Thursday, June 20, 2024
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Pakistan as villain

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It’s often difficult to decipher the positions taken by Pakistani politicians vis-a-vis bilateral relations. They speak in one tone and act to the contrary; or their positive moves get scuttled at the hands of the military establishment there. This being the past experience, the “affirmation” by former president Nawaz Sharif that Pakistan, not India, violated the 1999 Lahore Declaration does not mean much. This does not mean the Pakistani government is ready to make amends. Sharif had been driven to the wall, sent to exile, and politically struggled hard for six years before he now returned as elected head of his PML-N party that has his brother as the Prime Minister. Notably, the 1999 Declaration for peace signed by Sharif and Vajpayee, as PMs, was short-lived. Within months, army chief Pervez Musharaf scuttled that agreement by a military intrusion into Jammu and Kashmir, which resulted in the Kargil War and massive deaths. Sharif, who was still PM, could only grin and bear with it.
India and Pakistan have been having more strained relations thereafter, which turned worse during the first term of the Narendra Modi-led government. This, even as Modi too held out an olive branch to Sharif, while he was again serving as PM there for a third term between 2013-17. Modi’s abrupt, but highly publicized landing in Lahore to wish Sharif on his birthday, raised hopes of an improvement in bilateral relations. However, the Pakistani army undercut such sentiments by organising a ‘terrorist’ (read secret military) siege of the Pathankot air base. Uri, Pulwama and much else followed. Pakistan broke its diplomatic relations with India after the 2019 central government decision to end the special status for Kashmir. In between, Balakot happened, which drilled some sense into the minds of both the political and military leaderships of Pakistan. They lay low thereafter.
Fact of the matter is, the Pakistani army often asserted its supremacy over the elected government. It’s also the reason why, when Americans negotiate a deal with the Pakistan government, they invite and hold parallel discussions with the military chiefs too. Pakistan’s history is marked by military coups that unseated elected governments and hanging of top political executives like Zulfikar Bhutto. Even the assassination of his daughter, former PM Benazir Bhutto who landed in Pakistan after years of exile to participate in the elections, was believed to be at the behest of the Pakistani military. After the IAF air-strikes in Balakot and the surgical strikes in PoK, however, the Pakistani military lost some of its bargaining power with the political establishment. Sharif, if he’s sincere about his words now, should attempt a fresh positive start to mend his nation’s ties with India where a new government is in the offing.

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