Sharif’s quest for peace with India

Indian Premier Narendra Modi with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif prior to a meeting in New Delhi. (EPA)

Indian Premier Narendra Modi with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif prior to a meeting in New Delhi. (EPA)

 

By: SALAHUDDIN HAIDER
By extending an olive branch, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had thrown the ball in Indian Prime Minister-designate Narendra Modi’s court. However, that was partly reciprocated Wednesday when Modi invited Sharif for May 26. Only time will tell whether these friendly gestures will go a long way in improving mutual ties.

Sharif’s telephone call to felicitate Modi at a time when election result had just been announced was perfectly timed and a major initiative. The sketchy details of the conversation that made to the press indicate a paradigm shift. Sharif reportedly laid emphasis on reconciliation while Modi spoke about poverty alleviation.

Sharif might have felt disappointed but he is a true peace searcher. Observers may recall Vajpayee’s bus journey to Lahore during Sharif’s second stint as the premier was of historic importance.

The visit in the late 90s was seen as a major breakthrough that heralded the dawn of a new era. Many perceived it as a major achievement of the two leaders that could have paved the way for resolution of the Kashmir issue. If reports were to be believed, if it were not for the Kargil issue, the two sides would have signed an agreement to that effect.

Modi’s election has elicited a mixed response in Pakistan. The Gujarat pogrom of 2002 continues to haunt Modi and Muslims across the world and Pakistan is no exception. In addition to that antagonists of Indo-Pak amity are citing his hawkish stance over Kashmir and pre-election anti-Pakistan rhetoric.

However, elements known for their “objective” analyzes see his win as a “victory of the poor” rather than a Modi-wave. He is abhorred but also admired at the same time in Pakistan for developments in Gujarat state. Analysts say instead of opting for confrontations with neighbors, Modi will focus on the economy.

Modi’s statement that “neighbors cannot be changed, so governments must change their attitudes” and his announcement to discard “divisive” policies have generally been welcomed in Islamabad and other cities. In fact Modi changed his stance during electioneering. He appeared more focussed on development than foreign policy. A general optimism is that he would opt for peace and progress. Whether he softens on Kashmir appears difficult. But Sharif has done well to keep Army Chief Gen. Raheel Shareef and ISI chief Gen. Zaheerul Islam on his side. Together they could help improve ties with India so that people on both sides could live peacefully.

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