In mid-May 2014, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mian Nawaz Sharif congratulated Narendra Modi, one of the leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or Indian People’s Party, which has won a landslide victory in parliamentary elections. Ten days after the official results were announced, Nawaz Sharif flew to New Delhi at the invitation of his Indian counterpart to participate in the new Prime Minister’s inauguration ceremony. The academic community is asking many questions, in particular, what challenges await Pakistani-Indian relations, what are the prospects for their future interactions, and what will their roles be in the regional order.
The parliamentary elections in May 2013 in Pakistan and in May 2014 in India witnesses the coming to power of new circles in these countries. In 2014, in addition to the tasks of normalizing bilateral relations, the countries are faced with new regional challenges. This is due, above all, to the presidential elections in neighboring Afghanistan (April – June 2014), the revision of the planned USA/NATO schedule for the withdrawal of coalition forces from the country, and the recent mobilization of radical Islamist groups. All this speaks to the need to adjust foreign policy in the region.
The normalization of relations between Pakistan and India is currently burdened with old problems: Kashmir, Siachen, the distribution of Indus water resources, burdensome trade tariffs, etc. In addition to a potential dialog on territorial and water disputes, both Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi are faced with the need to build personal relationships. The Prime Minister of Pakistan is a heavyweight in international politics. In the 90s he twice headed the cabinet of ministers (November 1990 – April 1993, February 1997 – October 1999); in these years he assumed an adversarial position in relation to India – following New Delhi by testing a nuclear weapon in May 1998; in July 1999 the country once again faced an armed conflict in Kargil.
Narendra Modi, however, has only just come onto the international political arena. At the national level he has already managed to achieve success in the “Pakistan Direction”. During the election campaign in the Spring of 2014, the future candidate for the Prime Ministry from the BJP addressed accusations that Pakistan had used terrorists to instigate terrorist acts in Kashmir, including those in September 2013 that resulted in the deaths of several soldiers and civilians.
The political opposition between Pakistan and India was typical for the first decade of the twenty-first century. First, Pakistan’s participation in the international campaign against terrorism in Afghanistan as a frontline state (increased stakes for Islamabad in the regional game ) is interpreted negatively in New Delhi. Second, the competition for influence in Afghanistan has particularly marred relations between Islamabad and New Delhi. In 2011, India signed a strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan. India is one of a slew of other countries participating in the reconstruction and development of multiple infrastructure projects in Kabul. Islamabad has clearly broadcast its position that although it may lead to stability, the territory of Afghanistan must not be used against Pakistan’s interests. The economic competition between the countries can be traced to Iran.
The Pakistani militant attacks in Mumbai, India in November 2008, which resulted in numerous casualties, seemed to completely divorce the neighboring states. Pakistan has used every opportunity to restart the dialog at the regional and international levels. The former ruling (2008 – 2013) Pakistani People’s Party (PPP) offered India a “zero option” of starting with a clean slate. This would involve first addressing issues of cultural exchange and liberalizing the visa regime first certain groups of citizens.
Beginning in 2010, a normalizing trend in relations between Pakistan and India was noted. The business communities of both countries were actively involved in trade negotiations. Islamabad has talked a great length about granting India the status of most favored nation; but it has been limited to the proposal to enforce a non-discriminatory trade regime, including reducing or eliminating tariffs and other trade barriers. In 2011-2012 Islamabad discussed issues of foreign direct investment after New Delhi lifted the ban on investments from Pakistan, as well as the possibility of allowing banks from both countries open branches. In early September 2012, a joint energy dialog was begun, Customs cooperation was strengthened, the water dialog was resumed, etc. Both sides exchanged information to conduct a joint investigation of the terrorist acts in Mumbai in November 2008, the fates of Pakistani and Indian fishermen imprisoned in both countries were decided, etc.
Generals held negotiations on the simultaneous bilateral withdrawal of troops from the mountainous border post at Siachin, as well as the need to maintain a ceasefire along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir.
