Waging peace is way more difficult than waging war in these times of conflict. That explains the Narendra Modi regime’s safer, short-term option of calling off talks with Pakistan.
One views it as a stop-gap stance for coercive diplomacy has a limited shelf life. It cannot sustain with the new-look New Delhi’s broader objective of tranquil borders to take forward its economic agenda.
Celebratory endorsements of the decision to abandon the slated dialogue between foreign secretaries are misleading. Diplomacy has use for even zero sum engagements. They are kept alive to time their curtailment for venting national outrage against extreme provocation.
We took that route after Mumbai’s 26/11 to avoid the collateral damage that accrues from full or limited scale (read Kargil) military hostilities. The Congress-led UPA that was then in power faced ridicule for the restraint it showed; the BJP termed it as ‘soft response’ to a brazen act of terror.
The flip side of it was that not a single shot was fired by troops the NDA massed on the Indo-Pak border post the 2001 attack on Parliament. The question to be countenanced now is whether we’d wage a war or go in hot pursuit in the event of a major terror strike from across the border? God forbid that scenario in our ‘nuclear’ sub-continent!
Introspectively speaking, New Delhi would’ve seemed reasonable had it expressed disappointment over the Pakistani envoy hobnobbing with Hurriyat leaders — besides alluding to Nawaz Sharif problems at home — to defer the FS level engagement till propitious time. That would have kept ajar the doors to a future dialogue.
Making the envoy’s invite to the Hurriyat as the prime reason for discarding talks seemed a trifle churlish. Grudgingly though, such meetings were allowed in the past including the 1998-2004 Vajpayee period.
The fact is that Sharif didn’t meet the Hurriyat leaders when he came for Modi’s inaugural in May. He deflected the flak he faced at home with the argument that his visit was ceremonial; that the Hurriyat’s views would be taken before initiating formal talks.
The hiatus that actually truncated the peace script can be explained in terms of Sharif’s domestic dilemma and the BJP’s poll-time investment in anti-Pakistan rhetoric — the electoral utility of which isn’t over. The gap could have been narrowed through back channels. But it apparently wasn’t, making it difficult for either side to deviate from their stated positions.
What now? India has to be cautious while negotiating the perilous trek ahead. Pakistan often uses the “inefficacy” of bilateralism — that constitutes the plinth of the 1999 Lahore Declaration and the 1972 Shimla Pact — to harp on UN resolutions on Kashmir or lobby internationally for third party intervention. Neither course is acceptable to India.
Simultaneously, the domestic public discourse on Kashmir has to be saner. That alone will afford the Modi regime the room to manoeuvre on the issue that — regardless of the 1994 parliamentary resolution calling it an integral part of India —remains on the table under the Lahore-Shimla pacts.
A mere mention of it by the Pakistani leadership cannot be interpreted as an expression of hostility. What’s needed is tact by either side — not tantrums.
Read: Suspension of Indo-Pak talks have repercussions for Kashmir