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All Eyes Are On Modi-Khan Relationship

Former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was working on a ‘Treaty of Peace and Good Neighbourliness’, including a ‘No War Pact’, with then Pakistani President General Zia-ul-Haq in 1984. Gandhi sent her Foreign Secretary and seasoned diplomat Maharaja Krishna Rasgotra to Islamabad for discussing the pact with the Pak president. Rasgotra spent eight days in the Pak capital immediately after becoming the foreign secretary.
It is to be noted that Gandhi appointed Rasgotra as the foreign secretary in 1982 and the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) – a regional intergovernmental organisation and geopolitical union of nations in South Asia – was founded in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka on December 8, 1985. At that time, Islamabad was opposing the formation of SAARC as the Pakistanis considered the move as a conspiracy to destroy their country. Rasgotra’s main task was to convince General Zia and encourage Islamabad to join the bloc.

K Rasgotra

General Zia was waiting on the balcony of the Presidential Palace to welcome the visiting Indian official. As Rasgotra arrived at the Palace, the General hugged him and introduced him to Pak Foreign Secretary Niaz Naik. In the next three years, Rasgotra and Naik held a number of meetings to discuss bilateral ties. On that day, Rasgotra – an alumnus of Lahore College – told General Zia that India was ready to discuss the ‘Kashmir’ issue as proposed by Pakistan. However, the Pak president stunned the Indian official, saying: “What is there to talk about Kashmir? You have Kashmir and we cannot take it. I want you and Niaz Naik to work on a Treaty of Peace and Good Neighbourliness, including a No War Pact.
After three Indo-Pak wars (in 1947, 1965 and 1971), the Pak military ruler realised that it was important for his country to maintain peace. Later, General Pervez Musharraf – another military ruler and one of General Zia’s ‘favourite’ Lieutenant Generals – attended the Agra Summit (July 14-16, 2001) to hold talks with then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee even after the Kargil War (May-July 1999). General Musharraf, too, realised that it would be better to normalise bilateral ties through peaceful negotiation.

During their meeting at the Presidential Palace, General Zia informed Rasgotra that he would like to make a stopover at New Delhi to meet Gandhi and then leave for Indonesia (he was scheduled to visit Indonesia a couple of weeks after Rasgotra’s tour to Islamabad). When the foreign secretary conveyed General Zia’s message to PM Gandhi, she decided to invite the Pak president to join her for lunch at the Rashtrapati Bhavan (Presidential Palace) in New Delhi. Gandhi’s Principal Secretary Parmeshwar Narayan Haksar was not at all happy with the PM’s ‘lunch diplomacy’. He told Rasgotra that the Gandhi should not enjoy lunch with the ‘murderer’ of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. However, Gandhi asked her foreign secretary to ‘ignore’ Haksar’s advice, saying: “He is living in the past. Is there any other way to restore peace, except discussion?

Indira Gandhi

As Imran Khan is all set to become the 19th PM of Pakistan, people across India are worried (again) about the future of Indo-Pak ties. The Indian media have already portrayed the cricketer-turned-politician as the ‘Army’s PM’. India, too, will hold General Elections in 2019. Ahead of the Parliamentary Polls, the Narendra Modi government in New Delhi may not re-start the peace process. In fact, tension between the two countries will help the ruling party perform well in 2019 Parliamentary Polls. Meanwhile, Khan – the PM-in-waiting of Pakistan – has made clear that his government will try to improve ties with India. Delivering the victory speech on July 26, Khan said that Islamabad would not only make a serious attempt to resolve the ‘Kashmir’ issue, but also boost trade ties with New Delhi, apart from ensuring regional peace. Top world leaders, like Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, have urged the two South Asian neighbours to resolve all the outstanding issues through negotiation.

Imran Khan

Discussion is important. In the past, leaders of the Indian National Congress (INC) used to say that India was not in a hurry to resolve the ‘Kashmir’ issue. During his trip to Islamabad in 2005, then Indian External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh had said that there was no quick-fix solution and also likened the Indo-Pak peace process to a marathon, and not a 100m race.
Former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh also tried to solve the Kashmir issue. He issued a joint statement with his Pak counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani after their meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt in 2009 and (indirectly) accepted India’s interference in political crisis in Balochistan. Later, the Oppositions accused Dr Singh of compromising India’s position on Pakistan.
Even Atal Bihari Vajpayee was strongly criticised by L K Advani and other senior BJP leaders for hosting General Musharraf in Agra in 2001. PM Vajpayee ignored his party’s advice and held talks with the Pak president, as he claimed that he had no problem in meeting a military ruler because it was Pakistan’s ‘internal’ issue.

General Musharraf with PM Vajpayee

PM Modi, too, followed Vajpayee’s path immediately after becoming the PM in 2014. He not only invited former Pakistani Premier Nawaz Sharif to his swearing-in ceremony, but also landed in Lahore on a surprise visit in December 2015 to meet Sharif at his Lahore residence after a day-long trip to neighbouring Afghanistan.
There was a time when India refused to accept Kashmir as a ‘core issue’ between the two countries. Instead, New Delhi was interested in ‘comprehensive dialog’. The top Indian political leadership wanted to discuss the overall situation in Kashmir – from Siachen to Sir Creek – with Pakistan. However, India changed its stance during the Agra Summit and accepted Kashmir as the core issue (as proposed by General Musharraf). PM Vajpayee further agreed to hold a separate discussion on Kashmir. Before Vajpayee, his predecessor P V Narasimha Rao had started holding talks with the ‘separatist’ Hurriyat Conference.

Now, PM Modi (and also Imran Khan) will have to realise that the only way to normalise bilateral ties (as well as the situation in South Asia) is negotiation. Almost all the Indian and Pakistani leaders of yesteryear – Gandhi, Rao, Vajpayee, Dr Singh, General Zia, General Musharraf – had realised this fact. That’s why Gandhi had sent Rasgotra to Islamabad after the 1971 Indo-Pak War.
Both Modi and Khan would have to learn a lesson repeated through history.

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