It has become hard to keep track of the number of U-turns the Narendra Modi government has taken, not just from its pre-election positions but post-election ones too. The latest is that Modi’s Bhartiya Janata Party has no problems with the Pakistan High Commissioner meeting a top Kashmiri separatist leader in Delhi.
After Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit drove down to the South Delhi residence of top Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani on Monday, the BJP not-so-subtly changed its position on such meetings between the Pakistani government and Kashmiri separatists in the heart of Delhi.
“The Government of India was quite opposed to Pakistan High Commissioner talking to the separatist leaders last year,” BJP spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao admitted in his statement to the news agency ANI.
“This meeting with Geelani does not have any bearing on the bilateral talk between India and Pakistan. So Pakistan is simply indulging in activities which have no major influence on Indo-Pak relations. Hurriyat leadership does not have any influence over the people of Jammu and Kashmir. We have seen how the people of Kashmir Valley have rejected the boycott call given by the Hurriyat conference. If Pakistan High Commissioner wants to talk to separatist leaders who have no influence whatsoever in the Valley, then it is their judgement,” he said.
If Pakistan talking to Hurriyat is so irrelevant, why was it such a big issue in August last year, when India cancelled foreign secretary-level talks over the issue?
Those talks finally took place last week.
This is a departure from the BJP government’s position not only in August, but also when it was in opposition.
When Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s adviser Sartaj Aziz had met Hurriyat leaders in Delhi in November 2013, BJP president Rajnath Singh had said, “The UPA government has committed another diplomatic blunder with serious costs to national security and national interest… In the absence of a long-term strategic thinking and direction, the UPA government’s Pakistan policy has been driven by adhocism.”
What’s the hurry?
The Modi government has been remarkably pro-active on the foreign front.
It has asserted India against China, charmed America, wooed everybody who matters, pleased small countries, is trying its best to sign deals with Bangladesh, impressed Nepalis like only Nehru did, and Modi is about to make a historic trip to Sri Lanka. On Pakistan, however, the Modi government is unwilling to show, in Rajnath Singh’s words, “long-term strategic thinking and direction”.
When talks were cancelled in August, Sartaj Aziz had said, “In this case perhaps, the timing was not right because the discussion on Kashmir was yet to start.”
We can now be sure what he meant: the bad timing was on account of the Jammu and Kashmir assembly elections. At a time when the BJP was trying to secure votes in Jammu by speaking against Pakistan, it was difficult for Narendra Modi to pursue peace with Pakistan.
Now that the Jammu and Kashmir elections are over, and the headache of realpolitik has shifted from Jammu to Srinagar, peace with Pakistan can be pursued again. Except that the talks last week between the foreign secretaries did not result in any future dates to resume proper bilateral negotiations.
The lack of a sense of urgency is startling when compared to the speed with which the Modi government has been engaging with everybody else.
The clear message is that the Modi government is not serious about engaging with Pakistan. Or, to repeat Rajnath Singh’s 2013 words, the Modi government does not have a “long-term strategic thinking and direction” when it comes to Pakistan.
Narendra Modi cannot avoid visiting Islamabad in mid-2016 for the SAARC summit. If the internal political situation of India and Pakistan allows, and if there is no big terror incident coming from Pakistan until then, Modi can have a successful Pakistan visit.
Picking some low-hanging fruits should be easy. These are called “confidence building measures”.
These could include operationalising an already signed new visa regime, selling some token electricity to Pakistan, getting Pakistan to reciprocate India “Most Favoured Nation” status for greater trade ties, and easing trade across the Line of Control.
If a right-wing prime minister with the first clear majority in 30 years can’t pluck such low-hanging fruits, he should be called a diplomatic failure.
The question that many in India will ask, however, is why?
Why do we need to pursue peace with Pakistan when it is unwilling to give up its desire to fly its flag in Srinagar?
Have we not seen what the peace dividend with Pakistan looks like in Kargil in 1999 or Mumbai in 2008?
How can peace with Pakistan be possible when it is not willing to shut down its terror infrastructure against India?
It is true that you need two hands to clap, but that is also what the other hand says. While we must ask the hard questions of Pakistan, India must also ask itself: What would it gain if the 1947 vintage hostility with Pakistan were to come to an end?
Resolving the India-Pakistan dispute would free up India to pursue its ambitions on the world stage. It would free up India of a large part of its insecurities with China, make the Muslim world look at us with less suspicion, help New Delhi secure a permanent place on the United Nations high table. Most of all, it will make India look like a mature country that is ready for a leadership role in the world.
Currently India’s biggest USP before the world is its economic potential, its large market and trade opportunities. Pursuing peace with Pakistan would give India another USP: that of a country with, to quote Rajnath Singh again, “long-term strategic thinking and direction”. Trade ties with Pakistan, and through it, with central asia, would bring great benefits to the Indian economy too.
Since real peace always has to be a win-win situation, Pakistan should also be able to see what it gains.
Pakistan is lucky to have an amazing strategic location on the world map when it comes to trade. By pursuing peace with India, Pakistan would be able to give up its policies in Afghanistan, which have backfired so badly that Pakistan has lost at least 50,000 lives in multiple conflicts since 2003. Instead of battling rogue militants, a Pakistan at peace with its neighbours will be able to pursue economic progress.
Pakistan can’t go from looking like a war-torn African country to resembling Turkey without pursuing peace with India. Sub-conventional warfare aka terrorism has not delivered Kashmir to Pakistan. That sword has so lost its sheen that it is not even able to force India to the table. Bargaining terrorism and Kashmir is a zero sum game. India and Pakistan need to bargain trade and investment instead.
None of this is a pipe-dream.
The much-reviled Manmohan Singh’s best achievement was making a roadmap to solve Kashmir that both countries can agree on. Known as the four-point formula, I call it the Sabka Kashmir plan.
If Modi has “long-term strategic thinking and direction” for India, he will put his 56-inch chest behind it.