At midnight of August 22/23, like the Cinderella fairy tale, Act II of the PM Modi scripted India-Pakistan play ended by turning warming ties into fresh acrimony. This was a repeat of Act I, which commenced during the PM’s swearing in ceremony in May 2014 with the visible bonhomie similarly altering a year ago in August, on the eve of Foreign Secretary level talks over the Pakistani induction of Hurriyat into a bilateral engagement, into identical bickering.
Just like in last year’s passion play, this time too the denouement was preceded by developments that under-cut the promise emanating from the Prime Ministerial summit. Even before the Pakistani delegation returned home, controversy began on why Kashmir found no mention in the Ufa Joint Statement, when reference to “all outstanding issues” clearly included that. At Ufa the aim was to address the two elements that traditionally are spoilers in India-Pakistan relations: Pakistani army and the jihadis. Thus the Director General of Military of Operations (DGMOs) of the two armies and the heads of paramilitary forces were nominated to ensure the sanctity of the cease-fire along the Line of Control and the International border. The National Security Advisers of the two nations were asked to meet in Delhi to discuss “all issues connected to terrorism”.
However, escalation of firing by the Pakistani army was a message to their own government, as indeed to India, that Ufa, with implicit de-linking of resumption of composite dialogue from discussion of concerns on terror was unacceptable to them. Pakistan’s Jihad Inc joined in with a terror attack in Gurdaspur to further undermine nascent goodwill. The arrest in a subsequent attack of Naved, a terrorist trained and inducted from Pakistan, followed by the usual denials from across the border as in the case of 26/11, merely added to the impression that the game was slipping out of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s hands.
Hyped up Indian rhetoric
The Indian government, on the contrary, had ratcheted up the rhetoric preceding Ufa. First PM Modi, during an official visit to Bangladesh, in breach of normal courtesy not to embarrass the host nation, proclaimed on June 7 that Pakistan periodically disturbs India and gives “terrorism ko badhawa” i.e. abets terror. Minister of State R.S.Rathore separately extrapolated from the Indian army’s counter-terror operation in Myanmar to warn other neighbours of similar retribution, boldly pointing to India’s Western neighbour Pakistan. Pakistan remonstrated strongly, even passing a resolution in their national assembly condemning India’s “hegemonic mindset”.
PM Modi seems to have decided to re-write the terms of engagement with Pakistan to break the cycle since 2001 of talks being periodically undermined by terrorism supported and abetted from Pakistan. Firstly this may be pragmatism laced with hyper-nationalism. In other words, he is looking at Pakistan primarily through a security perspective, which his core support applauds. This would be a mirror image of how Pakistani army looks at India.
Alternatively, he may be trying to adopt what Henry Kissinger in his book On China describes as Mao Zedong’s negotiating method. Mao believed in sudden use of force, not “so much to defeat the enemy as to alter his calculation of risks.” In effect a stronger posture’s aim is to change the psychological balance, which in this case would be to force Pakistani army to abandon its traditionally anti-India orientation and give up its stranglehold over civilian government’s India policy. Historically, Mao’s gambits were not always successful.
Finally, the Prime Minister may actually be seeking engagement as necessary to integrate South Asia economically, but the cycle of engagement followed by derailment at the last moment is simply a poor assessment of Pakistan. By the time the handlers of Pakistan file figure out that their pre-conceived notions of Pakistani reaction to a tough line have gone awry, it is too late for a diplomatic fix resulting in a train wreck.
Clearly if the strategic choice had been made by PM Modi that two red lines were non-negotiable, that is, no Hurriyat, as insisted since last year, to interpose between India and Pakistan and secondly, post Ufa, a standalone meeting of NSAs to address only terror related issues, then it raises the question whether a diplomatic follow-up was appropriate.
Sushma statement too late
Firstly, the Ufa Joint Statement itself is open to diverse interpretations. If the intention was, as explained by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on the penultimate day, to first have talks only on terror, then the paragraph after “they are prepared to discuss all outstanding issues” should have begun with “To facilitate that…” before talking of agreeing “to cooperate with each other to eliminate” the menace of terror. Swaraj’s clear articulation came a month too late. It also demonstrates why PM needs to carry his minister to important summits.
Secondly, the flip-flop on Hurriyat made fractures in BJP-PDP alliance rise to the surface. It also so soon after a high voter turn-out election in Jammu and Kashmir gave unnecessary legitimacy and international attention to a group that has largely been marginalised in the political life of the valley. The BJP red line will now be a perennial hitch in engaging Pakistan. As was noted in a television discussion, it seems that henceforth even bilateral political conduct, like cricket matches, would have to be shifted off-shore.
With the UN General Assembly high level segment commencing next month we can expect Pakistan to play the victim, take their charges of India abetting terror in Pakistan to the UN Secretary General or even the Terrorism Committee of the UN Security Council. Alongside it would raise temperature over the Kashmir issue. India will weather that but then it needs to recalibrate its tactics to suit its Pakistan strategy rather than hurtling to Act III of what the world will see as an avoidable South Asian melodrama.