School of Thought

Indian soldiers died due to Modi's weak Pakistan policy

As Gujarat CM, he had ridiculed the UPA for going soft on the neighbouring country. Now he finds himself in a corner with limited options.

 |  School of Thought  |  5-minute read |   19-09-2016
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Eight months after the deadly Pathankot airbase attack, where India lost seven security personnel, there has been another attack - again on Indian soil and killing 18 Indian soldiers. The perpetrators and sponsors of both attacks are known to everyone and cannot be hidden behind fig leaves of deniability from Islamabad.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has the good and bad fortune of having a fawning media enthusiastically defending every move he makes, irrespective of consequences, because consequences can easily be blamed on 60 years of Congress rule, intolerance of the liberal lobby and if nothing else works, on Jawaharlal Nehru.

Modi’s foreign policy flip-flops began from the day of his swearing-in, when he invited Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif for the ceremony.

Hawkish TV studios heaved a sigh of relief in the early part of his tenure in August 2014, when foreign secretary-level talks were cancelled because the Pakistan high commissioner in India invited the Hurriyat leaders. Studios hailed the move as consistent with his aggressive campaign against UPA’s Pakistan policy in the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

In reality, this one decision raised the stature of discredited leaders of the Hurriyat, desperate for legitimacy and recognition. They had been interacting with Pakistan for decades. The compulsion to appease galleries on the eve of elections in Haryana, Jharkhand and Maharashtra was more pressing than to have a consistent Pakistan policy in place. And then there was the Ram Madhav inflicted pressure of Mission 44 in the Jammu & Kashmir elections too.

The following year saw a complete change in Modi’s Pakistan policy. It began with a "chance encounter" between Modi and Sharif at the Paris climate change conference, followed by a meeting between the national security advisers of the two countries in Thailand.

Sushma Swaraj later attended the "Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process" in Islamabad in December the same year. Then came Modi’s inexplicable "stopover" in Lahore on December 25, 2015, enroute from Kabul to Delhi - ostensible to wish Sharif a happy birthday and also attend his grand-daughter’s wedding.

The hawks were stunned but sheepishly hashtagged the move as #BirthdayDiplomacy and criticised the Congress for its unenthusiastic reaction. Social media celebrated the sanskari PM for touching the feet of Sharif’s mother. Those who had earlier derided every sane voice on India-Pakistan as the "Biryani Brigade" started dancing to the birthday tune.

In less than a week, India faced a horrifying attack at the Pathankot airbase from Pakistan-trained and sponsored terrorists. More humiliating than the attack was the invitation to the joint investigation team to enter and inspect the airbase.

Studio warriors continued to overlook the price India is paying for the government’s inconsistent Pakistan policy.

Home minister Rajnath Singh’s visit to Pakistan to participate in the SAARC interior ministers’ conference led to a greater humiliation for India than any other faux pas had so far.

Firstly, only Sri Lanka and Bhutan were represented by their interior ministers. The rest had sent their deputies or bureaucrats. Secondly, in his desperation to impress Don Quixotes back home, Singh got into a verbal duel with his Pakistani counterpart, Nisar Ali Khan.

He then had to beat a hasty retreat after losing the duel. Troubleshooters back home declared that Pakistan had blacked out Singh’s speech. The truth is that as per SAARC convention, speeches are not made public.

nawaz-embed_091916052310.jpg PM Narendra Modi had stunned the hawks by wishing his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif a very happy birthday last year. (Photo credit: India Today) 

The mention of Balochistan in the Independence Day address by Modi further reflects India's knee-jerk diplomacy vis-a-vis Pakistan. We run the risk of being painted by the same brush with which we wish the world to paint Pakistan.

Diplomacy is the art of not stating what one does and not doing what one states. Modi’s Balochistan blunder reminds us of Morarji Desai who had fatally affected the Research & Analysis Wing's work in Pakistan by sharing with (then president) Zia-ul-Haq the findings about Pakistan’s nuclear establishment at Kahuta.  

The Uri attack comes within a fortnight of yet another faux pas by India. The high commissioner to Pakistan confirmed the PM’s participation in the SAARC summit in November, only to be denied the same by the ministry of external affairs back home.

Uri has witnessed the highest number of casualties of security forces since Kaluchak in 2002. Even as the government prepares to send evidence of Pakistan’s involvement in the Uri attack to the world, social media digs out quotes of bravado of PM Modi who as chief minister of Gujarat had ridiculed the UPA government for going soft on Pakistan.

"If Pakistan has entered your country and attacked Mumbai, why is the minister going to America, crying Obama Obama… go to Pakistan," CM Modi had thundered before he won the elections.

Whenever there is such an attack, there is immense pressure on the government to act, whichever government there is. Studio warriors do their own bit in rattling a government already beseeched by multiple ramifications of available options to respond to such an attack.

Yesterday’s (September 19) verbal response of the government and its non-state actors has further pushed Modi into a corner, in which he will find himself with limited options. If the UPA’s problem was that the government did not speak enough to the media, this government has a problem of "talking too much".

From Jitender Singh to Ram Madhav (both senior BJP leaders), everyone stopped short of announcing the exact time of attack on Pakistan. Television loved the "strong" statements from the government.

With the Uttar Pradesh polls round the corner, one only hopes that members of this government as also those controlling it from outside, do not allow the Pakistan policy from getting impacted by domestic electoral compulsions.

During the last phase of UPA-II, an editor told me: "The problem with your government is that you guys take television too seriously. Stop watching TV and all your problems will come to an end."

The advice was never more relevant than it is now for the Modi government. It not only watches too much television, it is ending up as a government by the television, of the television and for the television.

Also read: Why Pakistan is not taking Modi seriously

Also read: Defence expert or patriot, stop declaring war on Pakistan


Pawan Khera Pawan Khera @pawankhera

Political Analyst working with the Indian National Congress

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