People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 28

July 14, 2013


India-Pakistan: A New Chapter!


Yohannan Chemarapally


THE return of Nawaz Sharif to power in Pakistan has been generally welcomed in India. New Delhi would have no doubt been relieved that the “electoral tsunami” some commentators had predicted did not materialise. A sweeping victory for the Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) would have meant the creation of new equations in Islamabad. The PTI, according to reports, had the tacit support of the Pakistani Taliban and sections of the army that have been radicalised in the last decade. For that matter, even Sharif’s Muslim League in Punjab was the beneficiary of votes from those supporting militant groupings. One of the first statements Sharif made was on the need to start a dialogue with the militant groups waging war against the state of Pakistan. 




At the same time, in the run-up to the elections, the point which Shari had made it to stress repeatedly was that he attached great importance to improving bilateral ties with India. Shari is a known political personality as he has already served twice before as the prime minister. Though he began his career as a protégé of the late dictator, General Zia-ul-Haq, he came to acquire a political style of his own during his second term in office. It was during his second aborted stint in office that he had dared to take on the all powerful Pakistani military establishment. The military chief at the time, General Pervez Musharraf, had retaliated by staging a coup and packing off Sharif to jail. Sharif, as the prime minister, had brought about a diplomatic thaw, albeit a short-lived one, with India, when he invited the then Indian prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, to Lahore in 1998. The first “friendship” bus service connecting Delhi and Lahore was started during that historic visit.


The Kargil episode, which soon followed by a retaking of power by the military under General Pervez Musharraf, resulted in the souring of bilateral relations yet again. Sharif has always maintained that he was not aware of Pakistani troops and infiltrators being clandestinely deployed across the Indian side of the Line of Control (LoC). Terror attacks, originating from Pakistan, particularly the one on the Indian parliament, had led to a war-like situation arising between the two countries, with the Indian army amassing troops along the border with Pakistan. Relations did improve after the Pakistani military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, now the president, offered to make meaningful and serious concessions on a host of issues bedeviling bilateral ties, including a proposal to settle the  Kashmir dispute without the redrawing of existing maps, without the existing borders not being disturbed. It is another matter that the Indian government chose not to accept the offer from the military strongman. Indian officials at the time wanted to wrest more concessions from the Pakistani government, which was under pressure from its main political and economic benefactor, the United States of America, to make peace with India and settle the Kashmir issue. After the events of September 11, 2001, the Bush administration had started viewing the terror related issues in Kashmir and Afghanistan as interconnected. The Bush administration’s special envoy to the region, Richard Holbrook, was specially tasked to deal with the Afghanistan-Pakistan-Kashmir problem.


Other bilateral issues like those related to the Siachen glacier and the Sir Creek were on the verge of being resolved. Rajiv Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto had agreed way back in the late eighties to find a mutually acceptable solution to the Siachen issue by demilitarising the area and were on the verge of signing an agreement. In the last decade too, false hopes were raised about the imminent resolution of the two relatively minor issues --- of Siachen and Sir Creek. But India-Pakistan bilateral relations got derailed when the PPP led civilian government took office as it coincided with the Mumbai terror attacks of November, 2008, the biggest terror attacks on Indian soil. It was only in the last two years that high level visits up to the foreign ministers have been exchanged.




The Indian prime minister’s visit to Pakistan is long overdue. One of the first things Nawaz Sharif did, after the election results were announced, was to request the Indian prime minister to visit Pakistan at the earliest. “We will pick up the threads from where we left in 1999. That is the roadmap I have for improvement of relations between Pakistan and India,” Sharif had told the media. The Indian prime minister was quick to respond to the sentiments expressed by Sharif. Singh in his reply said that the people of India “welcome your publicly articulated commitment to a relationship between Pakistan and India that is defined by peace, friendship and cooperation.” Sharif had again responded to the Indian prime minister’s sentiments by requesting the Indian leader’s presence for his swearing-in ceremony.


Manmohan Singh is known to be personally keen on strengthening bilateral relations but Islamabad’s refusal to allow access to the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) chief, Hafiz Saeed, for questioning regarding the 2008 Mumbai attacks and the general lack of cooperation from Pakistani authorities on terrorism related issues, are being given as reasons by Delhi for not announcing even tentative dates for the Indian prime minister’s much delayed official visit to Pakistan. The Americans have announced a one million dollars reward for the capture of the LeT chief but he remains active in Pakistani politics. Sharif had said before the elections that he would order an enquiry into the alleged role of state agencies in the terror attacks against India, especially the 2008 Mumbai attack, and also investigate the motives behind the military attack on Kargil. Whether the rhetoric will be translated into reality is to be seen, as much of Sharif’s core support was from hardline Islamists and other conservative elements in Pakistani politics that do not have much love lost for India and more importantly for America. Shari, on the campaign trail, railed against the American drone attacks on Pakistani targets and had pledged to bring an end to these attacks.


