It was expected that the advent of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in India would usher in an era of renewed efforts for peace in the region. Narendra Modi, during his electoral campaign, could not resist the temptation of Pakistan bashing. This was in clear contrast to Pakistan’s election campaign, only a year earlier, in which none of the local political parties made any negative mention of India; rather they promised resolving long outstanding issues with India in the quest for regional peace. Pakistani political pundits opined that Modi was constrained to take swipes at Pakistan as part of his electoral campaign compulsion since the BJP had been critical of the Congress party’s soft stance towards Pakistan. It was prophesied that a sense of responsibility would prevail once Modi became the prime minister and, being a champion of trade and commerce, he would not spurn Pakistan’s offer of resuming trade ties.
Modi’s invitation to all South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) leaders to attend his inaugural ceremony was looked upon as a whiff of fresh air. Nawaz Sharif’s attending Modi’s installation ceremony was expected to revive sour relations. Creditably, Modi appeared responsive to Nawaz Sharif’s peace overtures and a thaw was in the offing. Some spanners were thrown later when the Indian secretary external affairs revealed that the Pakistani prime minister had been forewarned not to meet the Kashmiri leaders and he had abided by the warning. Despite such hiccups, Modi’s acquiescence to resuming the process of peace dialogue, commencing with a secretary level meeting in Islamabad on August 25, 2014 to chalk out the roadmap of peace talks was promising.
The euphoria was short-lived when, on August 12, 2014, during a visit to Leh in the disputed Kashmiri territory, Modi launched a strong attack on Pakistan, accusing it of continuing a proxy war of terrorism against India, surmising that it had lost the strength to fight a conventional war. This verbal assault was totally out of context but the method in the madness became apparent when Indian forces breached the 11-years-old ceasefire agreement to commence cross-border firing across the LOC as well as the international boundary, killing Pakistani civilians and army personnel. To add insult to injury, India blamed Pakistan for cross-border firing but the drop scene was yet to come. On Monday, August 18, 2014, exactly a week prior to the scheduled talks between the two foreign secretaries, the parleys were called off on a flimsy pretext.
It was alleged that Indian Secretary External Affairs Sujatha Singh, who was to meet her Pakistani counterpart Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry in the first face-to-face talks between the foreign secretaries in almost two years, warned Pakistani High Commissioner Abdul Basit not to meet Kashmiri leaders but her call went unheeded. The Indian media, as if on a cue, went ballistic. This scribe had the opportunity to participate in dozens of discussions on various Indian television news channels where former diplomats, retired generals and opinion builders in bellicose statements were demanding that the Pakistani high commissioner to New Delhi be declared persona non grata and diplomatic ties with Pakistan be snapped. Behaving as judge, jury and executioner, some Indian television anchors and most participants on these talk shows started castigating Abdul Basit for meeting with Kashmiri “separatists” and interfering in India’s internal matters. A pet question, apparently planted, was, “How would Pakistan feel if the Indian high commissioner in Islamabad met with members of the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) or the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)?”
India forgets that Kashmir is an unfinished agenda of the 1947 partition of the Indian subcontinent. During the 1947-48 Pakistan-India war on Kashmir, it was India that approached the United Nations Security Council for a ceasefire and is signatory to the UN resolutions on Kashmir, stipulating a plebiscite for the Kashmiris to exercise their option of acceding to Pakistan or India, from which India has reneged. It is illogical to draw parallels between Kashmiris and the BLA or TTP, the former have been recognised by the UN as bona fide residents of a disputed territory while the latter are insurgents and terrorists respectively.
Pakistani leaders, diplomats and visitors to India have been meeting Kashmiri leaders and Abdul Basit’s tête-à-tête with Kashmiris prior to the secretary level talks has been part of a regular practice to obtain the viewpoints of the main protagonists in the dispute. Previous Indian prime ministers, including the BJP stalwart Atal Bihari Vajpayee, whose shoes Modi is trying to fill, have actually facilitated talks between Kashmiri and Pakistani leaderships. Modi’s government is not only making a mountain out of a molehill but is also showing cold feet in continuing dialogue with Pakistan, despite the urging of the US and peaceniks in India. By succumbing to the demands of Indian hawks, Modi is denying his own nation’s potential for development by choosing the path of confrontation with Pakistan.
The writer is a former group captain of PAF, who also served as air and naval attaché at Riyadh. Currently, he is a columnist, analyst and a television show host
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