It was and it is only the party that had a clear mandate to govern India that could invite a Pakistani prime minister to India. The Bhartiya Janata Party was given one by the people of India and one of its first major initiatives has been to invite leaders of SAARC nations for the swearing in ceremony of prime minister, Narendra Modi. This is bold as much as it is beautiful.
Consider the legacy issues that clouded and bedevilled the relationship between arch rivals: The on -going low intensity conflict in Kashmir has been the most thorny sticking point between India and Pakistan. Overlaying this have been incidents like the Mumbai attacks and skirmishes on the LoC. Whilst there has been no clear cut proof of Pakistan’s involvement in the Mumbai carnage, the country stood impugned in it especially in public perception and imagination. Reaching out to, let alone talking to Pakistan, would in this theory, have been political suicide for a political party or group.
On the Pakistani side, the army and the intelligence combine, termed as the 'oligarchic praetorian elite' by the eminent professor Huntington, is the real power structure of Pakistan. The political class has historically played second fiddle to this power elite or has been in a conflict-cooperation continuum with it. This power elite has a particular view of both Pakistan and India and has historically drawn sustenance from it.
It is this power elite that determines the tenor or relations with India and the world. However, things may be changing. This is not to say that the entire power structure of Pakistan is on the same page regarding India but that there may be some sort of a change of heart, so to speak. Here Nawaz Sharif acceptance of the Indian prime minister’s invite becomes pertinent. The ice, so to speak, has been broken. A meeting between the highest office holders of the two states is on the cards and this is a significant achievement.
The need of the hour is to forge and arrive at a consensus regarding the nature of the relationship and its forward movement. The two prime ministers must built on the putative bonhomie and send out a strong signal to the world. Of course, it would be silly to expect a major breakthrough at this point in time. However, the moment needs to be grasped. No sensational and grand statements must be made by the two prime ministers. For the moment, the extension of the invitation and the the visit of Nawaz Sharif and its import should suffice. Follow up measures should be quiet and focussed- away from the glare of the media. The nature of these should be forging and arriving at a consensus within the two countries over the relationship between two countries.
Let’s face it. The core sticking point between the two countries is Kashmir. Modi and Sharif should not shy away from talking Kashmir. A staggered approach to conflict resolution has not yielded results. CBM’s. parleys between mid ranking officials or even people to people contacts have not borne the desired results. The time now is for taking the bull by the horns and grasping the nettles. This calls for delicate diplomacy between the two nations and a well crafted strategy to win over and convince the hardliners on both sides of the divide for a salubrious relationship between the two estranged neighbours.
Pared down to essence, it means talking about Kashmir. Instead of skirting over and around the issue and building a conducive environment for it(which has failed historically), Kashmir should be on top of the agenda of both nations. The dispute has simmered long enough. It is about time that both nations be serious about it and craft a win win ‘final solution’ over Kashmir.
In terms of Kashmir, India is a status quo power and Pakistan an irredentist one. This creates a gulf and leave little if no space for diplomacy and astute conflict resolution. Both nations must climb down from their perch and stated positions and create space for a breakthrough. If a reasonable solution over Kashmir is arrived at the nature, tenor and thrust of relations between India and Pakistan will naturally and inevitably improve. This will be beneficial and salubrious for both countries. A millstone will be removed from India’s neck and Pakistan’s energies will be released to deal with the stupendous challenges it faces.
Narendra Modi has been given a massive mandate by the people of India. India has his confidence. By reaching out to Pakistan, Modi has made a remarkable initiative, Nawaz Sharif, by accepting the invite has responded admirably. Astute and sagacious leadership and statecraft now calls for building and deepening this opening. The beneficiaries will be the people of the subcontinent and the world at large. Let haste be made slowly.