It is difficult to discern what exactly Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had in mind when he issued a call, ahead of meeting US President Barack Obama, for intervention by other nations in order to resolve the Kashmir issue. As far as concrete suggestions go, it was doomed to failure.
Before the thaw in Indo-US relations, US state department officials might at least have floated an ambiguous statement or two in response, if nothing else. Those days are long gone. For all the current lethargy in the bilateral relationship, the New Delhi-Washington dynamic has altered fundamentally in this century. Predictably, US officials have swiftly made it clear that the latter has no intention of letting Islamabad drag it into the Kashmir morass.
A charitable explanation is that Sharif was playing to his domestic audience, but he disappoints even so. It is the line most guaranteed to raise New Delhi’s hackles, as he must have known bumping up the temperature of the Islamabad-New Delhi dialogue, such as it is, and constraining the range of options available to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Taken together with the lukewarm meeting between Sharif and Singh and a worsening situation along the Line of Control (LoC) makes matters worse there have been a total of 136 ceasefire violations so far this year, the most in eight years it paints a depressing scenario.
Sharif may have talked a good game regarding relations with India when he came to power, but he seems to be in no hurry to follow it up with actions on the ground. This is, perhaps, not entirely surprising. There are a great many variables currently in the mix with general elections in India and the US withdrawal from Afghanistan both coming up in 2014, and the Tehreek-e-Taliban proving a stubborn internal threat in Pakistan. More likely than not, the Pakistani establishment civilian as well as military means to wait and see how these developments shake out before deciding how to move forward.
None of this means New Delhi should give up on engaging Islamabad. Indeed, however matters play out in the public eye, the two sides are likely to continue quietly talking to each other behind the scenes; it would be naïve to expect anything else. But the practical implications are that there is unlikely to be much headway in the coming months. If anything, matters are likely to deteriorate.
There is, in fact, already an official acknowledgement that the mechanism set up for the director generals of military operations on both sides to meet in order to facilitate cooling off along the LoC is not providing the desired results.
The agenda for Sharif’s talks in Washington and the resumption of US aid for Pakistan makes it clear that America’s key regional priority now is buying Pakistani cooperation to extract itself with the least possible pain from Afghanistan. That makes it all the more important for Singh currently in Moscow to engage Russian President Vladimir Putin on Afghanistan given the two countries’ common interests there. Once the 2014 elections are past, the new dispensation in New Delhi will be in a better position to take stock of the situation. Until then, New Delhi must undertake the necessary measures for strengthening its positions along the LoC, hunker down and prepare for a rough ride.