Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has — with Kashmir audiences in mind ahead of state elections — declared that he will start a dialogue with India only after consulting Kashmiri leaders.
Mr Sharif went on to ask United States President Barack Obama to raise Kashmir with Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he visits New Delhi in January.
Reiterating the relevance of Kashmiri separatists and inviting international interest in Kashmir are red flags for India and hence it was no surprise that both Union home minister Rajnath Singh and national security adviser Ajit Doval spoke candidly about Pakistan at the recently concluded Hindustan Times Leadership Summit.
Mr Singh pointed to delays in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks trials and Pakistan offering refuge for criminals like Dawood Ibrahim. He reiterated that India will not put up a white flag and seek a meeting with Pakistani troops while firing continues. Mr Doval offered a striking and perceptive overview of the international environment that India found itself in and regretted that the ISI continued to believe in asymmetrical warfare to “bleed India”.
Islamabad should note that even as Mr Singh and Mr Doval’s comments were pointedly sharp they were not as belligerent as they could have been. Mr Singh, in fact, refused to commit to a ‘hot pursuit’ policy targeting Ibrahim, while the NSA barely dwelt on Pakistan while discussing India’s strategic challenges. Mr Doval’s tour d’horizon — featuring the effects of globalisation on security, the role of international institutions, India’s effort to make the international system work for its interests — should again prompt Pakistan to reflect on its own strategic goals.
There were other salutary messages from the minister and the NSA. Mr Singh offered “complete assurance” to Muslims and other minorities that there will be no discrimination under this government as they were all a part of “our family”. Mr Doval pointed out that less than 10 youth had joined ISIS from India owing to strong opposition from their families and the clergy. He also spoke of the link between a robust democracy and internal stability. It’s good to see such analysis guide both internal and external policy.
Over the last six months of the Modi government, there has hardly been a dull moment on the foreign policy front. Much of the agenda has been marked by change and forward movement — such as in relations with the US, Australia, Nepal and Japan. Pakistan, regrettably, is one exception to this constructive trend. Cross-border firing and unhelpful rhetoric have vitiated the atmosphere further. It is difficult to foresee how an early rapprochement can be crafted.