Modi government has been taking right steps with Pakistan

Prime minister needs to ensure that our foreign policy is not held hostage to the difficult relations with Islamabad.

 |  4-minute read |   19-01-2016
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Dealing with Pakistan is one of the most formidable challenges that has confronted Indian administrations over the last 30 years. Whether it was the NDA government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee from 1998 to 2004 or the Manmohan Singh regime for ten years thereafter, relations with Pakistan have been the most insoluble conundrum that they have encountered.

Expectations

It was expected that the current NDA government led by Narendra Modi would employ a more muscular strategy in its relations with Pakistan. When it was in the Opposition, the BJP had maintained that terror and talks cannot go together. It stressed that the government should not embark on any dialogue with Pakistan unless it was assured that Pakistan would abjure use of terrorist groups aided and abetted by its army and the ISI against India.

Relations took off to a cautiously optimistic start with Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif attending Modi's swearing-in ceremony on May 26, 2014. It, however, did not take long for relations to sour. Foreign secretary-level talks scheduled for August 2014 were called off at the last moment because of the meeting between Hurriyat leaders and the Pakistan high commissioner in Delhi.

Since then it has been a roller coaster ride for the two countries. Meeting between the two prime ministers in Ufa, Russia, was productive, but the backlash was so strong that the two NSAs could not meet. A short interaction between Modi and Sharif in Paris led to hurriedly arranged parleys between NSAs and foreign secretaries of the two countries in Bangkok on December 6, 2015.

Also read: How sending NSG to Pathankot blew up in India's face

This paved the way for external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj's travel to Islamabad to participate in the Heart of Asia Conference on Afghanistan. In the meeting with Nawaz Sharif and Sartaj Aziz, it was decided to launch the "comprehensive bilateral dialogue" between the two countries.

End of 2015 witnessed the impromptu, goodwill stopover by Modi in Lahore on way back from Kabul for a two-hour tête-à-tête with Sharif. It was decided that the two foreign secretaries would meet in Islamabad on January 15, 2016. Even before Modi had taken off from Lahore, analysts were predicting that the two countries should be prepared for a terror strike designed to derail the new-found bonhomie between them. This is exactly what transpired.

Six terrorists from Jaish-e-Mohammed with some possible support from sleeper cells in India held security forces at Pathankot airbase at bay for three days from January 2.

While PM Modi's unexpected visit to Lahore was welcomed enthusiastically by most political parties, the terror attack was roundly condemned by all - most of them charged that the government was clueless in dealing with Pakistan and had adopted a flip-flop approach ever since it came to power.

Imprint

Experts believe that the attack bears unmistakable imprint of involvement of ISI and groups like JeM that have been supported by the ISI for operations against India. The Pakistan government has stated it will take action against perpetrators of the attack on the basis of evidence provided by India. It can only be hoped that Islamabad will not term the evidence provided as "inadequate", as it had done in the case of 26/11 Mumbai attacks. India is again faced with the dilemma of constructing a suitable strategy to deal with Pakistan.

Also read: Why is Modi giving a long rope to Pakistan?

It will need to finesse several strands of approaches that it has pursued in the past. First, there should be no suspension of talks between the two countries.

The off-again-on-again approach regarding talks has not worked. In fact, talks should be used to force the Pakistan establishment to take action against perpetrators of such attacks. All evidences should be shared with Pakistan as also with our international partners to apply pressure on Islamabad.

Response

In addition, all terrorist actions as well as incursions across the LoC, IB and violations of ceasefire by Pakistan-based elements, should be responded in a robust manner - in a place and timing of our choice. Only when India is able to inflict pain on the Pakistani establishment, including its army and intelligence agencies, for its terrorist actions, will there be a rethink on efficacy of such actions. In addition, India needs to actively and forcefully pursue its policy of reaching out to its major partners like the US, Russia, China, Japan, Iran, etc, to put pressure on Pakistan to keep its terrorist groups under check.

Also read: India should allow Pakistan to probe Pathankot

India needs to focus on its own economic development and enhance its comprehensive national strength, including military prowess, infrastructure, etc. A multi-pronged, nimble-footed approach will need to be adopted by India to defeat the destructive designs of Pakistan.

India will need to ensure that its foreign policy is not held hostage to its difficult relations with Pakistan. Steps taken by the government recently have been in the right direction. They need to be pursued with vigour and single-minded determination.

(Courtesy of Mail Today.)

Writer

Ashok Sajjanhar Ashok Sajjanhar @asajjanhar

The writer is secretary, National Foundation for Communal Harmony.

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