In Musharraf’s footsteps
The meeting on July 10 between Nawaz Sharif and Modi at Ufa on the sidelines of the SCO summit will go down as a major diplomatic retreat by Pakistan on the two top questions of the Pakistan-India bilateral agenda in recent years: Kashmir and terrorism.
First, the joint statement issued at Ufa is the first one between the two countries at the summit level that does not specifically mention Kashmir. Second, the statement is an indirect admission by Pakistan of the Indian allegation that the trial of the Mumbai case is being hampered by Pakistan’s refusal to provide voice samples of Lakhvi.
It is no wonder that the Ufa summit is being widely seen in India as a significant diplomatic success of the Modi government’s policy to highlight ‘terrorism’ from Pakistani soil as the main obstacle to bilateral relations. A statement issued by the ruling BJP called the summit a “game-changing achievement” of Modi and expressed the confidence that it “will bear fruit on the ground very soon”.
In Pakistan, the reaction has been very different. Responding to criticism from political parties and analysts, the government has been reduced to a damage limitation exercise, essentially trying to play down the significance of the summit and what the joint statement says – or does not say. Sartaj Aziz said at a press conference in Islamabad three days after Ufa that the summit was not a “breakthrough” but could be a “good beginning”. He said also that while the joint statement was silent on Kashmir and on Indian interference in Balochistan, Nawaz did take up these and other issues of concern to Pakistan such as delays in the Samjhauta Express trial.
Even the optics of the Ufa meeting were horrendous. Nawaz Sharif was made to walk down the entire length of the hall while the Indian prime minister stood in his place at the other end and looked on imperiously and unsmilingly as the Pakistani prime minister approached him with his delegation in tow in single file. Diplomatic courtesy demanded that Modi should have walked up to the entrance of the room to receive Nawaz or at least greeted him half way.
The whole scene seems to have been set up by the Indians to make Modi look like a hegemon receiving the representative of a vassal state. What is worse is that Nawaz behaved like one. After he had shaken hands with Modi, the members of the Pakistan delegation went up to the Indian prime minister one by one to be introduced to him. In shaking hands with Modi, Fatemi bent over steeply in an apparent gesture of obeisance.
In his turn Nawaz did not wait for the members of the Indian delegation to come to him, as is the custom. Instead, he himself went to them as they stood in their places on one side of the room. This is not courtesy, it was conduct unbecoming of the dignity of a prime minister of Pakistan.
Whatever the two leaders might have said to each other at their meeting, it is obvious that the Indian side was far more successful in getting the language it wanted in the joint statement. A possible though partial explanation, as given by an Indian newspaper, is that the Pakistan foreign secretary was under instructions by Nawaz “not to wrangle too much over the wording”.
On the trial of the Mumbai case, the joint declaration is pretty much a one-sided statement of the Indian position. In his press conference, Sartaj said that the reference to the need for “additional information” on the Mumbai case trial was a vindication of the Pakistani position that more evidence and information were needed to conclude the trial. But Sartaj did not clarify why Pakistan has now agreed to provide voice samples after having declined the request so far.
Fatemi gave a peculiar explanation in an interview with The News. Pakistan had stood its ground all along, he said, but now it had no other choice because of our commitment in the joint statement and because “we have to be part of a civilised world and … cannot embarrass our friends and many others who stood by us like brothers.” The question Fatemi left unanswered is how Pakistan’s refusal to provide voice samples, which was perfectly justified before the Ufa summit, suddenly became “uncivilised” behaviour with the joint statement.
The truth is that Nawaz yielded to pressure jointly exerted by Washington and Delhi. Kerry is believed to have taken up the question of the Mumbai trial in his telephone call to Nawaz on June 16 and suggested that the SCO summit be used to re-engage with India on the issue. Kerry’s call was made in concert with one to Nawaz by Modi earlier the same day ostensibly to convey Ramadan greetings.
To leave Nawaz in no doubt about the importance Washington attached to the matter and about US expectations from Pakistan, Kerry also made a statement to the press saying that Pakistan-India tensions were of “enormous concern” to the US. He added that Nawaz had been “extremely forthcoming” – words that were obviously intended to flatter and encourage the Pakistan prime minister to agree to the Indian demand for voice samples.
Even more worrisome than the government’s cave-in on the question of voice samples is its retreat on Kashmir. First, the Pakistan high commissioner cancelled the traditional Iftar party hosted by him every year in Delhi, at which Kashmiri representatives are also invited. It was scheduled this year for July 4, about a week before the Ufa summit. After the cancellation it was given out that the event was called off as a mark of respect for the people who had died last month due to the heatwave in Karachi. Everyone knows that this is fiction and the event was scrapped because the participation of Kashmiri leaders might have offended the Modi government.
The fact that the Ufa statement does not mention Kashmir is not just deplorable, it is simply inexcusable. India’s refusal to allow the Kashmiris to exercise their right to self-determination is the core issue between Pakistan and India and is recognised by the whole world as the main reason for more than six decades of tensions, hostility and conflict in South Asia. It has always figured in previous Pakistan-India summit declarations. Its omission at Ufa has rightly led to disappointment, anger and outrage among the Kashmiris and is being seen by many of them as an act of betrayal by the Nawaz government. It is also an affront to the countless sacrifices made by the Kashmiri people in their freedom struggle.
Sartaj Aziz has now revealed that the two prime ministers agreed at Ufa to start a back-channel dialogue on Kashmir, Siachen and Sir Creek and that the modalities for this track would be worked out through diplomatic channels. Oddly, the Indian side has made no public statement on this issue. It has also not rebutted the adviser’s assertion.
If Sartaj’s aim in making the announcement on the proposed back-channel dialogue was to reassure the Kashmiris that the government has not forgotten the Kashmir cause, he will not succeed. That is because the starting point of this process, which was initiated by Musharraf in 2004, was the then military dictator’s announcement that Pakistan was “laying aside” the UN Security Council resolutions on Kashmir.
Nawaz’s information minister said to the press on July 11 that no Pakistani ruler had done more harm to the Kashmir cause than Musharraf. That is true. Besides his announcement on “laying aside” the Security Council resolutions, Musharraf also stopped raising Kashmir in international fora, and the four-point proposal for a Kashmir settlement that he was pursuing through the back channel would have amounted to legitimising India’s occupation of the state.
It seems now that by agreeing to leave out Kashmir from the Ufa declaration and to ‘revive’ the back-channel dialogue, Nawaz also intends to follow the same course as Musharraf. If Nawaz continues on this dangerous path, he could soon replace Musharraf as the leader who harmed the Kashmir cause the most.
The writer is a former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service.
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