Can India & Pakistan sink differences?


Sultan M Hali

TWO high level meetings between leaders in the neighbourhood have caught the attention of the media. The first was between South Korean President Moon Jae-in who met face-to-face with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on April 27, 2018 in a historic summit in the southern part of the demilitarised zone between the two countries. The consensus among the foreign-relations community is that the gathering set the stage for a future conference with Kim and US President Donald Trump. In a joint statement, Moon and Kim agreed to achieve “complete” denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and work toward ending the Korean War with a peace treaty.
These are heady moments as even a week before the meeting and the historic handshakes; one could not imagine such a dramatic outcome. The sixty-five years since the armistice, North and South Korean relations have been hostile and on the brink of war. Observers believe that US President Donald Trump deserves credit for pushing both leaders towards bonhomie and camaraderie. Anyone who knows Kim Jong Un would appreciate that he is not a leader to be messed with or cajoled or bullied into making peace with his Southern counterpart. His decision must have been made after weighing pros and cons of eventuality of peace.
The second summit by coincidence, on the same day, was between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping. The two leaders discussed ways to cement their bilateral relationship as they opened a two-day informal “one of its kind” summit in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. The Indian PM observed that people of India are proud that Chinese President Xi has gone out of his way to receive him twice out of the capital city of Beijing. The one-on-one conversations— at Mao villa, chairman Mao Zedong’s private home on the banks of the East Lake—focused on global, regional and bilateral issues. Observers in Pakistan perceived both summits with interest. The first rekindled a ray of hope that if similar meetings between the Pakistani and Indian leadership take place, they could perhaps soften the path for sinking their differences.
As regards the meeting between Xi and Modi, cynics noted that Sino-Indian trade had reached a record high of $84.4 billion, up 20.3 per cent from the previous year, according to Gao Feng, the Commerce Ministry spokesperson. Sino-Indian trade is destined to cross $100 billion. In such a case, China would be attracted towards India, which is the bigger market vis-à-vis Pakistan which only has a 15 billion trade with China. However, the conscientious objectors must realize that Sino-Pak relations are not a zero sum game. In fact if Sino-Indian ties improve then it will be beneficial for Pakistan because peace in the region will propel the development projects to reach their fruition. Currently they are being held hostage to the hostility with India, which permeates in Pak-Afghan relations too.
Coming back to the prospects of Pakistan and India sinking their differences and persevering for peace, it is definite that it will have to be a bold initiative. When Benazir Bhutto and Rajiv Gandhi were Prime Ministers of Pakistan and India respectively, during the latter’s state visit to Pakistan both young leaders took the bold decision of striving for peace. It was a quid pro quo agreement which Benazir Bhutto made the understanding public while responding to a question from Indian news weekly. The former Prime Minister, retaliating against India’s national security advisor M K Narayanan’s charge that Bhutto, as premier of Pakistan, had failed to make good the promises she made, the PPP leader claimed that she had kept her word. Benazir said that she had fulfilled her assurance to Rajiv Gandhi to cut off Islamabad’s support to Khalistan. She asserted that the fact was that it was Rajiv Gandhi who failed to deliver on his promise to pull out troops from Siachen in exchange for Islamabad’s choking off the support to Khalistan secessionists. Such a bold move could only have been made by the young charismatic leaders. After making the promise, Rajiv Gandhi was to make the announcement of pulling out Indian troops from Siachen Glacier on his return to New Delhi. Unfortunately, he was convinced by both his military commanders and political pundits that it was election year and images of Indian troops drawing down after having been in an advantageous position for more than two decades will be bad publicity. Rajiv cowed down. Current Indian Premier Narendra Modi, in his national day address to the nation has admitted of Indian support to the separationist elements in Balochistan. Indian security agency RAW has been working hard to incite Baloch youth to insurgency. Senior RAW operative Commander Kulbhoshan Jadhav, after being apprehended, confessed to fomenting trouble in Balochistan. India believes that Pakistan is sponsoring Kashmiris in Indian Occupied Kashmir to take up arms against the state. In such an environment of mistrust, where false flag operations by India, threats of conducting surgical strikes and incessant pounding of Pakistani villages across the Line of Control prevail, talking of peace may be difficult. Modi had taken the bold step of calling on his then Pakistani counterpart at his family home in Raiwind but then Pathankot occurred. Earlier Atal Bihari Vajpayee, as Premier had taken the peace bus across Wagah but Kargil happened. In order to take the bull by the horns, perhaps fresh leadership in Pakistan can take the initiative.
—The writer is retired PAF Group Captain and a TV talk show host.

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