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Why Nawaz Sharif Is India's Best Bet For Improving Ties With Pakistan

23/02/2016 8:34 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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NEW DELHI, INDIA - MAY 27: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) shakes hand with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif before the start of their bilateral meeting at Hyderabad House on May 27, 2014 in New Delhi, India. New Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with the leaders of rival Pakistan and other neighboring nations a day after being sworn in. (Photo by Ajay Aggarwal/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

In a rare and candid admission, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif recently accepted complicity in the Kargil misadventure in 1999. It requires real courage and conviction for any leader to admit to mistakes. Sharif also endorsed former Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's assertion that the Kargil incident was "a stab in the back." His admission comes at a time when the Pathankot incident has for now derailed the peace process between the countries.

Following Partition and the four wars since then, both countries have adopted an ostrich-like approach when it came to engaging with one another. It is in this context, the Lahore Declaration signed in February 1999, assumes significance. By signing the agreement, both Atal Behari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif showed remarkable courage to usher in a new beginning in bilateral relations.

Sharif endorsed former Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's assertion that the Kargil incident was "a stab in the back."

However, Sharif's efforts were put paid by the machinations of the then General of the Pakistan Army, Pervez Musharraf. There was a general feeling in India that the Kargil incident was a deliberate act by the Pakistan army to not only scuttle the peace process between but cut Nawaz Sharif to size. This became evident when the General unseated an elected government through a bloodless coup d'état.

Pervez Musharraf, however, after becoming the President of Pakistan, did attempt to engage with India as his unseating the civil government received worldwide condemnation. Musharraf perhaps felt that by initiating a dialogue with India, he would not only manage to improve his image but also establish the legitimacy of his government. The Agra Summit helped him in achieving his goal.

Cut to 2015. The visit of Narendra Modi to Pakistan was an attempt to put the dialogue process back on track. The willingness of both sides to start a composite dialogue again kept the dying embers of peace alive. Nawaz Sharif is one of the rare politicians from Pakistan who has genuinely believed in establishing good relations with India. Unfortunately, as both the countries were on the verge of resuming the peace process, the Pathankot incident happened. History was once again repeating itself. Every time there is a peace initiative, attempts to derail it are made by the army and its allied terror groups. It is a sad commentary that a government that enjoys the people's mandate in Pakistan is not allowed to function independently.

Fortunately, there is a growing realization on both sides that incidents like Pathankot should not be allowed to sabotage the peace process as doing so would only be playing into the hands of those who are against the very idea of peaceful co-existence. It is, therefore, in the interest of India to continue engaging with Pakistan despite provocations.

Nawaz Sharif is one of the rare politicians from Pakistan who has genuinely believed in establishing good relations with India.

Although, the army and the ISI have always scuttled the peace process, there has been an attitudinal change in the army, ever since Raheel Sharif became the army chief. Unlike his predecessors, has he seems to have realized that by encouraging jihadi outfits untold harm has been caused to the stability of Pakistan. Further, there is growing pressure from the United States and other countries to dismantle the terror hub. He has largely been successful in neutralizing various organizations operating from Pakistani through Operation Zarb-e-Azb.

If Raheel Sharif can be somehow made to realize that some organizations like the JuD, which are only focusing their attention on India, can also be neutralized, it will help Pakistan promote good relations with India. It is here both India and Pakistan should take him on board in all future discussions. While there are no easy solutions to Kashmir, once trade and people to people contact are established, the present trust deficit between the two countries would be significantly reduced and open doors for addressing contentious issues in the spirit of mutual acceptance and accommodation.

Lastly, India's ambition of becoming a global power hinges on how it forges good relations with its neighbour. It is, therefore, imperative that both Pakistan and India should resume the process of dialogue.

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