A G Noorani
There was something pathetically unreal in the sustained press speculation about a resumption of talks between India and Pakistan after the Indian elections. Even a cursory study of the record of the Modi government’s policy on the talks would have injected some realism in the minds of the hopefuls.
It is, of course, very true that India and Pakistan had established a tradition in the past of offering congratulations after their respective general elections, coupled with an offer of talks which the other side gladly accepted. Neither country wanted a stand-off or confrontation. However, it should have been obvious by 2016, if not earlier, that Narendra Modi was out to break tradition in domestic as well as foreign policies.
Foreign secretary talks were cancelled in 2014 on the pretext that Pakistan’s high commissioner had invited a Hurriyat leader for talks. This was but par for the course.
But one must ask, given the Modi government’s basic approach towards Pakistan and Kashmir, what talks will achieve?
India has systematically undermined Saarc and vigorously promoted Bimstec though it is not a member; but, then, neither is Pakistan. This is part of India’s proclaimed policy of “isolating” Pakistan. It surely cannot parley with Pakistan while urging the world to keep it out at bay. The policy is certain to fail.
Pakistan has won new friends like Russia. It has a standing in the Middle East, Europe and elsewhere. Donald Trump notwithstanding, the US needs it badly if it is to stage a dignified retreat from Afghanistan. India’s massive efforts in Afghanistan will not alter the facts of geography, history and the compulsions of politics. And there is the rising superpower China, whom India courts.
If the policy of isolation is doomed to failure, expectation of a dialogue is unreal. What will India and Pakistan talk about? There is no common ground on the core issue of Kashmir. It was finally established in 2005-2007 by Musharraf and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the realistic and innovative four-point formula — but wrecked by a rabble of vicious, small minds. In Kashmir, Geelani led a vicious bunch, but one that did not point out any defects or suggest improvements.
It was the same story in Pakistan sung by critics of Musharraf’s domestic policies and by the BJP in India. At a great moment, small minds operated viciously to destroy a historic achievement. Imagine the scene in South Asia today if it had succeeded.
However, Kashmir is not the sole issue between the two countries. There are the joint statements of 1987 and 2001 which list them. Alas, there is no prospect of a dialogue on these either, although common ground was achieved on Sir Creek, Wullar barrage and Siachen. Other matters are also very susceptible to settlement. That is what Modi and his advisers do not want. “All or nothing” is their policy. Their demands are: Pakistan must wash its hands of Kashmir and those fighting there must surrender. On this diplomatic graveyard India will build peace — settling these issues with Pakistan and imposing on Kashmir a constitutional order which accomplishes the BJP’s goal of erasure of Article 370 and ensures Kashmiri’s “integration” with India — the peace of the graveyard.