Why India Needs To Read Nawaz Sharif's UNGA Speech More Closely

01/10/2015 4:28 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, speaks to Prime Minister of Pakistan Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, back to a camera, during the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) summit in Ufa, Russia, Friday, July 10, 2015. (Host photo agency/RIA Novosti Pool Photo via AP)

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s four specific proposals for peace with India in his speech at the United Nations General Assembly will put New Delhi in a quandary. The proposals reflect a great eagerness to re-start bilateral negotiations with India. The Ministry of External Affairs’ prompt rebuff of the proposals will be used by Pakistan to make India look like the one that does not want peace.

He mentioned four points, but there were actually more than four things of significance in his speech. He could not have made such big and specific proposals to India without the consent and advice of the all-powerful Pakistani Army.

Let us take them one by one.

1. Composite dialogue: Nawaz Sharif spoke approvingly of the composite dialogue, stopping short of demanding its revival.

The composite dialogue started in 1997 and that has been junked by the Modi government. Before 1997, India and Pakistan used to argue over what they will talk first, Kashmir or terrorism. With the composite dialogue, they agreed to talk everything together, not just Kashmir and terrorism but also trade and visas and prisoners. Amongst the achievements of the composite dialogue were the 2003 ceasefire, cross-LoC trade and travel, some easing of trade ties and a new visa agreement.

If the Modi government does not like the composite dialogue format, it will have to propose something better.

2. Kashmir: It is important to note that while he rued that the UN Security Council resolutions have not been implemented, he did not demand their implementation.

The Ministry of External Affairs’ spokesperson immediately put out tweets objecting to Pakistan saying that Kashmir was occupied by a foreigner. Pakistan’s position on Kashmir isn’t going to change overnight, but New Delhi seems to be missing the nuance in Sharif’s speech.

He didn’t demand a plebiscite, nor did he ask for third-party intervention on a negotiating table. He mentioned the Kashmiri “struggle for self-determination” but did not repeat the standard Pakistani line of moral and diplomatic support to it. He did say that consultations with Kashmiris are vital. He compared Kashmiris to Palestinians, but instead of demanding ‘liberation’ he demanded a peaceful solution. It is important that he did not talk a “Kashmir first” language but spoke of peace and security along with Kashmir as issues demanding “primacy and urgency”.

pakistan kashmiri separatist

Moderate Indian Kashmiri separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq addresses Pakistani politicians in Karachi in 2012.

India’s new line of not letting Pakistani diplomats meet Kashmiri separatists serves no purpose.

He said that it is vital to consult Kashmiris. India’s new line of not letting Pakistani diplomats meet Kashmiri separatists serves no purpose. If it is India’s case that these separatists are non-entities, then what is the problem in letting Pakistanis meet them for dinner? That is not the same as letting Kashmiris enter an India-Pakistan dinner meet. This is the least India will have to allow Pakistan so that it can show its domestic constituency that it is not junking Kashmir to make peace with India.

3. Signing a ceasefire agreement: Given the heightened tensions on the Line of Control and the Working Boundary over the last two years, it is significant that Sharif had concrete proposals to stem them. His first idea is to formalize the 2003 ceasefire agreement. In 2003, India and Pakistan had agreed to a ceasefire agreement, which did reduce tensions between the two militaries facing each other eye to eye. However, the two countries had stopped short of signing the ceasefire agreement on paper, because there was the usual disagreement over phraseology.

india pakistan ceasefire

An injured Border Security Force (BSF) soldier is brought to a government medical college after Pakistan ceasefire violation in October 2013.

Ceasefire violations bring home, in both countries, body bags of soldiers.

Actually signing the ceasefire agreement would effectively mean making a new ceasefire agreement — an opportunity India would be wise to lap up. Ceasefire violations are becoming so routine that the ceasefire itself is under threat. Ceasefire violations bring home, in both countries, body bags of soldiers and also cause civilian deaths, damage property and crops.

4. UNMOGIP: India and Pakistan both blame each other for the constant shelling on the LoC and the Working Boundary, the latter being the border in the Jammu region, which is the International Border for India.

It is impossible for an outsider to tell who is to blame for the ceasefire violation on a given day. India has been in favour of removing the posts of the United Nations Military Observers Group in India and Pakistan, or the UNMOGIP, on either side of the border/LoC. Nawaz Sharif instead called for a greater role of UNMOGIP, which is by all means a neutral observer that does not participate in any negotiations between the two sides.

By opposing UNMOGIP’s monitoring, India comes across as the party that has something to hide.

UNMOGIP was established by a resolution of the UN Security Council and removing it will require its approval. Pakistan still lodges complaints of ceasefire violations to UNMOGIP, but India has not been doing so since 1972.

By opposing UNMOGIP’s monitoring, India comes across as the party that has something to hide. Given that Pakistan’s ceasefire violations have often been aimed at helping militants cross the border/LoC, it can only be in India’s interest to have UNMOGIP’s neutral oversight.

5. No use of force: Sharif said that India and Pakistan should reaffirm that the two countries will not use force against each other, nor even threaten to do so, under any circumstances. This is where India can get commitments from Pakistan on terrorism, and on 'no first use' of nuclear weapons. India could say that if Pakistan is serious about this proposal, it should demonstrate its seriousness by bringing to justice the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks in 2008.

6. Demilitarising Kashmir: This of course has to happen on both sides of the border/LoC. India can and should take steps to demilitarize Kashmir if there has been reduction in terrorist activity. If there is a sustained ceasefire that does not help militants cross the border/LoC, limited and incremental demilitarisation is possible for India. This will also help India gain some goodwill from Kashmiris, reduce the right-wing propaganda in Pakistan about troops in Kashmir, and help towards making Kashmir a less burning issue.

If India doesn't demilitarize Kashmir, then Pakistan isn’t dropping its jihadis anytime soon.

“To de-militarise Kashmir is not the answer, to de-terrorise Pakistan is,” the MEA spokesperson tweeted. Pakistan’s use of terrorism in Kashmir is because of the Kashmir issue, and if India doesn’t see demilitarization of Kashmir on both sides of the LoC as a goal worth pursuing, then Pakistan isn’t dropping its jihadis anytime soon.

7. Demilitarising Siachen: Pakistan wants Siachen demilitarised, but the Indian Army has valid reasons to be wary of this. One of the aims of the Kargil incursion of 1999 was to cut off Indian supply lines to Siachen. With an over-all reduction of violence and tensions around Kashmir, demilitarising Siachen is not an impossible thought. Given the toll it takes on the health and lives of our troops on that glacier, and the environmental concerns that have been raised over Siachen, it can only be a good idea.

That Nawaz Sharif had four proposals is reminiscent of the Manmohan-Musharraf “four point formula”. There is only one point in Nawaz’s unilateral proposal common to the joint Manmohan-Musharraf proposal: demilitarization of Kashmir on both sides. Starting with a written ceasefire agreement seems much more doable and practical in current circumstances. The ball is now in Modi’s court.

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