Be liberal, be realistic

From the LoC to the nuclear arsenal, India can deal better with Pakistan if untenable assumptions are dispelled.

In August 1991, I was privileged to cover an important meeting between then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao and a special envoy of the Pakistani prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, Ambassador Shahryar Khan, in South Block. Shahryar Khan had brought a message of peace and friendship from his prime minister, significantly conveying that "India will see a qualitative change in the situation on the ground". This was with particular reference to cross-border terrorism then afflicting Kashmir and the continuing violence along the Line of Control (LoC).

Fast-track to July 2013, and the same Shahryar Khan came to New Delhi, again as Sharif's special envoy, to convey, I have no doubt, a message as reassuring as the one 22 years ago, even though I was not present in the room this time round. And just as it happened two decades ago, the message is belied by subsequent developments in India-Pakistan relations, including the continuing ceasefire violations along the International Border and the LoC. The promised change in the "situation on the ground" has not come about, and our prime minister has been compelled to express his disappointment at the lack of results from his more recent meeting with Sharif in New York.

Some analysts have argued that it is in India's interest to strengthen Sharif's hand vis-ŗ-vis the Pakistani army, that we must cut him some slack, being aware of the constraints he faces as a civilian leader. This is fine, except that we ought to be clear what this supposed slack involves. Sharif himself is quite clear what he expects from India: he wants to bring the focus back to the "core issue" of Kashmir, he wants alleged Indian involvement in Baluchistan to be on the bilateral agenda, he seeks Indian understanding of his inability to move ahead with the trial of the perpetrators of the Mumbai terrorist outrage and to rein in the likes of Hafiz Saeed and the Lashkar-e-Toiba. In other words, India must concede what the Pakistani army wants so that Sharif can demonstrate that he has been able to get from India what his army could not, and thus wield more authority over that army.

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