At the end of the recent SAARC summit in Kathmandu the organization issued an official declaration stating:
“The leaders renewed their commitment to achieve South Asian Economic Union (SAEU) in a phased and planned manner through a Free Trade Area, a Customs Union, a Common Market and a Common Economic and Monetary Union.”
SAARC nations resolved to set up an organization on the lines of the European Union. By pursuing the present policy they are on the wrong track. How many times must it be dinned into SAARC leaders that they must get their priorities right? While Prime Minister Modi shook hands with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Kathmandu terrorists struck in J&K with a big attack to muddy the atmosphere. Terrorists continuously derailed the peace process with attacks each time there appeared progress. They will persist with this policy. How can SAARC achieve free movement of goods and people across international borders while the region remains under the shadow of terror? Unless terror is eliminated and trust between nations established all talk of a SAEU sounds hollow.
Instead of playing diplomatic games through tentative handshakes Mr. Modi and Mr. Sharif should have got down to the substantive issues in Kathmandu. The issues are clear and how to address them is obvious. Pakistan is divided between a majority civil establishment wanting democracy and a minority fundamentalist fringe penetrated into the establishment which holds the nation prisoner. There is an underclass programmed by Madrasas funded from abroad taught to support a distorted version of Islam. The emotive issue against India within this underclass is Kashmir and the perception that India is forcibly occupying it after breaking up Pakistan through the liberation of Bangladesh. To restore balance and perceived national honour Kashmir must be liberated as was Bangladesh. Sections of the ruling establishment and civil society may not share this view but they remain helpless. In the light of this situation India has to devise its strategy if it wants peace.
The following is the solution.
The fanatical terrorists created by foreign funding and aided by the Pakistan army are increasingly attacking Pakistani citizens including army personnel. More victims of terrorism among both civil society and army are killed in Pakistan than in India. These are hard figures. Eliminating terrorism therefore is the first priority for creating cross-border trust as well as winning over the public in Pakistan. Terrorism can be eliminated only if the armies of India and Pakistan jointly fight it. Therefore the Indian government should propose joint action against terrorism simultaneously with offer of substantive peace talks on Kashmir as Mr. Sharif is demanding. The offer of these talks would strengthen Mr. Sharif domestically. The Musharraf formula for an honourable Kashmir settlement provides a good starting point. It is up to India to take the initiative. If Pakistan does not respond New Delhi must wait and watch.
It will be Mr. Sharif’s problem to sort out matters with his army. Eventually the Pakistan army must relent.