Nawaz Sharif’s return to power in Pakistan was marked by pious statements by him on peace and stability on the one hand and inflammatory rhetoric on the other, describing Kashmir as Pakistan’s “jugular vein”.

Whether it was at the UN in New York or at the White House, Sharif chose to return to his stale rhetoric of Kashmir being the “core issue” between India and Pakistan, implicitly asserting that there could be a nuclear holocaust unless Pakistan reached a satisfactory solution with India.

This rhetoric was accompanied by the unleashing of Hafiz Mohammed Saeed to spew venom not only over Kashmir but also over India allegedly diverting and depriving Pakistan of its vital water resources. The Pakistani army augmented this diplomatic effort by claiming it would use tactical nuclear weapons in the event of Indian retribution.

Sharif’s apologists in South Block claimed that he had really had a “change of heart” and that he cherished nothing more than peace and harmony with India.

Yet, Sharif’s return to power was marked by 195 ceasefire violations, with the Lashkar-e-taiba even choosing to attack an army officers’ mess in the Jammu sector, Indian jawans being beheaded elsewhere, and infiltrators crossing the LoC.

South Block did not do its credibility any good by misleading Defence Minister A. K. Antony to first claim these infiltrations had been made, and then retract it, absolving the Pakistan army of its sins.

It was against this background that it was agreed at the New York summit that the directors general of military operations (DGMOs) would meet and devise measures to de-escalate tensions across the LoC.

Wagah talks The Pakistan army stalled the proposal saying the delegations should be headed by civilian officials.

But they ultimately had to yield when India insisted the talks be between the DGMOs as decided in New York. The talks held on the Wagah border yielded some positive results.

The most important part of the joint statement issued on December 24 was the agreement between the DGMOs to “maintain the sanctity (of) and ceasefire on the Line of Control”. They also agreed to make the existing hotline between them more effective.

Two flag meetings between the brigade commanders on the LoC were also agreed to for maintaining peace across the LoC.

This was followed by a meeting between the commanders of the Border Security Force and the Pakistan Rangers in which there was forward movement on issues pertaining to effective use of existing communications and illegal constructions close to the border.

The most important issue concerned people who cross the border inadvertently and who would, hopefully, not have to spend months in incarceration.

No real change While some tend to link these developments to the exit of the hardnosed Gen. Ashfaque Parvez Kayani, there is nothing to suggest any change in the Pakistani army’s long-term policies of supporting radical groups such as the Afghan Taliban and the Lashkar-e-taiba to promote violence across Pakistan’s borders with India and Afghanistan.

It also now appears that there are differences between the army and the political establishment on using force against the Tehriq-e-taliban Pakistan (TTP) in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan’s Tehriq-e -insaf, which rules Pakhtunkhwa province, and Islamist parties such as the Jamat-e-Islami are all opposed to the use of force against the TTP.

But interestingly, the army has commenced operations against the TTP in North Waziristan, home of the infamous Haqqani network, which operates from this area against Afghan and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

This development appears to suggest that after TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud was killed in an American drone strike, the Sharif government has acquiesced in the military operations in North Waziristan, as Maulana Fazlullah, the TTP’s new leader, is known to be a fundamentalist hardliner. There also appears to be a deal between the military and its long-term assets, Jalaluddin and Sirajuddin Haqqani, that the operations against the TTP will not challenge the Haqqani hegemony in North Waziristan.

This complex arrangement involving deals within deals could well fall apart, in which case, border management across the Durand Line will become a nightmare.

Thus, while Pakistan may find it expedient to observe the “sanctity” of the Line of Control if things get out of hand on its north-western borders, it could also revert to its old ways if things cool down in the tribal areas.

India would be well advised to be prepared for both eventualities.

LoC commitment The meeting of the DGMOs now sets the stage for India to insist that Nawaz Sharif reaffirms his government’s commitment to the “sanctity” of the Line of Control.

He personally pledged to respect the “sanctity” of the LoC when he rushed to the White House on July 4, 1999. During that visit Sharif begged the US President Bill Clinton to bail him out after Pakistan’s Kargil misadventure.

It was also setting the stage for a confrontation with his army chief General Pervez Musharraf, on who should take the blame for the national disgrace Pakistan faced.

How should India judge whether Sharif is going to respect the “sanctity” of the Line of Control?

During his second term, Sharif not only emboldened and gave respectability to Hafeez Mohammed Saeed, but also set up a ‘Pakistan Gurudwara Prabandak Committee’ headed by Gen. Nasir, to incite and subvert Sikh pilgrims from India. ‘Khalistan’ flags were fluttering in Sikh places of pilgrimage in Pakistan just after Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s bus yatra to Lahore.

In light of this, it is imperative that a close watch be kept on Sharif’s approach to Sikh pilgrimage groups and the efforts to incite and revive militancy in Punjab.

A policy of wait and watch, with dialogue, if any, confined to terrorism, infiltration, trade and economic relations and people to people contacts should suffice till a new government assumes office in India after the coming general election.

(The author is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan.)

social-fb COMMENT NOW