Not like Nixon to China

For now, the best outcome of the ‘Modi to Lahore’ foray comprises only modest possibilities.

Written by Husain Haqqani | Published:December 30, 2015 12:09 am
narendra Modi, nawaz sharif, modi lahore stopover, modi in lahore, modi meets nawaz, shiv sena, L K Advani The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi meeting the Prime Minister of Pakistan.

For some it was a “Nixon to China” moment. There were similarities also with Anwar Sadat’s trip to Jerusalem that marked the beginning of the Arab-Israeli peace process. Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif boldly invited his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, to drop in and Modi stopped over in Lahore on Christmas Day on the way back to Delhi from Kabul. As gestures go, it was as clear a statement as any by both leaders that they are committed to overcoming the burden of the past and building a better future for India-Pakistan relations.

But while dramatic gestures are an integral part of international relations and diplomacy, good ties between nations with an adversarial past are not made of dramatic gestures alone. Richard Nixon’s China trip was preceded by and followed up with several rounds of meticulous negotiations. The US realised it could not ignore a nation of one billion people forever. American corporations salivated at the prospect of access to a new market comprising almost a fifth of the world’s population. On the Chinese side, Mao and Zhou Enlai persuaded their colleagues that China needed peace with the US to deal with threats from the Soviet Union. Later, Deng Xiaoping’s “Four Modernisations” concept transformed the Chinese Communist Party. Deng argued successfully that China needed to modernise, catch up with the world before thinking of itself as a global power.

The US-China entente paved the way for China’s peaceful rise and, some would argue, the demise of the Soviet Union. But it also left the Communist Party entrenched in power, albeit at the head of a capitalist economy. Both China and the US benefited, though China may have profited more. Nixon went to China in 1972, paving the way for 43 years of cooperation between two countries that had been adversaries until then. Although the US stopped recognising the Republic of China government in Taiwan, it did not abandon Taiwan’s security. China went on to build its own economic ties with Taiwan under the “One Country, Two Systems” slogan.

Anwar Sadat’s trip to Jerusalem did not result in a similarly enduring peace. He secured the return of the Sinai Peninsula from Israel and became the first Arab leader to establish diplomatic relations with the Jewish state. Egypt and Israel are still at peace but the hoped-for broader Arab-Israeli normalisation has not materialised. Both Sadat and his Israeli partner in the peace talks, Yitzhak Rabin, were assassinated by extremists. All Arabs have not accepted the right of Israel to exist, a Palestinian state has not emerged, neither Israeli occupation nor terror have ended.

What does the success of the “Nixon to China” initiative foretell about the “Modi to Lahore” foray, especially when seen in contrast to the miscarriage of the “Sadat in Jerusalem” undertaking? The US-China rapprochement had broad support in both countries, while the pockets of hatred in the Middle East were just too strong to fashion an effective compromise. Sadat will always be admired for his courage and vision but that vision is taking much longer to materialise.

In the case of India and Pakistan, Sharif and Modi definitely seem to have the desire to normalise relations. But there is considerable potential for spoilers on both sides to ensure that nothing substantive moves forward. The two PMs can ignore politically weak opponents trying to play to the gallery at home. On the Pakistani side, all major political parties have welcomed Modi’s trip, though that has not been the case in India. So far, it seems that the Pakistan military too is on board with Sharif’s efforts to resume dialogue through foreign secretary-level talks.

But will Sharif be able to shut down all jihadi groups in Pakistan, including India-specific groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad? What will Modi and Sharif be able to offer those in Pakistan who believe there should be no normalisation of ties until the issue of J&K is resolved? India’s final offer on Kashmir — an adjustment along the LoC in which both sides largely keep what they have — has been on the table since 1963. It has not been acceptable to Pakistan. Militancy is seen by hardliners in Pakistan as the only way to keep the Kashmir issue alive, precluding a total shutdown of all jihadis.

Then there are the votaries of Hindutva who cannot stop talking of “Akhand Bharat” and Pakistan’s Islamists who think the Prophet has prophesied Ghazwa-e-Hind — a great battle for Islamisation of India. BJP general secretary Ram Madhav is the latest ideologue to speak out of turn about “Akhand Bharat”, giving fodder to Pakistan’s “Ghazwa-e-Hind” extremists who deem India an eternal enemy of Pakistan. That nuclear weapons should change simple-minded ideological equations does not occur to either.

