07/10/2015 8:22 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Nawaz Proposes, Sushma Disposes, But What Next?

Wagah, border-closing ceremony at Pakistan-India border near Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan
Marketa Jirouskova via Getty Images
Wagah, border-closing ceremony at Pakistan-India border near Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan

The four-point peace proposal offered by Nawaz Sharif at the United Nations General Assembly turned instead into a diatribe against India. By alluding to India as a foreign occupier in Kashmir, Sharif lost a historic opportunity to engage with India for settling historic disputes. His attempt to blame India for destabilising Pakistan (which he probably did at the behest of the Pakistan army) will not only prove to be counterproductive, but will only manage to worsen the already strained relations between the two countries. In fact, it may end up closing all gates for future dialogue. Unwittingly, Nawaz Sharif has made a monumental blunder in taking on India, especially when the truth lies elsewhere.

Relations between the two countries are more strained than ever today, in spite of genuine efforts made by Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif -- both prime ministers did show statesmanship in reaching to one another. It is said that Narendra Modi has cordial relations with Nawaz Sharif at a personal level too. And while Sharif enjoys some goodwill in India due to his prior attempts at engaging productively with the country, it can't be denied that the civilian government there is under the influence and control of the Pakistan army. It is a well known fact that it is the army that dictates the foreign policy of the government.

Moreover, we have seen time and again that any attempt made by both the countries to engage with one another is always thwarted by the Pakistani army. For instance, the genuine efforts made by India's former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to engage with Pakistan led to the Kargil conflict, which turned out to be a zero sum game, having no victor or vanquished. With two other wars behind us in addition to Kargil, the only way to bring the two countries together today is through dialogue, as war is no longer an option.

Let us analyse in a dispassionate way the four-point formula of the Pakistan Prime Minister.

1. India and Pakistan should formalise and respect the 2003 understanding of a complete ceasefire in Kashmir and LoC.

This initiative is achievable provided that Pakistan's intelligence agency (ISI) stops sending terrorists to India. One of the reasons why the peace process has not worked between the two countries is that India feels that both the ISI and the Pakistani army are not really keen to have peace with India for their own self-serving interests. It is for this reason that several accords signed by the two countries, including Simla and UFA, have failed.

"Pakistan should learn from India -- the way India managed to settle its border disputes with Bangladesh, and the way it is engaging with China in all areas, by temporarily leaving border disputes aside."

2. We propose Pakistan and India reaffirm that they will not resort to the threat of force under any circumstances.

As both are nuclear powers, there is a remote possibility of an all-out attack on one another. The threats emanating from both the countries are part of jingoism to appease the local constituency.

3. Steps must be taken to demilitarise Kashmir

This is also workable solution provided that Pakistan stops overt and covert support to some disgruntled elements in Kashmir. The recent protests by people of Pak-occupied Kashmir against the excesses of the Pakistani army should be an eye opener to Pakistan. By encouraging terrorism, they will end up hoisting their own petard! As MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup aptly put it "To de-militarize Kashmir is not the answer, but to de-terrorize Pakistan is."

India's First Secretary to the United Nations, in a letter sent to the President of UN General Assembly, immediately after Sharif's speech (where he had alluded to Jammu & Kashmir as being under foreign occupation), stated that it is Pakistan which is the occupier:

"The heart of the matter is a state that regards the use of terrorism as a legitimate instrument of statecraft. The world watches with concern as its consequences have spread beyond its immediate neighbourhood. All of us stand prepared to help, if only the creators of this monster wake up to the dangers of what they have done to themselves."

4. Agree to mutually withdraw troops from Siachen

After the Kargil incident, the level of trust between the two countries is at its nadir. India will not agree with this initiative as it genuinely feels that Pakistan may go back to its old ways of starting a limited war with India and, moreover, the strategy of the Pakistan army has always been to continue its hostility against India. The Pakistan army believes that it is locked into a permanent, existential, civilisational battle against India. It is in this context that any meaningful dialogue with the elected government in Pakistan is doomed to fail without the support of the Pakistani army.

India believes the problem of growing terrorism, especially in Pakistan, is because of its failure to distinguish between "good Taliban" and "bad Taliban". It has become a victim of its own policies of breeding and sponsoring terrorists.

Sushma Swaraj, in her speech at the UN, while dismissing Nawaz Sharif's four-point peace offer outright, said, "We don't need four points, we need just one: Give up terrorism and let us sit down and talk." She also brought to the notice of the assembly "how the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks were roaming freely in Pakistan."

Notwithstanding Nawaz Sharif's diatribe against India and Swaraj's befitting response, the overarching challenge today is to find ways to engage with one another so that disputes are resolved once in for all. Both the countries need to collaborate in trade and business, climate change, share intelligence on terror activities and create an atmosphere that will prove conducive to future engagements. It is here that Pakistan should learn from India -- the way India managed to settle its border disputes with Bangladesh, and the way it is engaging with China in all areas, by temporarily leaving border disputes aside.

It is hoped that the leadership in both the countries will abandon grandstanding and instead explore ways to better the ties between the two countries. The people of both nations deserve at least this much.

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