The art of diplomacy necessitates that no country digs itself into a hole that is difficult to wriggle out of. The Narendra Modi government finds itself in precisely such a hole in its dealings with Pakistan. In the 15 months that it has been in power, the government has taken extreme positions and sent contradictory messages. The fact that confusion marks its policy – if it can be called policy – is evident from the manner in which separatists were arrested on Thursday and released within a span of two hours.
Modi invited a galaxy of leaders including SAARC heads of state and government to his swearing-in last year; his olive branch to Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in particular, drew praise. Sharif, for his part, walked the extra mile by attending the event over the protests of sections of his army. But within two months of a one-on-one with his Pakistani counterpart, Modi drew a new red line by calling off foreign secretary-level talks because the Pakistan high commissioner to India had held meetings with separatists.
Three days before the national security advisors of India and Pakistan are to sit down for talks on terrorism, the government finds itself hostage to that red line because the Pakistani envoy has extended an invite to Hurriyat Conference leaders for a reception he is hosting for his NSA, Sartaj Aziz. Through a series of kneejerk reactions – first arresting and then releasing the separatists in Srinagar – the government has once again sent out a message that smacks of utter confusion.
Many questions arise: why is the Centre opposed to a meeting between the separatists and Aziz when it did not have a problem with the same separatists being present for a reception to mark Pakistan’s National Day in March. Then, Modi had sent General VK Singh, a minister and former army chief, for the reception as the government representative. Why this aversion to separatists meeting Pakistanis when the PDP, its own ally in Jammu and Kashmir favours a dialogue?
A few weeks before PDP leader Mufti Mohammed Sayeed formalised the power sharing agreement with the BJP, he told HT in an interview in Mumbai that Modi had no option but to go the ‘Vajpayee way’.
Elaborating on that he said: “Vajpayee came to the Valley and was embraced for his approach, when he said he will do whatever is possible within the realm of insaaniyat (humanity). (Narendra) Modi too has said he will follow Vajpayee’s principle. It is also Modi’s duty to connect Jammu and Kashmir with the rest of the country. You think they can keep the state under force? Hearts and minds have to be won. He is now the Prime Minister of the country. He must talk to Pakistan and to the Hurriyat. Didn't Advani hold talks with them as the home minister?”
Not only did the Vajpayee government allow separatists to travel to Pakistan, he even had a meeting with them in his office (the photograph is now a jacket of former RAW chief, AS Dulat’s book).
Far from shunning the Hurriyat leaders, Vajpayee even sent then home secretary Kamal Pandey for talks with the Hizbul Mujahideen.
Modi government’s actions, however, are quite the opposite of what Vajpayee did. Forget about negotiating with terrorists, Modi’s red line has taken centrestage and is overshadowing the main agenda of the NSA dialogue at a time when the government has a strong case to make.
India has enough concrete evidence – gathered from the last two terror attacks in Gurdaspur and Udhampur – to make out a strong case against Pakistan for allowing its soil to be used to export terror into its borders. It should have stayed focused on the prime agenda of the NSA-level dialogue instead of being drawn into a game of brinkmanship that will only accord the separatists more legitimacy than they currently have among the people of Jammu and Kashmir. An attempt at bullying them against travelling to Delhi to have tea with Aziz will only further alienate the common Kashmiri. Young, educated and wealthy boys joining the ranks of the militants is what should be worrying the Centre.
By focusing on the separatists, India has only allowed Pakistan to succeed in its game of flagging Kashmir as an important issue that bedevils the two countries. In doing so, the government has shown that it is neither tactically smart, nor strategically wise.