Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken a huge political risk in setting up a dialogue process with Islamabad without the latter cogently addressing New Delhi’s red lines on cross-border terrorism.
There was no immediate confirmation whether he did any ground-work for a broad political consensus he’d need at home for the dialogue. But his Congress predecessor, Dr Manmohan Singh, had advised him at their meeting last month to keep ‘channels open’ with Islamabad irrespective of the ‘state of play’ in bilateral ties.Regardless of its domestic political fall-out for the BJP -- that used terror emanating from Pakistan to so gainfully propound religio-military nationalism in the 2014 polls -- Modi’s surprise initiative is an acceptance of the limited value of the "no-dialogue" stance that was tried and abandoned by his predecessor AB Vajpayee. The Ufa joint statement is reminiscent, in fact, of Vajpayee’s April 2003 "hand of friendship" speech in Srinagar after having declared "aar ya paar ki ladai (fight to the finish)" in the wake of the December 2001 terrorist attack on Parliament.
Prime Minister AB Vajpayee meets with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in Lahore in Feb 1999 (File Photo)
Vajpayee predicated his peace overture on the reality of Pakistan being India’s next door neighbour. “Both sides should decide that they have to live together,” he said, exhorting Islamabad to deliver on its promise of ending support to cross-border terrorism. The failure of his ‘diplomacy of a threatened war’ (that never materialized) could make the former Premier see the indispensability of dialogue.
A detailed cost-benefit analysis of its coercive posturing in military and diplomatic terms had made the NDA-I order withdrawal of troops in October 2002 without firing a single shot on the tensed up borders. Besides the diplomatic loss of face, New Delhi was poorer, as per published reports, by a whopping Rs 8000 crore spent on sustaining half a million troops for ten months in eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with the Pakistanis.
In contrast, Vajpayee’s ‘hand of friendship’ grabbed rich diplomatic dividends. Meeting on the sidelines of the SAARC summit in Islamabad in January 2004, he could extract from Pervez Musharraf a commitment to prevent the use of territories under Pakistan’s control for terrorism directed at India.
The wheel has since come a full circle with Modi agreeing on the sidelines of the SCO meet to visit Pakistan for the 2016 SAARC summit. But much would depend on the outcome in the interregnum, of engagements delineated in the joint statement.
Leaving aside the easier said than accomplished intent to expedite the Mumbai attack trial in Pakistan, the centre-piece of the fresh Indo-Pak resolve are the talks on terrorism between the two national security advisors and the proposed meetings between Directors General of Military Operations (DGMOs) and chiefs of the BSF and Pakistan rangers.
The second set of meetings are aimed at keeping the borders tranquil as a necessary pre-requisite for building a climate conducive for talks on “other outstanding” issues. But before his officials set up substantive negotiating tables with Islamabad, the PM himself would need to do some talking with the Opposition and his own party colleagues to explain the policy shift. To make reason work with right-wing hotheads would be for him a task as difficult as talking to Pakistan.