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13 August, 2013

Threat to peace process

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

With guns booming across the line of control in Jammu and Kashmir for more than a week, the India-Pakistan peace progress has been thrown into jeopardy. In the present context, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Nawaz Sharif will find it difficult to take any meaningful measures to normalise bilateral relations.

Nawaz Sharif had spoken of his desire to improve relations with India during the election campaign and reiterated it immediately after the victory of his Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz). Last month, Pakistan’s National Security Adviser Sartaj Aziz discussed confidence-building measures with India’s External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid on the sidelines of the Asean summit at Brunei.

Later Sharif sent his special envoy, Shahryar Khan, to New Delhi with a letter to Manmohan Singh. Following this, the two governments made tentative plans for a meeting of the prime ministers when they are in New York for the United Nations General Assembly session next month.

The LoC developments have set these initiatives at naught. Public opinion, incensed by the killing of five Indian soldiers while on patrol duty in the Poonch sector on the night of August 5, has forced New Delhi to slow down the peace process.

Ceasefire violations in the region are not unusual, especially at this time of the year, when terrorist infiltration into Kashmir from across the line of control is at its peak. India has accused the Pakistan army of providing the infiltrators fire cover. Pakistan claims India is guilty of more truce violations than it.

The Indian army blamed the Poonch killings on Pakistani troops. However, in an apparent attempt to soft-pedal the issue, Defence Minister AK Antony told Parliament that the assailants were terrorists in Pakistani army uniform. Loud protests led by the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party forced him to make a fresh statement a day later, laying the blame at the door of the Pakistan army.

Most Indian analysts believe the spurt in truce violations and the gruesome incidents like the Poonch killings and the beheading of an Indian soldier in the same sector a few weeks earlier are part of a deliberate plan by a section of the  Pakistan army to queer the pitch for Nawaz Sharif. They say the army fears improved ties with India will reduce its clout in the Pakistani power structure.

As in Pakistan, hawks and doves are in contention in India too.

Parliamentary elections are due in less than a year, and the BJP, which is making a bid to return to power after a gap of ten years, has picked Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, a hardcore Hindutva exponent, as its prime ministerial candidate. The party sees stoking India-Pakistan tensions as a means of boosting Hindu sentiments against the Congress-led government.

BJP President Rajnath Singh has demanded that the government scale down diplomatic relations with Pakistan and declare that there would be no talks until Islamabad stopped supporting terror activities directed against India.

The way Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh joined the BJP in the anti-Pakistan chorus in Parliament illustrates how electoral compulsions can weaken a political party’s commitment to the secular ideal.

Beyond the realm of electoral politics, there is a body of opinion which believes it is in India’s interest to help bolster the position of the democratically elected government of Nawaz Sharif. Those who subscribe to this view want Manmohan Singh to go ahead with the plan to meet Sharif.

Developments in Afghanistan have a bearing on the current state of India-Pakistan relations. The United States is looking up to India to play a role in stabilising the situation in that country after it pulls out next year.  Extremist forces operating in Afghanistan and elements of the Pakistan army which support them do not favour the idea.

Those who are keen that the peace process must continue uninterrupted point out that direct engagement between the governments of India and Pakistan at the present stage is necessary to negotiate the Afghan imbroglio in such a way as to ensure regional security.

While Indian experts are agreed that a section of the Pakistan army does not share Nawaz Sharif’s enthusiasm for improved relations with India, there is sharp disagreement among them on how India should respond to the situation. Some want the peace progress to be abandoned, some others want it to be delayed and some others want it to go on. Strangely, those who want the process stalled do not seem to realise that they are on the same side as the hawks in Pakistan.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, August 13, 2013.

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