PM Modi must verify Obama’s Iran model in dialogues with Pakistan
One was pleasantly surprised to watch the BJP appreciate Nawaz Sharif’s ‘domestic compulsions’ while seeking to play down Islamabad’s reaffirmation of its stated national position — on Kashmir and the 26/11 trial — within days of the Ufa pact to resume talks with New Delhi.india Updated: Jul 16, 2015 01:21 IST
One was pleasantly surprised to watch the BJP appreciate Nawaz Sharif’s ‘domestic compulsions’ while seeking to play down Islamabad’s reaffirmation of its stated national position -- on Kashmir and the 26/11 trial -- within days of the Ufa pact to resume talks with New Delhi.
The compliment here is intended. For the only way to sustain talks in our complex bilateral equations is to afford each other some elbowroom; a reasonable time frame to abandon old formulations (as had happened during back channels with Musharraf’s points person) to attempt and showcase nuanced diplomatic shifts to domestic audience for long fed on tit-for-tat rhetoric.
That the saffron softening up happened too fast and was carried out by the very same spokesmen who had declared victory after the Ufa statement, seemed odd, even comical. For just the other day, the BJP had gone to town claiming that the agreement put 26/11 back on the table.
The problem with such assertions was that the negotiating table hadn’t been there since 2008. So at Ufa, the two sides agreed essentially to position the dialogue table — and with it the issues delineated in the statement that emerged from Narendra Modi’s meeting with Sharif.
New Delhi’s new approach is driven apparently by the need to contain attrition that has historically vitiated the climate for a meaningful bilateral engagement. It’s in that limited sense a leaf out of the Gujral’s doctrine — named after former Premier Inder Gujral and rubbished and ridiculed by its current practitioners in his lifetime.
It would be wrong to suggest the Modi regime endorses in any manner the doctrine’s founding premise — that India be prepared to “give more and accept less in return” in recognition of the divergence in size and resources between us and our South Asian neighbours.
The policy convergence is in Gujral’s exhortations in pursuit of his doctrine that Islamabad and New Delhi must only take note of statements from each other’s prime ministers and foreign offices.
The wise approach was as relevant then as it is now! One isn’t sure whether Sharif can control hotheads back home; justify as they do the violence targeted at India by linking it to the ‘ideology of Pakistan quite central to which is Kashmir’.
Modi is relatively better positioned to rein in rabble rousers in the Hindutva ranks whose capacity to wreck peace is no less. His reported directive to party officials to exercise restraint is the necessary first step on the road to dialogue. For until Ufa happened, Modi’s own remarks on Pak-promoted terror during his Bangladesh visit had come in for rebuke in the Pakistani Senate.
In Islamabad, the PM’s comments found two interpretations: showing him as insensitive, unlike AB Vajpayee who visited Minar-e-Pakistan, to wounds bequeathed by history; and a continuation of muscle flexing by his ministers before and after the Myanmar raid on anti-India insurgents.
All that has to be lived down, or left behind, to take up talks. The road ahead could be difficult, if not impossible to negotiate.
The legacy inherited from Vajpayee and Gujral could in some ways show the way. For his part, the PM would need to stay the course the way President Obama did to break ice with Iran and Cuba.
Modi needn’t build (talks) on trust with Pakistan. He can borrow his friend Barak’s verification-based approach to issues entailing distrust.