Sharif’s foreign affairs advisor, Sartaj Aziz, probably had these factors in mind when he said after the Modi stopover in Lahore that he did not expect much from the initial phase of Pakistan-India talks. Then what, if anything, might be accomplished from Modi and Sharif holding hands in Lahore? From Modi’s perspective, it would be good to have a ceasefire in militant attacks similar to the one that resulted from talks during the Manmohan Singh era, following the standoff over the attack on India’s Parliament. It lasted for several years, allowed India to break the back of the militancy in J&K and ended only after the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Sharif, on the other hand, might just be seeking to assert himself in external relations while trying to open space for trade with India. Pakistan’s Punjabi business elite want trade with India and as a member of that elite, Sharif does too, though Pakistani critics of such trade also abound.

The best outcome in the India-Pakistan case for now comprises modest possibilities. These should not be dismissed lightly but they do not reflect a “Nixon to China” moment that dramatically transforms adversarial relations into a positive partnership.

The writer, director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute in Washington DC, was Pakistan’s ambassador to the US from 2008-11.

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  1. G
    ghanshyam
    Jan 3, 2016 at 3:23 pm
    This is the real problem, we are not in a position of even trusting each other. Talk resumed after so many hiccups and great visionary Shri Ram Madhavji is planning about AKHAND BHARAT ( Of course cultural). What a joke. What purpose will it solve, what would happen to Cow Slaguter in our cultural AKHAND BHARAT. Would u explain please.
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    1. M
      MyTake
      Dec 30, 2015 at 7:53 pm
      Pak politicians in this case seems to be more educated about reality than Indian opposition.
      Reply
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        K SHESHU
        Dec 30, 2015 at 7:39 am
        The visit of Modi may not yield much but if some sort of truce is establsh betwen the two borders, the army as well as Kashmiris might have some respite from the daily tensions and shoot-outs that are disturbing daily life including education, trade, business, etc.
        Reply
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          Anil Maheshwari
          Dec 30, 2015 at 4:27 am
          Political decisions about the present must be essed on their merits, not on the basis of the bers and mistakes in the past.
          Reply
          1. A
            Anil Sharma
            Dec 30, 2015 at 2:28 am
            Real question is can Nawaz Sharif find Modi a suitable wife?
            Reply
            1. A
              Anil Sharma
              Dec 29, 2015 at 10:40 pm
              Q: Is Modi still a virgin?
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              1. A
                Arun
                Dec 30, 2015 at 3:01 pm
                stan does not need India. It has China, Russia and USA to support it.
                Reply
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                  anil tewari
                  Dec 29, 2015 at 10:54 pm
                  What is so surprising in that all parties in stan welcomed Modi's visit? You are the ones who slapped the Indians on the face. Yet, our stupid PM went to you with his tail between his legs. Of course, you have to be happy and the Indians have to be mad that he we elected a dumb PM.
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                    Karunakaran
                    Dec 30, 2015 at 1:53 am
                    The crouching, dokhla-eating Gujjubhai whose chin touches his chest, thinks that international relations are as simple as selling chai and dokhla at the railway stations. Unfortunately 31% of Indians have elected the uneducated dokhla-eating Gujjubhai to a major role that he is not competent to have. As everyone knows, nothing will come out of his visit - other than some headlines in newspapers. India will pay a big penalty for the dokhla-eating Gujjubhai's lack of education.
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                    1. S
                      Sukiran
                      Dec 30, 2015 at 12:35 pm
                      Supporters of peace process are more in number in stan than in India. Many people, even those in high places, don't see relations with stan as much of a necessity than. They want better relations with stan not because it is India's neighbor and also a nuclear power nation, but just because there is no way to help resolve the contentious issue of Jammu & Kashmir be resolved and to curb the menqnce of terrorism which raised its head through ISIS other than better relations than with stan. And that is a wrong and almost cynical way of looking at things. They don't see stan as a threat because its economic growth is too low for India to notice it as such. Compion with China is apt here. Unless & until people and political parties in India see relations with stan as much important as that of China there is no going forward on this front despite of many efforts from both sides. Ironically opposition to this comes from within the ruling party itself in India whereas in stan it is the religiously fanatical elements that wish to derail the peqce process. However peaceful cooperation between both the countries is in the best interests of both the nations.
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                        Dillip Patnaik
                        Dec 30, 2015 at 12:55 am
