Never in recent memory has any Pakistani politician spoken as boldly as incoming Prime Minister Mr. Nawaz Sharif. Addressing the national media Mr. Sharif made three unambiguous assertions. First, he said that good relations with India were his top priority. Secondly, he said that as Prime Minister he would exercise authority over the army. Thirdly, he said that he would strive for abolition of visas between India and Pakistan. These assertions are categorical and leave no room for ambiguity. New Delhi must respond with equally unconventional candour.
The Prime Minister has sent a message of congratulation to Mr. Sharif. He has also invited him to India at a time of mutual convenience. That is not enough.
New Delhi missed opportunities earlier by tardy and inadequate response to meaningful overtures by Pakistan. Merely welcoming in principle a proposal as was done when President Musharraf suggested joint management of Kashmir, was not enough. A sincere effort to fructify the dialogue required meaningful counter proposals to practically implement the suggestion. That was never attempted. Once again New Delhi has been afforded opportunity to test the credentials of Pakistan to make a genuine breakthrough in the peace dialogue.
The Prime Minister should publicly welcome the new Pakistan Prime Minister’s observations and state that creating a visa free system is most welcome but remains impractical as long as the armies of both nations are in contention. Therefore as a first step Pakistan should agree in principle to accept joint defence with India. Its modalities might be discussed for successful implementation within a given time frame. New Delhi could remind Pakistan that this proposal was first made by President Ayub Khan in 1959 which India mistakenly rejected.
The Prime Minister should personally and publicly respond to his Pakistani counterpart. By doing so he would test the credentials of the new Pakistan government. He could make a historic breakthrough in the peace dialogue and normalize relations with Pakistan after six decades of tension. It would be a game changer for the region. If Pakistan responds positively to the suggestion for joint defence one is confident that all right thinking political parties would unite behind the government on this issue. Not only would it protect the future of India. It might well improve the future of this government. All the scams and corruption that have tainted almost all political parties across the board call for a systemic review for political reform. That would become more achievable in an environment of security. Genuine normalization with Pakistan would deliver such security. For the nation’s future, and for his own future, the PM should respond.