By Dr. Nazir Hussain
May 30, 2014
The much-hyped meeting between Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi on May 27, 2014 has been termed ‘historic’ and ‘constructive’ by the Pakistani premier. Though the meeting was only a ‘courtesy’ call, the decision to restart the secretary-level talks is a welcome development in the given circumstances. Right from the victory of Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with a thumbing majority to his invitation to all SAARC leaders including Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif accepting the invitation and attending the swearing in ceremony, there are surprizes in every move.
However, the Indian foreign secretary, Sujatha Singh’s, highlighting that Pakistan has to dismantle the terrorist network and hand over the Mumbai attackers (2008), Indian moves to undo Article 370 of the Indian Constitution relating to the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, along with the appointment of Shusma Suraj as Indian External Affairs Minister and former Indian Army Chief, V.P. Sing, as her deputy, highlight the new contours of Indian foreign policy vis-à-vis Pakistan.
Therefore, this article endeavours to analyse the future of Pakistan-India relations in the light of the Nawaz-Modi meeting through the dynamics of invitation/meeting, the renewed nationalistic contours of Indian foreign policy and the changing regional security environment.
Dynamics of the meeting
During the election campaign, Narendra Modi took a very strong stance projecting the nationalistic credentials internally and externally, especially on Indian Muslims and Pakistan. It was not expected of Modi to invite Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to India so soon. However, a number of factors led to the invitation and the meeting.
Modi and his BJP came to power with the strong support of Indian corporate and business community, along with the vibrant middle class. As the Congress government failed to pass on the ‘shining India’ to the common Indians, the BJP was the alternate choice. On the other hand, Nawaz Sharif won the Pakistani elections on the same agenda and backing. Therefore, it was mutually complimentary to each other to move towards trade, commerce and business, both needed the much required space to put their houses in order vis-à-vis economic progress and stability.
Given the fact that India-China trade is over $100 billion despite their political/territorial differences, the regional economic reach of India is of utmost importance for its regional status and role. One authoritative Indian journalist stated that it was the strong corporate sector that compelled Modi to invite Nawaz Sharif. Given his hard-line stance and domestic constituency, Modi could not have afforded to invite Mr. Sharif alone. Therefore, he used the SAARC platform.
Moreover, Modi had governed the state of Gujarat with controversial credentials; strong anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan actions therefore, he had to improve his image to become the national leader of India. Thus, Modi of Delhi had to be different than the Modi of Gujrat. By inviting Nawaz Sharif, he wanted to project his image as a nationalistic Indian leader who desires peace and progress with Pakistan and the region at large.
Importantly, the far-reaching changes in the region; the security vacuum in the light of U.S. withdrawal, political transformations; pragmatist Hassan Rouhani coming to power in Iran, Dr. Abdullah the likely president of Afghanistan, and the energy/trade corridors being developed in the south and south-west Asian regions, compelled India to exert its influence and role in regional security and economic dynamics. In order to reach across South Asia into Central Asia and West Asia, improvement of relations with Pakistan is crucial.
On the other hand, Sharif was eager to develop good relations with India to get space for his domestic agenda of economic revival. Being part of the private corporate sector, Sharif was not only convinced of expanded trade with India, but he was also compelled by the Pakistani corporate and business community. Therefore, when Sharif got the invitation, he was ready to go, but he took all the stakeholders in confidence before making the decision public. The fact that Sharif took along his son, Hussain Nawaz, who looks after the business interests of the family, was a clear indication of his preferred agenda in India.
Indian nationalistic posturing
Nawaz Sharif was warmly greeted by Modi, and the meeting was described as positive and constructive. Sharif emphasised the need to restart the relations stalled in 1999, and converting conflict into cooperation. He was well aware of ‘ceremonial’ nature of the meeting and thus apparently did not raise any contentious issue with his counterpart, but the Indian Foreign Secretary was quick to comment that “Mr. Modi also underlined our concerns related to terrorism.” She further stated, “It was conveyed that Pakistan must abide by its commitment to prevent its territory under its control from being used for terrorism against India.” The Times of India reported that
“India’s new PM Narendra Modi has urged his Pakistani counterpart to crack down on militants and speed up the trial of 2008 Mumbai attacks suspects.” Therefore, right from the very beginning, India was sure to be nationalistic and emphasised its principal position vis-à-vis Pakistan.
Moreover, the Modi cabinet consisting of hard-line BJP leaders, particularly ShusmaSuraj as Minister for External Affairs and Gen. V.P. Sing as her deputy, depict the nationalistic approach of India as new contours of its foreign policy. It seems that despite the ‘ceremonial’ meeting, the traditional approach of India towards Pakistan would remain hawkish and hardened. Importantly, the BJP government in its first day in office indicated that it is making moves to undo Article 370 of the Indian Constitution concerning the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. Probably, India wants to convey that the core issue of Kashmir is not under discussion in the bilateral relations of India and Pakistan.
Future of Pakistan-India relations
Many analysts believe that a hard-line and nationalistic Indian leadership is in a better position to make compromises and take bold decisions, as the BJP has done in the past by starting the Lahore-Delhi Bus Service, initiation of Composite Dialogue Process, Agra Summit (2000), and the SAARC initiative (2004), etc. However, the situation is different this time; Modi is novice to international diplomacy, hard-line BJP elements are in the cabinet, the powerful Indian military establishment is asserting its role in decision-making, and the ‘South Block’ in Indian External Affairs Ministry has shown its approach through the statement of the Foreign Secretary.
Therefore, India is not interested to restart the Composite Dialogue Process and, therefore, full normalization seems a distant possibility. By putting prior conditions; terrorism, Mumbai episode, and Article 370 issue; India wants to minimize the options for Pakistan in its bilateral relations. However, the current status of trade relations and other activities is likely to continue to show normalcy between Pakistan and India.
Sartaj Aziz in his press conference has tried to pacify the Pakistani audience, but it seems too late and too little; the damage has already been done. The ‘courtesy’ meeting has been utilized by India to project its nationalistic and hard-line approach towards Pakistan. Nonetheless, status quo is the word between Pakistan-India relations in the near future.