It was a myth that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was eager for a deep engagement with Pakistan. He wanted a relationship, but ones marked by clear red lines and with minimal leeway for Islamabad.
Pakistani high commissioner Abdul Basit crossed one of those lines when he invited the All Parties Hurriyat Conference to meet — despite a clear warning from New Delhi that it would end the foreign secretary level meeting.
Many misunderstand Modi’s invitation to Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif to his inauguration. It wasn’t a peace move.
Modi berated Sharif in their one on one on Pakistan’s support for terrorism. He knew full well that a Lashkar-e-Taiba team that attacked the Indian consulate in Herat just days before had wanted a hostage crisis that would have made a mess of his oath taking.
Islamabad was given warning. Talks, but with conditions and fine print attached. In this, say Indian officials, Modi is closer to the standoffish Pakistan policy of PV Narasimha Rao than the magnanimous stances of Atal Behari Vaypayee or Manmohan Singh.
Basit’s decision to call the Hurriyat, despite Sharif having eschewed such a meeting when he had come, also reflected the lack of enthusiasm in Islamabad for talks.
A besieged Sharif and a Pakistani army caught in a fight with the Taliban would be happy to be able to say they stood up to Indian perfidy.
In the past India gave Pakistan free pass on such provocations to preserve a peace process.
“There is no peace process worth its name,” says former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal. “Foreign secretary level talks can be resumed any time.”
In truth, it is not clear who in Pakistan would Modi be able to hold substantial talks with.
What the Indian Prime Minister is more interested in is holding successful Kashmir elections. In the past, meetings between Pakistani envoys and Hurriyat leaders have been followed by spikes in protests and unrest in the valley.
A Modi campaign advisor says, “the last two prime ministers held successful Kashmir elections. It is important to Modi that he does so as well.”
With both countries turning inwards, the talks were hanging by a thread. And the Hurriyat was enough to snap the rope.