Conflicting signals have been emerging from Pakistan, with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif playing both the good Dr Jekyll and the evil Mr Hyde in his relations with India, especially.
Sharif stormed to power for his third stint in office with a seemingly deep resolve to set ties with India aright. He saw in his mandate a desire by the people to start a new chapter with India. He told a foreign correspondent in an interview: “We didn’t have any India-bashing slogans in the elections. We don’t believe in such slogans. There have been such slogans in the past — 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago — but not now. In fact, I very clearly spoke about good relations with India even before the elections were happening.” He was right. In that respect this election was a watershed election.
He went on: “I made my position very clear: if we get a mandate, we will make sure we pick up the threads from where we left off in 1999 and then reach out to India, sit with them, resolve all our outstanding issues, including the issue of Kashmir, through peaceful means.”
That was Nawaz Sharif in June last. Recently, in a speech at the US Institute of Peace, 24 hours before he was to meet President Obama, he delivered the stock Pakistani wish list, despite the Obama administration having shot down each of them a few days prior viz., the US should mediate between India and Pakistan particularly on the Kashmir issue; the US should offer Pakistan a civilian-nuclear deal like the one it did to India; and the US should stop drone strikes inside Pakistan. Was Sharif under pressure from the Pakistan army, or was he playing his old game again? Only time will tell.
Last week, his special emissary, Sartaj Aziz, who came to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid in New Delhi, stirred up a hornet’s nest when he met with Indian separatist leaders at the Pakistan High Commission, at a meeting where evidently much venom must have been spewed against India.
That the Indian government allowed such a meeting in the first place was testimony to how ill-thought-out the Indian policy on Pakistan is under UPA-2.
Much to India’s chagrin, Pakistani infiltration is no less today than it was when Sharif took over as Prime Minister for the third time. Terror training camps are in full flow in Pakistan and terror incidents are unabated. There is only lip service being paid to normalisation of relations with India and nothing concrete or tangible has happened to justify any optimism in recent months.
Nawaz Sharif’s blow-hot-blow-cold attitude has steeped the Indian establishment in confusion, making one wonder whether India has a Pakistan policy at all. Any other country would have not allowed a Prime Minister’s special envoy to take the liberty to meet separatist leaders on its own soil, as India did with Sartaj Aziz.
Hussain Haqqani, a former adviser to Sharif, who now teaches at Boston University, is forthright in his new book that Sharif is a snake in the grass. Haqqani was the Pakistani ambassador to the United States from 2008 to 2011.
According to Haqqani, Sharif asked Pakistan’s ISI in May 1992, to continue its covert operations in Kashmir, despite being warned by Washington that Islamabad risked being designated “a state sponsor of terrorism.” The former Pakistani diplomat says Sharif continued to support the ISI’s dubious meddling in Kashmir and promptly allocated $2 million towards a PR-drive aimed at softening up American lawmakers and changing the anti-Pakistan narrative in the US media.
Haqqani says Sharif dramatically hosted Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in 1999 – but the Pakistan army-initiated Kargil war a few months later scuppered that peace initiative. The Kargil war was under Sharif’s watch, but he said he didn’t know what former General Pervez Musharraf was up to. Musharraf asserted that Sharif had been briefed on the Kargil operation 15 days ahead of Vajpayee’s journey to Lahore on February 20.
“As far as terrorism is concerned, Pakistan was the conduit of weapons and training for the jihad in Afghanistan against the Soviets. After that, Pakistan switched it to India, especially in Kashmir. And that is the point at which the United States said, “You are engaging in terrorism,” Haqqani told Reuters.
Haqqani says in his new book that Sharif has said all the right things about improving relations with India – he will work to grant India the Most Favored Nation status, the most achievable goal in the near term. But it remains to be seen whether Sharif will rein in Jamaat-ul-Dawa’s chairman Hafiz Saeed, who is wanted in India for fomenting the 2008 Mumbai attacks or the Lashkar-e-Taiba.
The unnerving thing about the second term government of Manmohan Singh is that people like Nawaz Sharif have begun to take India for granted, as was borne out by the manner in which Sartaj Aziz played host to diehard separatists in New Delhi.
Gradually, the hopeful signs that were seen in Indo-Pak relations in the wake of Nawaz Sharif’s return to power are evaporating. There is little to be enthused about. The people-to-people contacts between the two countries are drifting back to sullenness and mutual suspicion, in a typical example of how sourness in the political arena translates into lack of warmth in people –to-people contact.
There is intense speculation on what would happen to Indo-Pak relations if the BJP forms a government at the centre, led by Narendra Modi. The BJP is doubtlessly hawkish on Pakistan when it is out of power but there can be little doubt that when and if it comes to power it may well temper its ties with realism and pragmatism as the Atal Behari Vajpayee regime did for the better part of its term.
There can be little doubt that the Manmohan Singh government is not taken seriously by Pakistan and even the US in recent times. A BJP government may give a better account of itself in upholding India’s prestige and standing. The ultimate test for any regime after the elections would be to ensure that Pakistan’s terror training camps are dismantled, cross-border terror is eschewed and the two countries set the Kashmir issue aside and concentrate on economic ties that are to the benefit of both countries.