialogue process, which the BJP under prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee took forward in 2003-04.
Increasingly, loony figures opposed to an India-Pakistan conversation are getting more media (and social media) space. Also, in India at least, these figures are attacking anyone and anybody who believes that dialogue with Pakistan is a worthwhile exercise.
Another dimension in India-Pakistan relations – the non-issue was in full play on Indian television – the alleged remark made by Sharif about Singh being a “Dehati Budhiya” – a comment that has been strenuously denied by all.
Previously, it took the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack to derail the India-Pakistan dialogue. Today, the killing of a few soldiers on the Line of Control (LoC) by either side, howsoever tragic that might be, can raise the television temperature so high that leaders begin thinking whether it’s wise to meet.
So, if our leaders can meet in such an environment, they need a pat on the back. By sitting across the table and discussing issues on which they differ, they must have disappointed a large number of right-wing zealots.
Beyond the fact of the meeting and noises about the interaction being useful, Singh and Sharif have tasked their Directors-General of Military Operations to ensure an end to ceasefire violations on and along the LoC.
“The two DGMOs will meet and establish a joint mechanism for not only investigation of incidents on the LoC, but also to ensure there is no recurrence of violence,” Pakistani Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jillani was quoted as saying.
Indian National Security Adviser Shivshanker Menon said at a separate briefing in New York that “the decision was to task DGMOs to come up with a clear plan to restore the ceasefire and to make sure that it is enforced and stays in place”.
“They (Singh and Sharif) were both agreed that the precondition for a forward movement in the relationship...is really an improvement of the situation on the LoC where there have been repeated ceasefire violations and incidents...and they decided to task the DGMOs to suggest effective means to restore the ceasefire and a way forward to ensure that that remains in force and in place,” Menon told Indian and Pakistani journalists.
There was no resumption of the composite dialogue process between the two countries. Instead, India made it clear that future movement on the dialogue front would hinge on whether or not the DGMOs could come up with a credible plan to prevent future ceasefire violations.
In the circumstances of their meeting, Sharif and Singh didn’t do badly. Of course, they need to do much, much better for the sake of their peoples. You can, of course, look at the glass as half-empty as opposed to half-full.
The ceasefire, which has been under serious threat, is supposed to celebrate its 10th birthday in November. It’s now up to the DGMOs, the two armies and their political leaderships to ensure that a bulwark of the peace process remains intact.
Statecraft and foreign relations are too important to be left to those who want to spread abuse and hatred in the name of nationalism.
Singh and Sharif did well to meet in New York. They must display the courage to meet again.
Amit Baruah is an independent, Delhi-based journalist. He is the author of Dateline Islamabad and reported for The Hindu newspaper from Pakistan.