This Article is From Aug 25, 2015

With Pakistan, Modi's Big Own-Goal

The last few days have revealed the utter immaturity of foreign policy under Narendra Modi. Foreign policy is not about clocking up frequent flyer miles. It is about having goals; a strategy to attain these goals; and tactical flexibility to meet unforeseen contingencies as and when these arise so that overarching goals are not lost sight of in temporary maneuvering. And the first principle of all diplomacy is PREPARATION, so that summit meetings do not flounder on account of the ground not having been adequately prepared. On every one of these counts, Ufa, and everything that followed, has been a diplomatic disaster without precedent.

Was the intention of the Ufa meeting to resume the India-Pakistan dialogue - or to sabotage it? If the former, nothing has been achieved - and much has been lost. If the latter, why did Modi (and Nawaz Sharif) succumb to the combined pressure of the Russians and the Chinese to either talk or remain on the margins of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization? What is clear is that by buckling at the knees when the Russians and the Chinese warned the Indians and the Pakistanis at Ufa that they must either shape up or ship out, both sides went into the summit without either being properly prepared. Not even the elementary courtesy of Modi going forward to meet Nawaz Sharif had been chalked out.

They awkwardly talked of this and that but not of what had necessarily to be foremost on their respective minds - Kashmir, as far as Nawaz Sharif was concerned, and the Hurriyat as far as Modi was concerned since it was Modi who had made the Hurriyat the stumbling block last August by breaking off the scheduled Foreign Secretaries' talks because the Pakistanis routinely arranged to meet the Hurriyat as they have been doing for a decade and a half - without, it might be added, doing any good to themselves or any harm to India. It was a whimsically thought-out, last-minute red line that completely emasculated the meretricious invitation extended to Sharif to attend Modi's swearing-in. Thus was the swearing-in quickly converted into a swearing-at.

Why, after all, baulk at the Pakistanis talking to the Hurriyat? The Hurriyat is an ill-assorted collection of mutually warring factions who need security principally to protect themselves from assassination by one another. They do not present a united front. They do not represent the bulk of Kashmiri public opinion. They do not have the gumption to fight elections - and when they do, through surrogates, it is not the Hurriyat stand-ins but the mainstream parties that win Kashmiri votes. The Hurriyat are little more than a nuisance that should, can and have been contained. By rendering the India-Pakistan dialogue hostage to the Hurriyat, Modi has raised the Hurriyat to the status of arbiter of the sub-continent's destiny. What a silly own-goal to score.

And the irony is that it was none other than Lal Krishna Advani, as Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, who first gave the Hurriyat its over-estimated standing in J&K. It was he who opened a dialogue with them. A sensible move that was later resumed by the UPA government, especially when the Interlocutors Team attempted to interact with them. It is, thus, we who have recognized the Hurriyat's locus standi. And we did so after Pakistan initially sought to portray them as the spokesparty of Kashmiri opinion.

Of course, the Hurriyat does represent a section of Kashmiri opinion - or rather, more accurately, a bundle of contradictory opinions. And, therefore, since Kashmir is an "atoot ang" of India, it is meet and proper that India should seek to engage with them. But if Pakistan talks to them - as it has been fruitlessly doing for 15 years - and misleads itself into thinking they represent majority opinion in the Valley, how does that make them a "third party" to the India-Pakistan dialogue as Modi's External Affairs Minister has been claiming?

In any case, if Modi remains mired in the belief that the Hurriyat issue is more important than putting India-Pakistan relations back on track, why did he not ascertain categorically from Nawaz Sharif in Ufa whether Nawaz had abandoned the Hurriyat track? Why seek dialogue at any level before first sorting out the tangled issue of Pakistani interaction with the Hurriyat? Had Nawaz remained as intractable on talking to the Hurriyat as Modi is on Pakistan not talking to the Hurriyat, was it not totally counter-productive to set up a dialogue process without sorting out the basis on which the dialogue would move forward? Should this not have been quietly resolved at Foreign Secretary level when Dr. S. Jaishankar went to Islamabad? Especially as poor Sujata Singh had been unceremoniously sacked just to make way for Modi's favourite IFS officer as her replacement?

Clearly, for Modi, the Hurriyat is more a red herring than a red line. He does not want to engage with Pakistan because his RSS background and his RSS masters detest Pakistan. Until that changes (and it won't), one can kiss goodbye to any significant improvement in relations with our most important neighbor. We are on the edge of nuclear annihilation because the Prime Minister, in pursuit of Hindutva, wants 'Hindudom' (Savarkar's own translation of the word he had coined).

The longer term damage to India-Pakistan relations is that where for the first 50 years of Independence, it was the Pakistanis who were a one-issue country, insisting that unless and until Kashmir were resolved there was no point in moving on any other matter, it is now we who have become the one-issue country. Perhaps the biggest breakthrough in India-Pakistan relations was in 1997 when, under Inder Gujral as Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary Salman Haider as the principal negotiator, there was the fundamental breakthrough at Murree that there would be a "composite dialogue" in which all issues would be tackled across the board, including terrorism and Kashmir (which, since Shimla 1972, we had agreed to talk about bilaterally). Unfortunately, the "composite dialogue" process had lurched forward on a stop-go basis for the last 18 years in the course of which Modi has apparently forgotten that it was we who had wanted to talk about everything and now it is we who want to talk of nothing but "terrorism".

That might be a worthwhile objective if it were feasible. Whether or not it was feasible should have been tested in advance instead of being slipped in through sleight of hand at the last moment. We claim the Ufa statement said the NSAs' talks would be about "all issues related to terrorism", and stress the last word. The Pakistanis, for their, part, stress the first two words "all issues" - and argue that to discuss terrorism without reference to Kashmir is to miss the bus altogether. Indeed, it is we in India who have long stressed that terrorism in Kashmir is the major issue. What terrible drafting that the two sides can literally pick two ends of the same sentence to argue past each other! That is what happens when there is not adequate PREPARATION.

Modi's foreign policy has brought his own personality centre-stage to the neglect of institutions, making all important decisions HIS decisions and all important moves HIS moves. The Foreign Office has been sidelined. Professionalism has been cast to the winds. The External Affairs Minister has been rendered a decorative irrelevancy. And in place of a team of advisers, a policeman has been dragged in as Man Friday. Is this how foreign policy should be run? By contracting it out to the Indian Police Service?

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

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