Pakistan says it’s ready to repair ties with India
By Saba Imtiaz, CS Monitor, July 19, 2013
Karachi, Pakistan—Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced this week that backdoor diplomacy is back on track with India, signaling the new government’s commitment to forge a relationship with its neighbor and historic rival after recent bumpy months.
Prime Minister Sharif shared recent steps Pakistan was taking to build relations with India—including the appointment of veteran diplomat Shahryar Khan as a special envoy to India to start official diplomacy—while British Foreign Secretary William Hague was visiting Pakistan this week. And a spokesperson for Pakistan’s Foreign Office recently announced that there may be an opportunity for talks at the “leadership level” at the United Nations General Assembly session in September.
Improving ties with India could seriously benefit the Sharif administration. The Pakistani government wants to import electricity from India as part of its efforts to solve Pakistan’s energy crisis and is encouraging investment from across the border.
"The crux of the matter is that Pakistan wants good relations with India," says former Foreign Secretary Riaz Khokhar, who has also served as an ambassador to India. But he adds, "This effort started in 2004 and has not really produced really outstanding results other than some minor progress and confidence-building measures."
Sharif has long advocated for the improvement of economic and diplomatic ties with India. In 1999, during his last term as prime minister, he hosted his counterpart for a landmark visit as both countries signed a bilateral treaty. However, he was ousted in a coup that year following a botched military offensive against India.
Sharif may still face opposition from Pakistan’s powerful military—which has perceived India to be a major threat since the two countries gained independence from Britain in 1947—as well as pressure groups and rival political parties. Such opposition makes some skeptical of the Sharif’s commitment to improved ties.
A major hurdle to repaired relations has to do with the contentious issue of terrorism: India has long demanded the prosecution of Pakistanis implicated in organizing a series of terror attacks in Mumbai in 2008, but the trial has been delayed multiple times in the past few years.
Analysts say the government has shown little commitment to acting against groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has been held responsible for the Mumbai attacks, or the Jaish-e-Mohammad, which recruited Pakistanis to fight Indian forces in the disputed territory of Kashmir.
Critics caution that without any significant process on these issues, it is unlikely that India and Pakistan can move forward.