This Friday’s call-on on Mian Nawaz Sharif was just one of the surprises Prime Minister Modi loves to drop. His ‘surprise tactic’ started right after he won office and wanted the entire galaxy of SAARC heads around him while taking oath of office. Alongside his shockers, he likes to be in command of events. It’s him who would decide which part of his surprise diplomacy would go out in public domain and when.
Going back a year, the relations between two countries were drenched in aggressive positioning and repeated ceasefire violations at the LoC and Working Boundary. That happened after and despite Mr. Modi’s surprise invitation to all the SAARC country heads in his swearing in ceremony. The gesture had kindled hope for peace process if not peace with immediate effect. The air was immediately lost after the unexpected presser from the then India Foreign Secretary telling media that the only issue that came in the brief meeting between the two leaders was of Cross-Border Terrorism (CBT).
Any engagement with India that carries the mention of CBT but not Kashmir will always be taken as Pakistan’s defeat at the table – a fact that Mr. Sharif apparently did not understand till Ufa fiasco. Fiasco, because it was cogitated as India’s victory or at least tilted heavily in her favour ignoring Pakistan’s concerns of which Kashmir has to figure as distinguishing feature. The rest can be clubbed together as ‘all outstanding issues’. The term that should never be used as euphemism for Kashmir issue.
Modi’s closefisted policy of smiling at Pakistan on his own sweet will, intermitted by angry expressions – termed as ‘flip-flop’ diplomacy by the Congress leaders – did two important things. One, it kept Pakistan from taking bold initiatives on the peace process and two, it put the control of the narrative in Modi’s hands. Pakistan’s Nawaz sounds reluctant to reveal the contents of the 120-seconds of his chat with Modi in Paris, while India’s Modi tweets what he wants to reveal. He did not tweet about NSAs’ meeting. But stunned everyone tweeting about his Lahore trip.
The Indian policy since 2014 has been of not tolerating Pakistan’s crossing of some red lines, i.e., meeting Kashmiri separatist groups and LoC violations. Both were responded aggressively by India amidst war of words, heated up borders and cancelled dialogue process. The composite dialogue was stalled. Meeting of Foreign Secretaries was cancelled. In August 2015, Abdul Basit, Pakistan’s High Commissioner in New Delhi told media that India had violated ceasefire on working Boundary 70 times in two months.
And then Ufa became the Sharm al-Sheikh moment of Prime Minister Sharif. In the Joint Declaration after the unstructured meeting between the two Prime Minsters on the sidelines of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit in July 2015, the word ‘terrorism’ figured as mutual concern, while Kashmir got clustered within ‘all outstanding issues’ bracket. The follow up meeting of National Security Advisors got cancelled after Pakistan’s Foreign Office woke up to the blunder.
This Friday Mr. Modi once again surprised everyone by setting his foot on Pakistan’s soil. Hopes for a renewed peace process were rekindled. The criticism was to follow. PM Sharif got it for keeping the entire episode strictly a family event. PM Modi was censured at home for being secretive and for going back on his own policy of belligerence with Pakistan. Manish Tiwari, one of the refined and peacenik Congress leaders, called it ‘great betrayal’ by Modi.
In Pakistan, the analysts have tried to go all lengths to prove the thaw as the result of international pressure on Modi to go for peace with Pakistan. Some on our side are linking Modi’s changing posture with his party’s defeat in Bihar State Elections. Which in all fairness is nothing more than stretching a bit too much without a deeper understanding of the internal politics of India, just to feel better about the whole thing.
More than the outside pressure or the domestic vote bank, Modi is working towards his own vision of a much broader regional policy, which is far from being just Pakistan-centric.
Hours before his hug with Pakistan’s Prime Minister and subsequent bonhomie at Lahore airport, Modi was assuring Afghan people of his solidarity in the wake of cross border terrorism. Which obviously, doesn’t happen between Afghanistan and Siberia.
He was looking at a broader regional engagement when he said, “We know that Afghanistan’s success will require the cooperation and support of each of its neighbors. And, all of us in the region — India, Pakistan, Iran and others — must unite, in trust and cooperation, behind this common purpose and in recognition of our common destiny.” After which, he was open about his ambition, “That is why we are working to improve your connectivity by land and sea, including through Chahbahar in Iran. That is why I hope that Pakistan will become a bridge between South Asia and Afghanistan and beyond.”
For the first time ‘security’ cooperation emerged so clearly in India’s Afghanistan plans. “India will continue to build Afghan capacity for governance, security and development…”, he said.
And then he alluded to the irritants in the way of Ind0—Afghan cooperation, “There are some who did not want us to be here. There were those who saw sinister designs in our presence here. There are others who were uneasy at the strength of our partnership. Some even tried to discourage us.” Hours after which, he flew to the land that in his imagination (2011) was of ‘expert liars’. His, “You have judged us by what you see, not what others tell you, including about the mysterious Indian consulates”, was a clear jibe on Pakistan alluding to our misplaced allegations of dozens of Indian consulates that in our imagination are working in Afghanistan to support our bad guys.
He then went on to describing the nature of India’s Afghan engagement in contrast with the cross border terrorism of Afghanistan’s neighbor. That included scholarships for the children of Afghan security forces and for ordinary Afghans in India, establishment of research facilities in health, agriculture and mining sectors among others.
Hinting at India’s vision of future negotiated settlement with Taliban he said, “Those waging war from outside must seek a path to this building and this hall”. And it must be on your terms, on your genius, through your own process and your own spirit of brotherhood and not driven by the calculations or ambitions of others, he went on. Although Pakistan’s oft repeated ‘Afghan led’ solution has similar meaning, but clearly so different spirit.
The question now arises, where is an initiative from Pakistan? Are we doing anything other than a strange tug-of-war between civilian and military leaderships for claiming the credit of the Pak-India meltdown? Are we even thinking outside our narrow box of India-centric shallow policy? The paradigm shift that we have been claiming so vociferously, has it any intended outcome as far as positioning Pakistan at a decent place internationally beyond the currently followed policy of milking big powers? Do we intend to deliberate upon where we want to take Pakistan in next ten years, while our declared enemy is rubbing shoulders with world powers?