India's move to cancel planned foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan indicates two shifts in its Pakistan and Kashmir policy. If earlier, India believed there were differences between civilians and the military intelligence combine in Pakistan and that its key aim ought to be strengthening the civilian government, Narendra Modi has shown he is not interested in internal political equations in Pakistan and will treat it as one entity as a state. And with Srinagar, if earlier India was willing to engage with Hurriyat in various forms, Modi's government has sought to delegitimise it as a stakeholder.
When asked about the logic of the decision, BJP spokesperson and author of books on both Pakistan and Kashmir, M J Akbar said, "It shows Modi is ready to shake hands with anyone but won't permit the other hand to carry a dagger … The deep state in Pakistan can't find the psychological space to come to terms with India."
But Sherry Rehman, former Pakistani ambassador to US and a key participant of India-Pakistan Track 2 initiatives, believes Modi's move will strengthen precisely these hardliners. The logic of Manmohan Singh's policy – which Congress itself seems to have disowned given their recent aggression -- was multiple power centres operated in Pakistan, and it was in India's interest to strengthen the civilian government against the military-intelligence establishment. Rehman says, "This is an unfortunate turn of events…It will shrink the peace lobbies within Pakistan."
But Akbar scoffed at these distinctions, saying all elements converged when push came to shove. "All differences seem to merge into a policy of sweet talk surrounded by artillery hostility … The Manmohan Singh logic has been exposed and shown to be meaningless."
Commodore (retd) C Uday Bhaskar of the Society for Policy Studies agreed there was a fundamental change. "Modi has rearranged the Pakistan approach. We are going back to the objective – closure of Mumbai, no LoC provocation – rather than focusing on the process. Whether it has the intended effect is to be seen."
But there is another implication of the decision – of Delhi 'quarantining' the Hurriyat, as Bhaskar puts it. "This move has put Hurriyat on notice and pulled the plug on them. Earlier, they were a visible presence, and were seen as a voice which had limited support but could not be ignored."
Both NDA-1 and later the UPA had sporadic engagements with the Hurriyat, sometimes overtly and often covertly. Akbar says, "You watched the shadow play for 10 years. But it did not help. Delhi's engagement has to be with Kashmiri people, not secessionists."
And it is this that concerns Rehman. "The cancellation spells for the first time a key change in New Delhi's policy in seeking a diplomatic solution to Kashmir, which was embedded in the composite dialogue." Bhaskar too believes that pretending Kashmir is not an issue at all is not tenable for globally, it is seen as a 'bilateral dispute'.
Rehman argues that such meetings with Hurriyat are 'routine' and in line with Pakistan's position on the UN resolution. "I doubt that Islamabad will accept this open denigration of Pakistan's principled position on Kashmir at the UN as the 'new normal'." She suggests Pakistan's engagement with the Kashmiri leadership could have fed into inputs for a constructive, inclusive, bilateral discussion on Kashmir between India and Pakistan. And now maximalist positions will return.