                        Nobody should expect more from Modi-Sheriff recent meeting. Sheriff genuinely wants a compromise and develop better bilateral relation with India to rescue stan from the continuing danger of terrorism and impaired economy. But the stani islamic religious groups the hate mongers and stani Army will not allow Sheriff to have bilateral cordial relation with India. Though there is a grim reality still Sheriff and Modi should continue dialogue to in smaller way having trade and commerce to flourish on both sides. Let the both country's traders communicate each other and gradually that will open up the Wagah border silencing the age-old hate and misunderstanding.
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                          G M
                          Dec 30, 2015 at 2:25 am
                          Right from the inception of B.J.P. rule Modi is trying foreign policy single handedly without taking help of foreign office officials just to gain personal praise and in this process of one step farword and two step backward approach along with trial and error method will leave us nowhere .Modi is behaving like a er and his wayward style of doing this serious business will put us in a mess and India and Indians are the casuality. This self praise starved persona is a big problem and taking w country for a ride. Well structured dialog preceded by follow ups is required and many deplomatic exercise should be done secretly away from the glares of hawks so that results can be achieved. But then Modi is different.
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                            Gopal
                            Dec 29, 2015 at 10:15 pm
                            The respected author has made false analogies. The Chinese analogy is false because the Chinese prime minister did represent China. However, in stan the Prime Minister does not control or represent the army and the jehadi establishment. Indeed, LeT has already criticized Modi's visit along with an ortment of extremist organizations. Therefore, in stan there is no real unanimity of opinion within the major players. Indeed, it can be argued that any attempt at peace has no chance of success until the civilian leadership has control over the army and the jehadi establishment.
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                              PKR
                              Dec 30, 2015 at 3:24 am
                              For the peace negotiations what will stan want India to bring to the table ? Freedom of Kashmir, Treatment of minorities, no demand of terrorists being handed over ,no demand for MFN....What does stan bring to the table?Cessation of terrorist activities?These have been already ped on to the non state actors on whom stan does not profess any control.Negotiations at this stage means yielding to the gun point diplomacy of standia will receive nothing except hordes of refugees escaping economic and insecure conditions in stan.But in face of western pressure Modi will have to play on. This is why Indians do not have a enthusiastic support for the peace negotiations.
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                                Kautilya
                                Dec 29, 2015 at 9:24 pm
                                Certainly hope that Modi in stan is not Nixon in China. Nixon was a fool who failed to visualise the Frankenstein he was helping create by normalising ties with China. Americans must surely be 'thanking' him for destroying the middle cl, losing control of the economy and creating a big power capable of challenging the US in Asia Pacific.
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                                  karthikeyan
                                  Dec 30, 2015 at 8:10 am
                                  stan will always welcome that , because they will get away with what they have done India . In India the opposition will always oppose irrespective of who is is power and who is in opposition . That is the fact and that is what happened for last 65 years ...
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                                    Murthy
                                    Dec 30, 2015 at 2:33 am
                                    Sensible and serious posts using moderate language are the target of "moderation" but not abusive and flippant posts that cleverly cover rude words with asterisks.
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                                    1. M
                                      Murthy
                                      Dec 30, 2015 at 2:30 am
                                      Who are you pal? What do you eat mostly?
                                      Reply
                                      1. M
                                        Me Marathi
                                        Dec 30, 2015 at 2:49 pm
                                        Have you started snorting even before dark??
                                        Reply
                                        1. M
                                          Me Marathi
                                          Dec 30, 2015 at 3:06 am
                                          Isn't this Hussain Haqqani related to the dreaded Haqqani group, declared as terrorists group by the US? And what is he professing to India?
                                          Reply
                                          1. N
                                            NM
                                            Dec 30, 2015 at 1:07 am
                                            One of the very few legitimate, far-sighted people in stan policy making. Hope current stan policy makers hear him. Consider his views. He saw that Taliban will damage stan far more than India. Even today, he writes about it but, nobody in stan listens him.
                                            Reply
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