Restore ceasefire

Restore ceasefire

Nothing significant was expected to emerge from Sunday’s talks between prime minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in New York.

Indeed, for this reason alone many sections did not favour a meeting between the two leaders at this juncture when the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir has been less than quiet. Yet, given the history of political and diplomatic relations between the two neighbours, there is no option but to avail every opportunity to keep the channels of high-level communication open. Therefore, the Singh-Sharif meeting in New York is welcome.

That the two leaders focussed, in their talks, on an immediate issue of concern to India, is important. And that issue is about recent incidents of the violation of a decade-old bilateral LoC ceasefire agreement. The two sides agreed on the need to abide by the ceasefire agreement in letter and spirit. To this end, the two leaders decided to task the Directors-General Military Operations (DGMOs) of the two armies. This might appear to be a small step, but in the context of the tense situation on the ground along the LoC, it is very significant.

India may still have concerns regarding Sharif’s sincerity in acting immediately on the commitment. Partly it arises from the doubts about Sharif government’s control over the Pakistan army and the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence. During his previous tenure as prime minister, Sharif had no effective control over these two powerful institutions, which led to the Kargil conflict with India and soon thereafter his overthrow. Besides, Sharif might simply choose to wait until the next general elections in India before he begins taking strong steps on India-Pakistan issues.

Earlier, in his United Nations’ speech too, Singh called on Pakistan to shut down “terrorist machinery” based on its soil. Falling back on New Delhi’s known position on the Kashmir issue, Singh iterated that India can “never ever” be expected to give up territory to reach a settlement with Pakistan on Kashmir. Given the fact that the ruling UPA is in the midst of its preparations for a difficult parliamentary elections, this kind of a hard-hitting speech did not come as a surprise, more so as the rival BJP had made it a point to oppose the scheduled Singh-Sharif meeting. But this rhetoric apart, New Delhi would do well to follow-up on the New York outcome to restore ceasefire along the LoC.