Modi Tried to Solve Pak Alone. And Made a Mess.

As Ufa turns to Uf-fo, kya musibat hai, the perils of personalized diplomacy come into perspective. Modi is driven by a relentless need to be at the centre of the universe. As the sycophantic title of a recently released book calls it, Modi lives in "Modi's World". In that world, he is the sole conceiver, the sole executor and the sole beneficiary. And so, without any prior preparation, he leaps into summitry, leaving desolation in his wake.

What has happened post-Ufa is the consequence of thinking he can do with no institutional back-up. Summits have to be carefully prepared. Diplomats are the sherpas of summitry. It is they who get together in advance, perhaps several times, to hammer out the framework and fill in the details of what is to be agreed, carefully examining each side's preoccupations and priorities and slowly working out the words and formulations which leave both sides satisfied. They are also careful to leave one or two points undecided, so that their respective chiefs can have the satisfaction of dotting the i's and crossing the t's to claim that it is they who concluded the agreement. But if Prime Ministers forget that they are mere Heads of Government and not anonymous undersecretaries, the result is that their efforts go up in smoke before the ink of their signatures is dry on the issues that have been papered over. Every Queen Bee requires hard-working drones (and I am talking of the apiary, not spy-planes!)

Contrast the fiasco of what has happened between India and Pakistan over the past week with the extraordinary success of the US-Iran nuclear deal concluded in the same week. Neither Barack Obama nor Ayatollah Khomeini was in Vienna. It was their Foreign Ministers who hammered out the complex deal; the political leadership remained at home to handle the domestic political fallout. In stark contrast, at Ufa, Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi danced a duet and came home to find the house of cards collapsing around their ears (in Modi's case, even before he, at long last, came home!) In an insightful comment on the US-Iran nuclear deal, Ambassador Chinmaya Gharekhan, the former Prime Minister's special envoy to West Asia, remarked in an article in The Indian Express that "successful diplomacy requires patience, perseverance, clear goals and the political will to offer compromises". Those are words that should be inscribed at the entrance to 7, Race Course Road and over the lintel of the door into the Prime Minister's South Block office. For, if there is any way of succinctly defining "Modi's World" it is by pointing to the total absence of "patience", the glaring lack of "perseverance", the utter failure to spell out "clear goals" and the sheer thoughtlessness with which "political compromises" are suddenly withdrawn and suddenly offered - witness the sudden cancellation of the Foreign Secretaries' talks in August last year and the equally sudden Ufa communique this year.

Relations between the US and Iran are far more fraught than India-Pakistan relations have ever been. Yet, Obama had a clear-headed understanding of his political goals: no getting dragged like Bush (and Carter before him) into a messy and unwinnable war with Iran; at the same time, enforceable guarantees that Iran would not without warning emerge as a nuclear weapon power. The Iranian leadership similarly were clear-headed that they would want to push on with their peaceful nuclear programme without giving up the option to go nuclear at some unspecified date in the future, if required, but immediately needing to get out of the stranglehold of US sanctions. The negotiations were tortured and time-consuming, but the most important lesson for Modi and Sharif to learn is that the negotiations, once embarked upon in earnest, were "uninterrupted and uninterruptible". Deadlines were set and deadlines were overtaken, but, in the final phase, for two relentless months in Vienna, the US Secretary of State and his high-powered team of technical and diplomatic advisers, and a similarly composed Iranian team, painstakingly went over every tiny detail until they could persuade their political masters at home that they had arrived at that fine point beyond which each side stood to lose what it had gained by getting to that fine point. (Mathematicians describe this as the point at which dY/dX equals zero!) 

What is remarkable is that the agreement stands whatever the Ayatollah might think of the "Great Satan" and Obama has warned his Congress (Parliament) of the Presidential veto if they threaten to overthrow the agreement so painstakingly arrived at. That is called "political will". The world can, after years, breathe with relief. At the same time, the US and Iran find themselves together in an unlikely, undeclared alliance to separately face a common enemy in ISIS. The world has been transformed as at no time since the fall of the Berlin Wall. And all because of their exemplary adherence to the Gharekhan formula of "patience, perseverance, clear goals and the political will to effect compromises". Bravo!

In contrast, Modi and Sharif do not even know what are the "outstanding issues" between them since they dare not spell them out. They have narrowly concentrated on "terrorism" without realizing that back in 1997 it had been agreed that instead of each side respectively prioritizing "Kashmir" and "terrorism" to the exclusion of everything else, both subjects would be on the table with neither taking precedence over the other. Both PMs seem to have no understanding of the past when Pakistan had a one-point agenda, Kashmir, and it was India that insisted on all matters being discussed together. India also persuaded Pakistan to accept that whatever is agreed upon be implemented without waiting for everything to be sorted out. And Pakistan, abandoning decades of focusing exclusively on the one issue of Kashmir, agreed to take all issues together and simultaneously. Now, we are back to a uni-focus on one subject. Unsurprisingly, Pakistan, as exemplified by Sartaj Aziz, is back to being uni-focal on Kashmir while we bleat on about terrorism. What a mess. Ufa has undone in one miserable blow, success scored after decades of patient behind-the-scenes diplomatic engagement.

Moreover, two great gains of the Manmohan era have been squandered. One, the under-wraps back-channel which Ambassador Tariq Aziz of Pakistan and Ambassador Satinder Lambah of India used with such telling effect as to even bring us to the brink of agreement on Kashmir with both sides agreed that neither would territory be exchanged nor people. And, second, the blurring of clear lines of demarcation that National Security Advisers deal with - you're right, "national security" - while diplomats deal with "diplomacy". The Foreign Secretary and the entire chain of Foreign Office command has been subordinated to a National Security Adviser, who, whatever his personal qualities, has never been in diplomacy (unless the distinction between spookery and diplomacy is also to be blurred). Foreign policy cannot and should not be handed over to the Indian Police Service. That would be to make a khansama out of a bawarchi

It is time Modi got back to tending the domestic hearth and left it to the Minister of External Affairs to do more with diplomacy than getting cosy cronies off the hook in distant foreign lands.

(Mani Shankar Aiyar is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha.)

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