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The litmus test for Nawaz

23 September, 2013

By Asif Ezdi


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Nawaz Sharif will be visiting New York this week to address the UN General Assembly and hold meetings on the sidelines with leaders of several other countries. Among the bilaterals, the most closely-watched would be the still-to-be-confirmed meeting with Manmohan Singh, pencilled in for September 29, the last day of Nawaz's trip.

Contrary to earlier indications, the prime minister's meeting with Obama will not take place during his current visit. But its postponement to sometime "in the near future" would not really be a great tragedy, considering that Washington's interest in its relationship with Islamabad is centred on pressuring, threatening and cajoling Pakistan to facilitate an honourable exit of US forces from Afghanistan, enabling India to expand its political and economic footprint in the region and persuading Pakistan to cap its nuclear weapons programme. None of those US objectives would change with a top-level meeting between the two countries.

The initiative for the Nawaz-Obama meeting had in fact come from the US side. In late August, Sartaj Aziz informed the National Assembly that it was expected to be held in New York on the margins of the General Assembly session. Its postponement now probably has less to do with Obama's heavy schedule and more with the fact that the US president is hosting a visit by the Indian prime minister in Washington on September 27. In the convoluted thinking of India's foreign policy mandarins, Obama's meeting with the Pakistani prime minister close to that date, especially if held in Washington, would have looked too much like a re-hyphenation of Pakistan and India. In order not to offend Indian sensibilities, US officials were, therefore, quick to propose that the Obama-Nawaz meeting be put off to later this year.

While that meeting is now off, the one between Nawaz and Manmohan remains very much on the cards. Despite its eagerness for the meeting, Delhi has assiduously been trying to create uncertainty about it, mainly in order to extract a prior assurance of concessions from Pakistan. The Indian side has, therefore, explicitly linked the get-together with some preconditions to be met by Islamabad.

Manmohan Singh said categorically on September 7 that he would meet his Pakistani counterpart only after Islamabad addresses some of Delhi's "concerns". On September 13, after the Bishkek meeting between Sartaj Aziz and Salman Khursheed, the Indian foreign minister reiterated Delhi's stance, declaring that a meeting of the two prime ministers would "require a conducive atmosphere and delivery (from Pakistan)." While repeating these preconditions, Khursheed climbed down somewhat last Friday, saying that there had to be "at least some beginning" by Pakistan in addressing India's concerns.

The Indian demands go far beyond the question of the alleged violation of the LoC on August 6 which was the original "provocation" for the derailment of the wobbly bilateral dialogue. Manmohan has publicly demanded that Pakistan should stop "terror acts", restrict the movement of "those who voice terrorist thoughts" (a reference to Hafiz Saeed) and make "significant progress in bringing the culprits of the Mumbai massacre to book".

In response to the last demand, Sartaj informed Khursheed at Bishkek that a new prosecutor had been appointed for the trial of those accused of involvement in the Mumbai attack and that the visit of the Pakistani Judicial Commission to India in connection with the trial had been scheduled for September 23. India's demand that Pakistan should detain Hafiz Saeed, however, is clearly untenable because support for the right of the Kashmiris to wage an armed struggle for the achievement of their right to self-determination, as recognised by international law, does not amount to supporting terrorism.

Regrettably, however, among his other 'services' to the Kashmiri cause, Musharraf himself gave Delhi a handle against Pakistan when he signed a joint statement with Vajpayee in 2004 promising not to allow the use of territory under Pakistan's control for acts of terrorism.

In addition to Delhi's public demands, there are others that Delhi has conveyed to Islamabad through diplomatic channels and through the back channel.

First, Delhi would like Islamabad to grant MFN status to India, as promised by the Zardari government. This demand has the tacit backing of Washington. On a visit to India last week to promote arms sales to India and to push for co-production of advanced military hardware and equipment, US Deputy Defence Secretary Ashton Carter pontificated that "fundamentally Pakistan's future economically depends upon peaceful relations with India". Nawaz himself has also bought the specious proposition that a solution of the country's economic problems lies in opening trade with India. This is, of course, nothing but humbug. Pakistan's future in economic as in other areas depends entirely upon its own people and its own government, not on others.

Second, India would like to reactivate the backchannel for an 'out-of-the-box' Kashmir settlement and resume negotiations from the point at which it was interrupted in 2007. The Nawaz government, for its part, has been talking of picking up the threads from where the two sides left off in 1999. The seeming gap between these two positions would not be an obstacle because India's interest is only in preserving the substance of the ground covered with Musharraf. The Indian leadership also sees the backchannel as a way of keeping out, or at least minimising, the 'baleful' influence of the Pakistan army. Besides, Delhi is very pleased with the new special envoy on India appointed by the Nawaz government and with his public and private statements.

Third, Delhi is so happy with the new Pakistani special envoy that it would also like the questions of Siachen and Sir Creek to be transferred to the backchannel. India's expectation clearly is that through this device it would be able to limit the say of the Pakistan Army on Siachen and of the Pakistan Navy on Sir Creek and thus get Pakistan to agree to settlements more favourable to India.

Last, but not least, India would like Pakistan to refrain, at least in the General Assembly and in other UN fora, from restating Pakistan's support for the right of self-determination of the Kashmiri people and for a settlement in accordance with the UN Security Council resolutions.

For more than half a century, support for the right of self-determination and the UN resolutions had been the bedrock of Pakistan's Kashmir policy. Then in late 2003, Musharraf declared out of the blue that Pakistan was prepared to "lay aside" the Security Council resolutions. In 2004, he started the backchannel dialogue on Kashmir and since that year, no Pakistani leader has referred to either the right of self-determination of the Kashmiris or to the UNSC resolutions in his annual speech in the General Assembly.

It is not surprising that Delhi is now pressing the Nawaz government not to rock the boat by restating Pakistan's traditional position on Kashmir. But it is astonishing that there are some among Nawaz's close advisers who are urging him to give in to the Indian demand.

The right to self-determination is now part of international law. It has been affirmed by the UN General Assembly in numerous resolutions over the years. It has also been incorporated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Article 1 of these instruments states not only that all peoples have the right of self-determination but also that states are bound to respect that right and promote its realisation.

In its election manifesto, the PML-N promised that special efforts would be made to resolve the Kashmir issue in accordance with the relevant UN resolutions and in consonance with their inherent right of self-determination. Nawaz's speech at the UN General Assembly will be the litmus test of this commitment. If he fails to reaffirm Pakistan's support for the UN resolutions and for the right of self-determination of the people of Kashmir, he will have broken a promise he made to the people of Pakistan, besides betraying the Kashmiris.



The writer is a former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service. Email: asifezdi@yahoo.com

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