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December 4, 2018

Can Pak-India talks revive?


December 4, 2018

Neither Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj nor Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi understand that Prime Minister Imran Khan can’t throw ‘googly’ as he has never been a spinner in his cricketing days. As a fast bowler he could swing either way. On Kartarpur, he delivered a slow ball and wanted his Indian counterpart to play with straight bat. In political term it was his desire for the revival of talks for peace on all outstanding issues between the two states.

So the reaction and response from India since the opening of Kartarpur Corridor was not surprising as both the BJP and Congress Party are busy in elections in which relationship with Pakistan always figured. Who knows better than the former Indian cricketer-turn-politician Navjot Sidhu, who had played against Imran in the 80s that his friend was among best fast bowlers and not a spinner.

I am sure had Shah Mahmood Qureshi played cricket he would not have used this word but Sushma and the BJP trying to play on both sides of the wicket. On the one hand they are seeking explanation from Pakistan on Qureshi’s ‘googly remark’ and on the other also accused Congress of using Sidhu’s faith for politics. I am sure veteran Indian cricketers like Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar would explain to Sushma ji that Imran can’t bowl googly.

Such a reaction from Indian side was not unexpected as even on the opening of Kartarpur Corridor, the reaction from Sushma reflected her frustration and that too days after she welcomed the opening of Kartarpur Corridor.

From Agra to Kartarpur, Pakistan had taken number of initiatives to improve relationship with India, and even wanted to revive cricket, cultural and people-to-people contact.

From Musharraf to Imran Khan, Pakistan looked more serious in talks than India. Since relationship with Pakistan, often been an election issue in India, we may see more hard-line statements from India till elections are not over in 2019. On the other hand, ‘India’ has never been an issue in Pakistani elections as more or less all parties want peaceful ties with its neighbouring state.

Secondly, Pakistani electorate has never voted for extremist parties unlike in India, where the BJP today is the largest party whose politics revolves around anti-Pakistan narrative.

After July 25 elections newly-elected Prime Minister Imran Khan showed grace when he offered India to resume talks for the revival of peace process and most recently he threw a ball to towards India, that he is even ready to make a ‘grand gesture’ to its terrorism concern provided they sit across the table. Imran is not only a politician but also a sportsman, who knows the importance of ‘peace’.

In the last 100-days if one ‘U-turn’ which Imran has not taken since the day he was elected was his desire to have peace talks with India. Through his back-to-back gesture, Imran has also silenced his critics by taking peace initiatives both with India and Afghanistan. Secondly, he knows that even friendly countries like China and Saudi Arabia also want Pakistan to take bold peace initiatives in a bid to change world’s narrative about Pakistan. Thirdly, the present government also knows that the economic development in the country was also linked with peace; fourthly, the military leadership is also on one page and lastly as a sportsman Imran believes people of both the countries support peace.

He also wrote a letter in response to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s congratulating letter and repeated his desire for talks. He then invited Indian cricketers of his days on his oath-taking ceremony. Sidhu came while Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev regretted because of their pre-engagements.

Pakistan then tried to break the deadlock, when the two foreign ministers were visiting UN General Assembly and the last such initiative was ‘Kartarpur’. On the contrary, BJP’s response was disappointing despite Indian cricketers’ gesture of sending a bat signed by all the team members to Imran Khan.

Former Indian cricketer-cum-politician Sidhu within no time became the ‘peace ambassador’ to an extent that Imran recently said, “If Sidhu contests election from Pakistan’s Punjab, he would win”.

But hardliners in the BJP and perhaps the extremists within the Indian establishment blocked the response from India to Pakistan’s peace initiative. Pakistan has come a long way to defeat terrorism and also becoming its worst victim with the loss of over 70,000 people including citizens, leaders and a large number of security personnel. Imran was even bold enough to admit that mistakes had been committed by Pakistan and India but want to bury the hatchet.

“Pakistan could make a grand gesture to India’s concerns but there has to be a response from New Delhi,” he recently told Indian journalists, who came to attend the opening of Kartarpur Corridor. Indian politics for the past many years is a hostage to BJP’s or rather Modi’s mindset to an extent that even Congress is now divided over resumption of talks with Pakistan due to ‘cross border’ terrorism.

But Imran is even ready to wait till the elections are over in India. “We can wait but my offer remains the same that peace is the only option between the two nuclear powers,” he said.

So, it may take time but through Pakistan’s back-to-back peace initiative, PM Imran has already delivered a ball to Modi and waiting whether he wants to hit it for a six or lose his wicket.

While within Pakistan the government is also facing criticism from certain quarters for going too far in making peace offer, the message across the world was well received as even the US and UN have welcomed the opening of Kartarpur Corridor and hope the two countries would also establish and encourage people-to-people contact.

The initial response from India on ‘Kartarpur’ was also positive and they decided to send the official delegation comprising two ministers. But then the BJP took a ‘U-turn’, and its Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj not only described the presence of Indian ministers their personal initiative but repeated India’s old rhetoric that unless Pakistan stop cross-border terrorism dialogue cannot resume.

Pakistan’s premier response was cool. He said, “We can wait till the Indian election but I will continue attempts to improve relationship”. So, it was slow delivery from a fast bowler, which Modi or Sushma could not read but Sidhu did as a fine batsman of his time.

The visiting Indian journalists comprising some of the sane voices in India, who at times faced ‘criticism’ like a former cricketer and now minister, Sidhu faced. Nothing unusual and unexpected happened as some of the sane voices of Pakistan also faced similar criticism over their comments.

Imran also passed a strong message to its hostile neighbour by saying, “There is a consensus in Pakistan over improving relationship with India and all are on one page”. The political leadership whether it is from the PTI, the PML- N and the PPP, all want better relationship and did make efforts during their tenures for improving ties.

Even the religious parties including Jamaat-e-Islami or the JUI-F never opposed talks with India but like other parties they too want that ‘Kashmir issue’ should be one of the top priorities during the talks.

It is also clear from Kartarpur opening that the army leadership is on the same page. In fact, it was army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, who was the first who offered opening of Kartarpur border. On the contrary it seems as the Indian political and civilian leadership were under pressure from the Indian military establishment.

But the UN Human Rights report over the atrocities in Held Kashmir has put the Indian government in an embarrassing position. The talks may not resume soon even after the Indian elections unless the extremist Indian mindset change. But India should not miss an opportunity for peace as war is not the option between the two nuclear states.

The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang

Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO

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