The Kashmir issue, for the foreseeable future will remain the core issue for Pakistan, as far as relations with India are concerned. Reports appearing in the Pakistani media have suggested that the Pakistani military establishment has already warned Sharif against cosying up to Delhi without first extracting concessions regarding talks relating to Kashmir. Sharif so far, at least for public consumption, is adopting a tough posture vis a vis the army leadership. He has said that he is determined to exercise full civilian control over the army establishment and prevent anti-India activity on Pakistani soil.




Sharif’s priority is to boost the beleaguered Pakistani economy and to achieve this goal good relations with India are essential. On the campaign trail, he had promised to “fix the economy” and rebuild Pakistan. The country has in the last decade been adversely impacted by the American occupation of Afghanistan and the spill-over of the insurgency into Pakistan. To complicate matters, the country was devastated by floods in two consecutive years. Industry has badly affected by daily power outages while the Pakistani currency has been steadily deprecating in value. Sharif has an uphill task ahead of him on the economic front. Increased trade with India, many Pakistani economists and politicians are convinced, would be a boost for the country’s economy. Trade between the two countries is currently estimated at two billion dollars annually. There is scope for bilateral trade going up manifold once political relations improve.


Pakistan had finally granted India the status of a “most favoured trading nation” (MFN) status in 2011 but the Pakistani domestic business elite is still wary about being swamped by their bigger Indian competitors. According to the Indian government, the PPP government had not really allowed Indian companies and goods free access to Pakistan. New Delhi is waiting for the new government to really implement the MFN status for India on the ground. One of Sharif’s grandiose goals is to help put in place a regional economic infrastructure that would include a highway which would connect Afghanistan, Pakistan and India — a Kabul to Kolkata highway. One way that the two sides could immediately give a fillip to bilateral trade is by opening more border posts for trading. Right now, only the trading post in Wagah is operational.


There is also great scope for energy cooperation between the two countries. Pakistan right now wants to import energy from India to meet its current acute shortfall. But in the longer term, the gas pipeline from Iran, which will soon reach Pakistan, can be extended to India. Iran has for long been trying to sell the idea of an Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline. Iran has one of the largest reserves of gas in the world but the marketing of the commodity has been curtailed due to the draconian American sanctions imposed on the country. The previous PPP led government in Pakistan had shown immense courage in defying the American diktats and going ahead with the project. India too can do likewise.


Sharif’s major priority besides the improvement of relations with India is to find a solution to the problem of insurgency and terrorism that has its roots on both sides of the Afghan-Pak border. The Pakistani military and sections of the political establishment have also blamed India for helping the Baloch separatists. New Delhi had virtually accepted a role when a joint India-Pakistan statement at the NAM summit in Cairo four years ago mentioned the Balochistan issue along with that of Kashmir. New Delhi, since then, seems to have considerably scaled down its covert help for the Baloch separatists. However, the Baloch separatist movement shows no signs of giving up its struggle, which first erupted in a big way in the early seventies. The strategic port of Gwadar is located in the Balochistan province. 




With the end game approaching in Afghanistan as the American occupation forces have now departed, India and Pakistan are both waiting and watching the fast unfolding developments. The visit of the Afghan president, Ahmad Karzai, to India in May was being viewed as part of the political and diplomatic manoeuvres going on in the subcontinent. Islamabad has always been suspicious of India’s high profile role in Afghanistan since the ouster of the Taliban from power in Kabul. The Pakistani military establishment continues to view Afghanistan as being its zone of influence and a provider of “strategic depth.”


Till now New Delhi has confined its role mainly to developing infrastructural projects in the country. India has invested more than two billion dollars in developmental aid for the country. In the last couple of years, India has provided training for Afghan police and army officers. Now with relations between Kabul and Islamabad again deteriorating, there have been requests from the Afghan government for arms supplies from India. The two countries had signed an agreement in 2011 under which India had agreed to “assist with the training, equipping and capacity building” for the Afghan National Security Forces. The Afghan army is mainly non-Pashtun. The Taliban’s support is mostly confined to the majority Pashtuns who populate the areas bordering Pakistan. Karzai during his latest visit once again requested the Indian government to play a greater role in his country after the departure of the Americans. “We had a wish list (for weapons) that we have presented to India. Now it is up to them to decide,” Karzai told the media when he was in Delhi. Indian officials were, however, quick to assert that no decisions on the subject were made. Karzai has been openly saying that the Afghan Taliban were still being supported by Pakistan and that its key leaders like Mullah Omar were under the protection of the ISI. He even alleged that the Al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri was also under ISI protection inside Pakistan.


The evolving Indian role in Afghanistan will be keenly watched in Islamabad. The Taliban are expected to launch an all out offensive now that the American forces have departed. Karzai told his interlocutors in Delhi that talks with the Taliban for a peaceful resolution of the conflict were progressing well, but said that there was no question of acceding to the Taliban’s demand for changing the constitution. Some experts even predicted a replay of the 1990s scenario in Afghanistan, when India, along with Russia and Iran, lined with the “Northern Alliance” consisting of Afghan Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and other minorities against the Pakistan supported Taliban. For better relations with Pakistan, India will have to tread carefully in the Afghan minefield.