The latest round of talks between Pakistan and India was held in September 2012. A Composite Contract was signed as the result of numerous initiatives. Analysts saw it as political know how, a breakthrough by the ruling PPP in Pakistani-Indian relations. This is the legacy that has been left by Pakistan’s President, Co-chairman of the PPP, Asif Ali Zardari, upon his retirement in September 2013. But this was only partially successful. Large scale political, economic, and commercial breakthroughs, such as granting India most favored nation status did not follow the PPP’s minimal approach to solving the Kashmir issue. It’s leadership was not ready for such decisive steps.
The year 2013 was characterized by newly heightened tensions in Pakistani-Indian relations. This was primarily due to the armed conflicts on the Line of Control (LC) in Kashmir, which meant a violation by both sides of the ceasefire in effect along the LC since 2003. In the spring of 2013 a cross-border firefight claimed the lives of multiple soldiers on both sides. Islamabad and New Delhi exchanged recriminations. Practically all dialogs were cut short. But at the same time, the Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, (coalition government heading y the PPP, left office in April 2013) emphasized that Pakistan was deliberately seeking to improve relations with all of its neighbors, including Afghanistan and India.
One of the foreign policy challenges, against the background of which the Spring 2013 parliamentary elections took place in Pakistan, and the Pakistani-Indian rivalry was intensifying. In June 2013, Nawaz Sharif, heading the political administration for the third time, announced that he would continue the foreign policy course of the Pakistani Muslim League of Nawaz Sharif party (named after him), which was interrupted by the military coup in October 1999. Regarding foreign policy, he emphasized the further development of collaboration with China and Turkey, and significantly increased ties with the Persian Gulf; he also prioritized normalizing “rollercoaster” ties with India. The diplomatic successes of the previous administration, particularly President A.A. Zardari (2008 – 2013), were suppressed; on the website of the Pakistani Foreign Ministry, the 2012 resource for the Archives section was completely blocked.
Pakistani-Indian relations in the second half of 2013, due to the arrival of the new administration were characterized by contradictory tendencies. The new leadership of the Foreign Ministry has used every opportunity to establish a political dialog with the Indian authorities. Pakistan’s Advisor to the Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Mr.Sartaj Aziz first met with the Indian Minister of External Affairs, Salman Khurshid during the ARF meeting in Brunei. After only a few days Nawaz Sharif sent special envoy Shaharyar M. Khan to New Delhito meet with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to convey Islamabad’s sincere desire to move forward in improving relations with India. All these meetings ended with diplomatic assurances that relations would be normalized, but no concrete dates or promises were issued by New Delhi. But Islamabad did not insist, its foreign policy priorities remain China and Muslim Ummah countries.
In September 2013, the heads of state of Pakistan and India, Nawaz Sharif and Manmohan Singh met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, where they once again reaffirmed their commitment to improve relations through constructive dialog. The foundation for their success, according to the Pakistani Prime Minister, was laid in the Lahore Declaration of 1999, developed with the participation of himself and then-Prime Minister of India Atal Bihari Vajpayee, leader of the same BJP. This document, signed in February 1999, provides a roadmap for the peace, stability, and prosperity of the people of the two countries.
All these events took place against the background of a sharp intensification of the military situation on the Line of Control, which began in July 2013. In late July 2013 the army headquarters in Rawalpindi issued a statement about an unmotivated shooting in the Rawalkot region. Then the Poonch sector was mentioned in military reports. In late August 2013, a cross-border exchange of fire took place in the Kargil sector of the Line of Control.
Both sides suffered casualties. The Foreign Ministries of both countries pelted each other with accusations of violating the ceasefire along the LC. At the same time, the expressed their willingness to resume a bilateral dialog. The global media compared the mood swings experienced in both capitals with rollercoasters.
(to be continued)
Natalia Zamarayeva, PhD in History, Senior Research Fellow, Department of Pakistan at the Institute of Oriental Studies in the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook