Why This Is Not The Right Time For Peace Talks Between India And Pakistan

Pakistan  Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s olive branch is ill timed and unlikely to yield any results. The question is why did he bring it up at this point.

File photo of Pakistan prime minister Shehbaz Sharif

Pakistan  Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s interview to Al Arabiya during his recent visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had got much traction in India as he called for talks between India and Pakistan.  

"My message to the Indian leadership and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is that let us sit down at the table and have serious and sincere talks to resolve burning issues like Kashmir.’’

The offer for talks coming in after Pakistan's foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto had sharply attacked Prime Minister Modi is unlikely to have any impact. 

Sharif went on to suggest that the UAE, a "brotherly" country to Pakistan as well as a friend to India, should play peace maker between the two nuclear-armed neighbours. India had from the start refused any suggestion of third-party intervention in a bilateral issue. It is unlikely to shift from that position.

The UAE had earlier used its good offices in diffusing tension between India and Pakistan after the Balakot dog fight in 2019, when Group Captain Abhinandan Varthaman had bailed out on Pakistan territory. He was returned safely to India thanks to the  back channel diplomacy of the UAE and several other nations. 

It is well known that the prime minister’s elder brother Nawaz Sharif had tried to make peace with India during his tenure. But his every move was thwarted by the army that called the shots in relations with India. The military top brass in the past had never been for talks. Sharif’s then army chief, Pervez Musharraf has refused to greet Prime Minister Vajpayee, when he arrived in Lahore on a peace mission in February 1999.  He defied Nawaz Sharif’s orders and remained in Rawalpindi, saying he was entertaining a Chinese military delegation. The same man when he became President engaged in peace talks with India. Former army chief General Bajwa, towards the end of his term had also called for talks.

India has so far not reacted to Shehbaz Sharif’s offer.

But the move by the new Pakistan Prime Minister has come at a wrong time. For one, Pakistan is in a political flux, and until elections are called, the situation will remain fluid. No Indian government would want to engage in serious dialogue in such a situation. Opposition leader Imran Khan, who as PM, thundered about revoking Kashmir’s special status and pledged to take the human rights abuse to the world, would dub him and his party as the betrayer of the Kashmir cause. No Pakistan prime minister can afford to be seen in that light and certainly not with national elections round the corner. Imran Khan’s popularity ever since he left office is on the rise, he has been relentless in his attack of the PML, the Pakistan Peoples Party and all members of the ruling coalition. Imran Khan will use this overture to India to further tarnish the image of the government.  In fact, after  Shehbaz Sharif’s  interview  the Pakistan PMO  clarified the point that Kashmir remained a core issue between India and Pakistan.

India is also in election mode with national elections slated for 2024 and a slew of state polls this year. The Modi government will be in no mood to sit down for peace talks ahead of the polls, when a hardline approach to Pakistan has paid rich dividends to the BJP’s election prospects in the past. Time and again terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism and anti- Pakistan rhetoric had fired up the ruling party’s election base.

It is not that the Pakistan establishment is not aware of this. So, it is doubly surprising why Shehbaz Sharif brought up the issue at this point in time. It could not have been for the domestic audience more concerned with the rise in prices and the serious  economic situation than Kashmir or peace talks with India.   

Some believe Sharif was sending a message to the international community, that Pakistan has turned a new leaf as the country is hoping for an IMF loan. Sharif’s comments that three wars with India had achieved nothing beyond  toxic ties and suffering to the people.

"…we have learnt our lesson" and now desire peace, is seen by many as a obvious attempt to project a good boy image to the US and other western nations."

Many analysts in India went gung-ho over this and saw  it as an acknowledgment of India’s superiority. What he was obviously referring to was that war achieves very little and it was time for peace talks. Whatever his intention, peace talks appear unlikely at this juncture.