Nawaz Sharif in replay mode

The time-worn Pakistani lexicon on Kashmir was at play again when Nawaz Sharif sought to draw the United States into the Kashmir dispute ahead of his meeting with President Barack Obama.

The three-time Pak Premier’s description of the imbroglio as a “nuclear flash point” was a replay of the late eighties and early nineties when Kashmir was on the boil and India on the defensive. The linking of Kashmir with nuclear capabilities of the two neighbours is also an old Islamabad ploy to seek third party intervention in the dispute hanging fire for over six decades.

The US promptly rebuffed Sharif’s proposal. So did India. External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said the matter has to be discussed under the 1972 Shimla Pact, the essence of which is bilateralism!

Sharif’s pitch for a  third party US role in Kashmir flew in the face of his protestations against Prime Minister Manmohan Singh discussing cross border terrorism with Obama on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

The point the Pak leader missed or ignored was that in the ongoing global war against terror, the matter can be discussed by any two counties threatened by the menace. On the other hand, Kashmir is a purely bilateral dispute. Pakistan’s exhortations to the US would have gained force had the Indian Premier turned his back on Sharif on the margins of the UNGA. But he kept alive the bilateral track by ignoring opposition at home to talks with the Pak leader.

India has for long held that the Shimla accord superseded the UN resolutions on Kashmir. Post-1972, it even refused to deal with the 1949-vintage UN Military Observers Group on India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) Islamabad recently wanted involved to probe violations along the Line of Control (LoC).

An Indian official felt Sharif’s call for a US role to resolve Kashmir was a riposte of sorts to Singh branding Pakistan the “epicenter of terrorism” in his talks with Obama. He is placating domestic right-wing hardliners amid his government’s efforts to set up talks with the increasingly fastidious Taliban.

It’s for the same reason that the Sharif regime, elected, among other things, on the promise of mending ties with India, is harping on the UN resolutions of the 1940s. The UN route was placed on the backburner in the Musharraf era that saw the “new borders” approach replaced by a “no borders” vision driven by confidence building measures aimed at facilitating trade and people to people contact across the LoC.

In the wake of salutary assurances of “picking the threads” from his 1999 Lahore pact with AB Vajpayee, Sharif’s afterthoughts signal an early halt to big ticket initiatives with poll-bound India. “There are issues still between him and the army over the right noises he made about us in his election campaign,” the official remarked.

From Sharif’s standpoint, buying peace with the Taliban and repairing the country’s economy, crippled as it is by terror attacks within and the lack of electricity, are of greater import. For its part, India has predicated substantive bilateral engagement on concrete action against the perpetrators of 26/11 in Mumbai. Even if he’s serious about reining in terror, it will mean opening a front he’d find difficult to contain in West Punjab in the middle of his political-military offensive on the Af-Pak border.

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