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Pakistan Today Editorial – 26th April 2016

Another Heart of Asia opportunity

Avoiding potholes

The Heart of Asia conference has emerged as an interesting icebreaker between Pakistan and India. Last time, when Pakistan hosted in Dec ’15, Sushma Swaraj surprised everybody by suddenly arriving and resuming the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue (CBD). It’s another matter, of course, that such initiatives have had a way of running into unexpected potholes over the years. Despite apparent sincerity on both sides, there was just no way to keep the Pathankot incident from derailing whatever advances were made. And now that Pakistan’s foreign secretary is heading our team for the next round in Delhi this week, there is optimism as well as apprehension about what lies ahead.

An informal meeting between Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry and his Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar has been confirmed. No doubt they will discuss resumption of the lost dialogue before anything else – especially since the Indians are insisting it is not ‘suspended’ – and what contours it should take this time. But whether or not the process will resume from where it was cut off by Pathankot remains to be seen. The Indians have a habit of milking even the minutest advantages from lingering negotiations and they will once again try their best to give little on the format beyond discussing militancy and terrorism.

In these circumstances, it doesn’t help that Islamabad has chosen this precise moment to turn up the heat on the Indian spy issue. After tearing through the headlines then falling mysteriously silent, it is suddenly in the news again; courtesy the prime minister and his national security advisor. Apparently Islamabad has decided, after taking its sweet time, to play the Kulbhoshan Yadav card at every possible international forum. While such exercises are justified, Islamabad must weigh its priorities very carefully. True, no foreign power must ever be allowed to interfere in Pakistan. But the country needs cold, calculated diplomacy at this point, not adventurism or idealism. Hopefully better sense will prevail on both sides and we will have made substantial, quantifiable progress by the next Heart of Asia conference.

Out of season rallies

And stale war cries

Encouraged by its rally in Islamabad, the PTI has announced it would hold a series of public meetings beginning with one in Lahore on Sunday. After this, Imran Khan would hold gatherings in Sindh to campaign against corruption. Jamaat-e-Islami – which is too small a party to match the public performance of the PTI, which is its current ally – held a mini sit-in on the Mall in Lahore and later announced a countrywide campaign against corruption. Nawaz Sharif who had flown into London last week for medical treatment has now decided to beard the lion in its own den by announcing a series of public rallies in KP to be followed by similar exercises in Sindh where mercury is currently hovering between 38-41 degrees Celsius.

With the government passing through the third year of its tenure, the battle cries in public meetings and sit–ins are entirely out of season. When the issue of the Panama leaks surfaced, the best course for the Prime Minister was to take the Parliament into confidence. As usual he continued to shun the forum allowing the bigmouths in the PMLN to muddy the waters. Even now there is time and a real need to go back to the National Assembly instead of indulging in a competition in rabble rousing. The PMLN being the party in power is going to be the biggest loser in the ongoing mud fest. Whatever opinion one might hold about PTI’s politics Nawaz Sharif is no match for Imran Khan in pulling the crowds. The PTI has however to realize that in the no-holds-barred fight the credibility of the entire political elite of which its leadership is a part is going to be at stake.

PMLN leaders like Ch Nisar have already alienated the opposition parties through their holier-than-thou attitude. Before the ruling party finds itself even more alienated in Parliament than in August 2014, Nawaz Sharif needs to call off public meetings and settle the matters in Parliament.

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