oppn parties Modi Government in Knots over Pakistan

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Modi Government in Knots over Pakistan

By Sunil Garodia

About the Author

Sunil Garodia Editor-in-Chief of indiacommentary.com. Current Affairs analyst and political commentator. Writes for a number of publications.
Pakistan High Commission celebrated Pakistan’s national day in New Delhi on Monday by inviting selected guests for dinner. Those invited included representatives of the Indian government, major political parties, other celebrities and opinion makers and the diplomatic corps, as has been the tradition. Also invited were avowed separatists from Jammu & Kashmir, which is also what is normally done. Thankfully, the recently released Masarat Alam saved India much embarrassment by skipping the event, ostensibly due to illness. It has also been a tradition for the Indian government to send its foreign minister for the event. The NDA government chose to send junior foreign minister Gen (Rtd) V K Singh for the event which was surprising given the way the government had reacted to the news that Kashimir separatists would attend the event. It is being reported that there were flip-flops in the decision making, with the final call being taken by the PM only at 6 pm in the evening.

The Modi government has tied itself in knots where relations with Pakistan are concerned. Right from the days when he was campaigning for the 2014 general elections, Narendra Modi indulged in heavy posturing and playing to the gallery to cater to the Hindutva elements while baiting Pakistan. This is not to say that the daily transgressions by the Pakistanis during the build up to the elections should have been ignored, as was being done by the UPA government then, but Modi should have realized that relations with Pakistan are on a different keel and should have handled the issue deftly. Instead, he assumed office with a burden of having aroused hopes in a section of the electorate that Pakistan will be dealt with an iron hand.

Given the complex nature of India’s relations with Pakistan, as also the fact that both nations are armed with nuclear weapons, it is neither feasible nor advisable to assume a hawkish tone while dealing with the neighbouring country. The Modi government compounded matters by cancelling the foreign secretary level talks last August when the Pakistani ambassador to India invited Kashmiri separatists for deliberations ahead of the talks. India supposedly drew a red line that such deliberations would not be conducive to talks. Pakistanis retorted by saying that they had been holding these deliberations for a long time and will continue to do so. For a time, it seemed that matters will deteriorate.

But with S Jaishankar taking over as the foreign secretary, Modi astutely sent him to Islamabad this month on what was termed as a “Saarc yatra” to revive the channels. Hence, the government’s protest at the invitation to the Kashmiri separatists was surprising. While the Indian government has stated clearly that there are only two parties to the dispute and there is no place for a third party at the table, it has to decide whether it will continue to engage the Pakistanis in a dialogue even if the talk to the Kashmiri separatists first. For, the Pakistanis have their own compulsions and they seem to be in no mood to bypass the Kashmiris. The only surprising thing is the Pakistani habit of making it a spectacle by publicly inviting the Kashmiri ‘leaders’ to Delhi. With so many lines of communications now open, including video conferencing, the Pakistanis can have a private tete-a- tete with them without offending Indian sensibilities.

The current posturing was highly avoidable if India had gone by tradition. If India does not want to do so, it has to take the matter up at the highest level and tell the Pakistanis in no uncertain terms that the Kashmiri separatists will not be tolerated at any event where the Indian government is to be represented. After all, traditions can be broken and new traditions can come up with the change in government in India. But that has to be told to the Pakistanis in a manner stern enough for them to understand.