Pak Didn't Let India Score Domestic Points

The Nawaz Sharif government didn’t let India use its SAARC platform to give Islamabad a 'lecture' on terrorism, especially on Kashmir
Pak Didn't Let India Score Domestic Points
Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, fifth from left, poses for a group photograph with delegates after an inauguration of the SAARC countries conference on peace and cooperation in Islamabad, Pakistan.
Pak Didn't Let India Score Domestic Points

Pakistan seems to have thrown the diplomatic ball back into India’s court while making the terms of future engagement with its estranged South Asian neighbour clear.

Rajnath Singh’s speech, emphasising 'terrorists' cannot be treated as 'martyrs'—a clear reference to the ongoing unrest in Kashmir and Pakistan’s support for it—was blacked out in Islamabad on Thursday. By doing so, the Nawaz Sharif government has made it clear that it will not allow India to use its platform to give it a “lecture” on terrorism, especially when it involves Kashmir.

The last time a foreign leader managed to berate Pakistan for its policies on Pakistani soil was when US President Bill Clinton read out the riot-act in Islamabad for sponsoring terrorism against India in 2000.

But that was at the time of an upswing in Indo-US relations while Washington’s ties with Islamabad were taking a nose dive.

The Pakistani leadership is in no mood to take that kind of sermons from India, a country it continues to see as a hostile neighbour and also on an issue like Kashmir, which it sees as the “core issue” for the hostilities between the two countries.

The Narendra Modi government’s decision to send its home minister to Islamabad was twofold. One, it wanted to convey to the other members of the SAARC countries India’s commitment for good neighbourly relations and keenness in South Asia’s progress. Two, it was also to make it clear to Pakistan on how India, which wants to improve relations with Islamabad, wants its estranged neighbour to behave, especially on the important issue of terrorism and Pakistani-meddling in Kashmir.

But by not allowing the Indian media and the private TV channels in Pakistan to cover Rajnath Singh’s speech, Islamabad has made it clear that improvement of future ties between the two sides will have to be on terms agreeable to both sides.

The definition of terrorism has traditionally been a bone of contention in Indo-Pak relations. While India emphasises that there can be no distinction to classify terrorists, Pakistan, which has invested heavily on Kashmiri separatists, continues to see those fighting against India in the Valley as 'freedom fighters.'

It was clear from the morning when the SAARC ministers were arriving for the meeting at Islamabad’s Serena Hotel that neither India, nor Pakistan, was willing to show any flexibility from their stated positions. Rajnath and his Pakistani counterpart, Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan, did not even shake hands when the latter was standing at the hotel entrance to welcome the visiting delegates.

“There is no good or bad terrorism. Terrorism is terrorism. There should be no glorification or eulogising of terrorists as martyrs,” Singh said during his speech at the SAARC conference.

Soon enough the telecast of the proceedings at the conference were cut off and most of the media were kept out of the conference. Both Rajnath Singh and Nisar Ali Khan skipped the subsequent lunch, ensuring they have no occasion to have any further contacts.

But now that Thursday’s developments have added fresh strains in the bilateral relations, how do Indo-Pak ties move forward in the coming days?

There could be two possible outcomes to these developments. Hardliners in both countries may toughen their respective positions further and tension in the region could further rise with attempts at stepped up infiltration or terrorist activities across the Line of Control and in Kashmir. This could then also lead to a situation where the year-end SAARC Summit in Islamabad could be cancelled if India stays away.

Or if the leadership of the two countries allows the current storm to blow over and let the dust to settle down, serious attempts could once be made to find a mutually agreed term of engagement between the two neighbours.

Which of the two scenarios we are likely to witness in the coming days will depend on the domestic compulsions in the two countries and also on how developments in the region pan out in the coming months.

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