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Pakistan-India NY Talks Get Muted Response Back Home

  • Ayaz Gul

Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (L) shakes hands with India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during the United Nations General Assembly in New York September 29, 2013.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (L) shakes hands with India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during the United Nations General Assembly in New York September 29, 2013.

The much-awaited meeting in New York between the prime ministers of India and Pakistan on Sunday has been met with a mixed response back in their home nations. While some suggest it might have helped ease simmering military tensions in Kashmir, others say only a sustained and substantive dialogue on how to resolve long-running bilateral disputes will improve ties.

As was widely being anticipated, the first ever meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, did not produce any major announcements other than the two leaders agreeing to instruct their military commanders to take steps to restore the ceasefire across the disputed Kashmir frontier.

Critics in Pakistan, like former ambassador to the United States Sherry Rehman, played down the significance of the event. She insisted that even the dates for the proposed army commanders meeting have not been announced. But Rehman stopped short of calling it a wasted opportunity.

“There were no big takeaways for broader peace initiatives. But there was a consensus on de-escalating the crisis in Kashmir, which was a dangerous spiral of violence that needed to be controlled by both sides with effective border mechanisms," she said. "These are mechanisms that really should be in place in any case. So they need to have taken this forward. So it keeps going back to the same reset.”

Reactions in India

In India, analysts sound a bit more optimistic, hoping that the talks lead to more regular meetings that could work to overcome the two sides’ mutual deep distrust.

“They were meeting on the sidelines [of the U.N. General Assembly]. And in a region like South Asia, the top political leadership must meet more often and in a manner that would be deemed as 'normal' and thereby increase the comfort level of these personal interactions," said Uday Bhaskar, who is with the Society of Policy Studies in New Delhi. "I think that has been reasonably satisfied or that objective has been met. On the substantive part, the fact that both of them have now tasked their respective director general of military operations to look at the Line of Control is also a small step but I would still characterize it as a positive step.”

Indian leaders maintain they want to have better relations with Pakistan to discuss outstanding territorial disputes, including Kashmir. But they say Islamabad needs to take steps to prevent terrorist attacks in India.

In his address to the United Nations Saturday, Singh called Pakistan the “epicenter of terrorism” in South Asia and said authorities must take a tougher stance against terrorist groups inside their borders. Sharif was more optimistic in his U.N. address, calling for a “new beginning” with India.

Uday Bhaskar says that addressing Indian security concerns has become the most important issue in talks between the two countries.

“For India, I think purely in terms of security challenges, I would say this is the top priority and the next few months will be very critical in getting a sense about how the Nawaz Sharif commitment is being translated into action,” Bhaskar said.

Among other security issues, Indian officials also demand that Pakistan speed up the trials of several suspects linked to the planning and execution of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks.

But former ambassador Rehman says that the two sides need to avoid putting conditions for having a normal bilateral relationship.

“I think we do need to move forward on finding a resolution to the Mumbai case but you can’t keep on posing conditions constantly and then still saying we are looking for a good outcome,” she said.

Singh’s party faces elections early next year and has been challenged by Hindu parties that favor a tougher stance against Pakistan. Skeptics say such political pressures could make engagement difficult for the Indian leader in the short term. But Sunday’s meeting may have set the stage for tangible improvements in the months ahead.