Namo-Nawaz meet

A match-winner for peace or lost in symbolism

Narendra Modi has nearly staged a near coup as the Ufa joint statement by India and Pakistan read out by two Foreign Secretaries at a joint briefing did not have the undeviating ‘K’ word.

How Sharif agreed to a draft without mention of Kashmir is a double-edged sword. It can mean India has won a point that Indo-Pak talks can pursue even without discussions on Kashmir or that Pakistani side is not taking the Ufa exercise seriously. For them perhaps a commitment from Modi, a hawkish Hindutva school leader in his own right, that talks will be revived is itself a take away.

Opposition parties in Pakistan were not starry-eyed about the Namo-Nawaz meet.

Senator Rehman Malik, a former Interior Minister, dispatched a press release that detailed his reading of the icebreaker. “The recent meeting [of] Modi with Sharif clearly demonstrates how disrespectful Mr Modi was towards Sharif,” Malik was quoted by a spokesman as saying.

He compared Indian Prime Minister Modi to “the Tsar of Russia” as he described how the two state leaders interacted. Shireen Mazari of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) expressed dismay over the manner she felt Sharif “appeased India” in the meeting. Mazari felt that Sharif’s invitation to the Indian head of state was unnecessary and “beyond the requirements of diplomatic protocol,” as the same would have gone out as a matter of routine.

“Modi raised Mumbai and Sharif agreed to ‘fast track’ the investigations. Not a word on Samjhota Express was uttered by PM Sharif,” she fumed. Sharif could face further protest when he returns home and there would lie the true test of the leadership mantle in Pakistan Prime Minister, otherwise a tough nut in politics. And this would also decide whether Ufa was a winner for peace and stability in the region or yet another case of mountain out of a mole hill.

A decisive leader particularly in Indian context means different things to different people. That is one of the many questions many people throw up when we discuss a leader like Narendra Modi, who has diehard admirers and hardcore critics.

The latest move by PM Modi vis-à-vis Pakistan has thus sparked off a turbulent debate, has he done the right thing in trying to revive talks with Pakistan and will Pakistan again go back on its words.

Modi’s detractors in India including a large section of media call him Hitler – someone who has choked dissent even from his party seniors; but I among a minority – especially among the ‘liberal’ journos – that only a decisive and determined person can lead India to a new path. Thus Modi’s roadmap is understood from that perspective.

But what’s this latest round of Indo-Pak or to be specific Namo-Nawaz talks at Ufa in Russia? Predictably BJP is jubilant and party’s neo-Muslim face and an intellectual in his own right, M J Akbar, was fielded within minutes to snatch the credit for the ice-breaker meeting for Modi as well as the BJP itself.
“The meeting was a breakthrough, the reason for this is very clear as for the first time Pakistan has accepted our definition of terrorism,” he said.
But Congress is skeptical and tried to dismiss the efforts as being “nothing unique”. A more sensible voice about diplomacy in Congress, Shashi Tharoor has put it rather practically saying, “the taste of the pudding is in its eating”.

In other words, a lot depends on the delivery level and that too from Pakistan, where Nawaz Sharif could be the Prime Minister but the diplomatic engine room vis-à-vis India is most of the time is in the military camp.

So, what next? Omar Abdullah says while he is “not pessimistic”; he does not want to be “over optimistic either”.

Frankly, years back Atal Behari Vajpayee had tried to put Indo-Pak dialogue at the core of his foreign policy. His Lahore Bus journey and classic oneliner in a some-what enemy country: “apki chini khae…kaafi mithi thi” was a heart-winner.

India had imported sugar from Pakistan that year. But things got derailed and things were again sabotaged at Agra chiefly owing to hawkish stance taken by Gen Pervez Musharraf as also Vajpayee’s longtime friend L K Advani and his blue-eyed girl Sushma Swaraj (the then I&B Minister).

A few Modi detractors are already singing “u-turn” theme song and refusing to give Modi the benefit of time – till Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif can actually deliver.

“Is making a U-turn necessarily a bad thing in politics and governance?,” asks columnist Shekhar Gupta while he answers himself; “The truth is, four big turnarounds Modi as Prime Minister has made on his party’s pre-election position are pragmatic and in our larger interest.”

The references are to nuclear deal with the US, LBA with Bangladesh, India’s stand vis-à-vis China and now the talks with Pakistan, which was abandoned eight months back.

To take the discussion forward, we need to examine will Nawaz Sharif deliver or more specifically will he have the ‘power’ to deliver? In Pakistan the control of army is now in the hands of army chief General Raheel Sharif, incidentally a former protégé of Gen Pervez Musharraf.

Moreover, Gen Raheel Sharif at his tender age of 15 had lost his elder brother in Bangladesh war in 1971. So there’s a scar that remains as a ‘bitter pain’ in Gen Sharif’s psyche as well as in the psyche of all Pakistanis. The Bangldesh (or East Pakistan) fester was only renewed for Pakistan when Narendra Modi made a very candid but bitter speech in Dhaka.

No Pakistani General should be considered a moderate. To cap it, on June 3, 2015, Gen Sharif at the National Defence University in Islamabad had said, “Kashmir is an unfinished agenda of partition. Kashmir and Pakistan are inseparable.”

So is there a meeting point really?

In the ultimate analysis, Indo-Pak tie is a no-win diplomatic tussle. However, the Indian media generally go overboard when there is any India-Pakistan meeting. But it could be going back to the basic if there is any major terrorist attack. All hopes will be dashed and it will fall like a house of cards.

(Dev a regular blogger is a senior journalist with The Statesman and author books including Modi to Moditva: An Uncensored Truth)

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