A chief political executive in a thriving democracy must possess — among other qualities — the knowledge and the ability to think outside the box apart from not being naïve or gullible enough to be molded by advisers at ease.
Unfortunately, Narendra Modi has given up the game of attaining statesmanship at the very outset, thanks to some ludicrous advice he is receiving on the foreign policy front. Clearly, a puzzled Modi is caught between his Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) political objectives and foreign policy advisers’ ideological moorings. The most glaring example of Modi’s bewilderment is the decision to cancel the Indo-Pakistan foreign secretary level talks abruptly. Modi may have taken the call of abandoning the path of conciliation himself but the grapevine is he has been motivated by think tanks representing an ultra right-wing organization — dabbling in political power play surreptitiously — to disown the legacy of his predecessor Manmohan Singh and even Atal Bihari Vajpayee vis-à-vis Kashmir.
And this radical decision of taking an unnecessary hard-line posture at the most inappropriate of time is clearly designed to abet volatility in the Indian-administered Kashmir so as to reap political dividend before coming winter’s assembly election. Like a true Hindutva ideologue Modi has willfully subordinated the nation’s Pakistan policy to BJP’s polarizing agenda in Kashmir for achieving “Mission 44 Seats” in the upcoming polls. Notwithstanding the fact that his highly hailed outreach to smaller neighbors in the initial days of governance had created the possibility of positively transforming South Asia through economic integration, Modi, unlike Vajpayee, lacks that stature to stand his own ground despite pulls and pressures from various quarters.
Did he not know that rejecting dialogue on a flimsy ground could have adverse consequences for India and hurt the nation’s long-term interest? Was the Indian premier oblivious of the fact that his administration and even the national security adviser knew in advance about Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit’s formal invitation to separatist Kashmiri leaders — all of whom incidentally were involved in back-channel engagement with Vajpayee previously — for consultation before the Indo-Pakistan bilateral parleys? Unfortunately, this knee-jerk reaction, aimed at boosting BJP’s political fortune in Kashmir, had diminished India’s options in the subcontinent’s strategic chess game with the mainstream pro-India political outfits being forced to side with secessionist elements on the issue of Kashmiri self-esteem and rights.
The outcome of this strategic error is manifested in Jammu and Kashmir Assembly’s harsh political resolution that chided the Indian government in no uncertain terms. Modi needs to be reminded that diplomacy is not about being a ruthless hawk, inclined to violent confrontation with vim and vigor. Intriguingly, a section of the Pakistani military and political establishment seems to be aiding BJP’s political goal, wittingly or unwittingly, that can eventually help establish the divisive Hindutva agenda in Kashmir.
Anybody, with some inside knowledge about the various facets of Indo-Pakistan hostility will agree that the sudden escalation of tension at the disputed border was deliberately designed to incite anti-Pakistan hysteria among the Indian public. But then, in a sensitive border area, like the one in Kashmir, nobody is holier-than-thou, as a senior intelligence official once confided in this writer.
It is virtually impossible to ascertain who ignites the spark first as both sides are compelled to push through low-value clandestine human-intelligence assets into each other’s territories intermittently for information gathering at all costs, added the same gentleman with years of experience in strategic security. The problem is India’s national interest has become hostage to BJP’s new communal agenda in Kashmir and there is no one to stop the saffron jingoism.
Modi’s national security adviser, in spite of being a highly rated intelligence professional, too has a tendency of dragging cultural dimension into strategic security fold, as he firmly believes that the core of national security and India’s millennia-old cultural identity are intricately intertwined. That Modi would land in a mess, trying to co-opt such abstract idea for policymaking was a foregone conclusion.
Besides, the Indian premier needs a proper briefing about the underlying reality of Indo-Pakistan ties to understand that a solution to the intractable dispute does not lie in initiating a low-cost sustainable offensive with high deniability deep inside Pakistan, at least not in the present time when there is volatility in neighboring regions that spreads right up to the western limits of the Arab world.
Instead of relishing a situation whereby Pakistan may implode from within in the near future, India must extend a hand of cooperation to arrive at a joint defense mechanism against terrorism, with both nations registering high civilian fatalities from terror acts.
Finally, the Modi government’s apparently muscular decision to put off talks may enhance BJP’s image as a hard-line nationalist force in the short run, but it has also exposed Modi’s deficiencies. Surely, preparing ground for the BJP to exploit the tense situation in Kashmir arising out of the suspension of bilateral talks is not a hallmark of an exceptional leader who intends to tidy up Kashmir’s clutter, left behind by British imperialism.
No matter what, Kashmir will continue to have a third stakeholder — the Kashmiri people, whose approval is crucial for continuation of the state’s linkages with Indian Union. Even Indira Gandhi, a signatory to the 1971 Simla Agreement never attempted to sideline the Kashmiri public opinion of all shades, which is a critical component of a judicious resolution to the Kashmir dispute.
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