Modi's Pakistan policy is confused

It is the right of people to know what is in the mind of our government.

 |  5-minute read |   14-12-2015
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If there is extreme cold in Delhi, the temperature in Bangkok was suitable for our national security advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval and foreign secretary S Jaishankar to break the ice with their Pakistani counterparts. Within 48 hours of the NSA level talks between the two countries, our foreign minister visited Pakistan and held talks with her counterpart and Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is also scheduled to visit Pakistan next year with the focus on resumption of the composite dialogue process.

As the leader of Opposition, incumbent external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj had said on March 14, 2013 on the floor of Lok Sabha that unless Pakistan stops terrorism and destroys all terrorist camps on its soil, there should not be business as usual with them and there should not be any formal talks between the two countries.

In August when the NSA level talks were called off, the government of India decided that India will not talk to Pakistan if it involves the Hurriyat and secondly, the talks will be confined to terrorism only. On August 22 this year, the same Swaraj had vehemently ruled out the possibility of India-Pakistan talks in a third country.

Now, the definition of maturity has changed and the sincerity of Pakistan is visible to the government of India despite its increasing proximity to Beijing. Not only were the NSA level talks held, they were held in a third country and along with terrorism, Jammu and Kashmir was also discussed.

Interestingly, these talks were held in pursuance to the meeting between Modi and Sharif in Paris. The sudden change in the response mechanism of the government caught many unawares. Not only a precedent was set that Jammu and Kashmir was formally discussed bilaterally between India and Pakistan on the soil of a third country but the spirit of Ufa was also violated by agreeing to extend the scope of the talks beyond terrorism.

There is no doubt that both the countries need to engage with each other, both the countries have certain common concerns and their mutual outreach is in the interest of security, peace and tranquillity in the sub-continent but the scope, approach and orientation need to be clear and consistent. I feel the Pakistan policy of the Modi government is marred with confusion and inconsistency. Whether to talk or not, whom to talk and whom not to talk and what to talk and what not to talk - all these things are not clear and consistent. The incidents between May, 2014 and December, 2015 reflect this dilemma and confusion.

First you invite Sharif to your oath ceremony, then cancel foreign secretary level talks for the jugalbandi between Pakistan and the separatists, then send your foreign secretary to Pakistan within months without any change in the situation on the ground, thereafter there is the NSA talks fiasco and now the bonhomie to the extent of discussing Jammu and Kashmir in a third country. There has been a series of confusion.

Dialogue is a continuous process and not the final outcome. We should remember that neither India nor Pakistan is yet to achieve any concrete result from the composite dialogue process, which started 17 years ago. Even if there is no definite progress on the trials of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks in Pakistan, India has agreed to move at a pace, which Pakistan is comfortable with.

While the onus now lies with Pakistan to expedite the Mumbai trials on the basis of the dossiers already provided to the government of Pakistan and to control the anti-India terror elements operating from its soil, the NDA government in India has to devise a clear roadmap, a pragmatic foreign policy to deal with Pakistan and for that it will have to first understand the internal contradictions within Pakistan, positioning of the Pakistani democratic government vis-a-vis their military establishment and also have to deal with its own internal contradictions.

Whatever the foreign minister may say about the genuineness of Pakistan in fighting terrorism, facts speak for themselves. In 2015 only, Pakistan has violated ceasefire agreements more than 400 times. If this is the genuineness of Pakistan, I doubt if any composite dialogue will yield positive result.

Pakistan has its own domestic limitations because of which it cannot go beyond a point. Thus, it will expect India to offer some concessions to keep the talking treadmill going on. It is, therefore, necessary that, before we talk, we need to have a clear idea as to what the minimum expectations we have and to what extent we can go with the Pakistani agenda on Kashmir.

The negotiators of India have to be clear on this in any talk with Pakistan. Talks should not be held only for the sake of diverting attention from the domestic challenges. Secondly, the people and Parliament of both the countries should be taken into confidence for the talks to prove sustainable. It is the right of people to know what is in the mind of our government when it offers to sit down with Pakistan for a composite dialogue, including Jammu and Kashmir and Modi and his government are expected to keep these concerns in mind while talking to Pakistan on formal platforms. People-to-people contact and sports and cultural exchanges between the two countries should also be encouraged.

Without continuous interactions at the people-to-people level, India and Pakistan cannot cross the psychological barrier and the talks at the level of politicians and bureaucrats only will not break the ice. But, will the RSS allow the Modi government to engage with Pakistan in a consistent and long-term manner or the recent change in the heart is because of the domestic reasons is to be seen.


Jaiveer Shergill Jaiveer Shergill @jaiveershergill

The author is a Supreme Court advocate and national media panellist, Indian National Congress. The views of the author are personal.

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