Back to square one

Back to square one

Rajeev Sharma
India and Pakistan have in the past few days virtually written the epitaph of their bilateral relationship, which is now as good as dead and buried. It is unfortunate but it is true, if one watches carefully the recent extremely negative vibes from the two South Asian neighbors.
The two nuclear-armed neighbors have been exchanging vitriolic statements of the extreme kind. It doesn’t matter who started this Cold War because when an accident happens both parties involved are equally responsible.
What matters is the sorry fact that both the parties who are responsible for this avoidable accident in diplomatic terms have refused to look beyond their nose and have allowed themselves to be the prisoner of the past as they have been for last nearly seven decades.
The latest flashpoint in India-Pakistan was triggered on July 8 when Burhan Wani, commander of the biggest terror outfit in Jammu and Kashmir, the Hizbul Mujahideen, was killed in an encounter with the Indian security forces in south Kashmir. Since then the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir has been on the boil and the situation hasn’t improved even after some 60 deaths and injuries to over 5,000 people.
After a high-decibel war of words from Pakistani state actors, including the fire-spewing Pakistani High Commissioner to India Abdul Basit and angry counters from India, it was none other than Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi who twisted the knife into the Pakistani side in his Independence Day speech from the ramparts of the capital’s Red Fort when he talked about Balochistan.
It was the first time ever when an Indian prime minister mentioned Balochistan in his or her Independence Day speech from the Red Fort. This is what Modi said on Monday: “From the ramparts of the Red Fort, I want to express my gratitude to some people — the people of Balochistan, Gilgit and Pak-occupied Kashmir (PoK) — for the way they whole- heartedly thanked me, the way they expressed gratitude to me, the way they conveyed their goodwill to me recently.” Pakistan’s reaction was expectedly fast and furious and Sartaz Aziz, Pakistan prime minister’s adviser on foreign affairs, remarked that Modi’s comments on Balochistan and Pakistan-administered Kashmir were only an attempt to divert the global attention from the “grim tragedy” of Kashmir.
Modi’s remarks on Balochistan during his Independence Day speech mark a tectonic shift in India’s Pakistan policy. It is indicative of hardening of his government’s stand on Pakistan in an extreme manner.
Effectively, what Modi is conveying to Pakistan is this: “If you continue to harp on Kashmir, we will rake up the Balochistan issue.” This means that to counter the Pakistani barbs on Kashmir, India has now opened another diplomatic war front in Balochistan.
In other words, Modi has categorically told Pakistan from the ramparts of the Red Fort that India too will expose skeletons in Pakistan’s cupboard if Islamabad were to continue with its diplomatic offensive on Kashmir. As a result both sides have now taken maximalist positions. This is hardly a conducive situation for constructive diplomacy and leaves zilch for the two country’s diplomats to work with.
The chances are that this war of words between the two estranged South Asian neighbors is going to exacerbate further next month when the 71st session of United Nations General Assembly begins in New York.
It is obviously not a happy situation when two nuclear-armed sworn enemies foreclose all diplomatic routes by taking maximalist positions. The international community has reasons to be alarmed over the worsening political situation in the Indian subcontinent. The international community has to step in. But how? That’s a big question and no ready answers are forthcoming.
Both India and Pakistan are caught in their own respective political straitjackets. The Modi government is in the cusp of mid term and the inevitable political compulsions thereof, particularly when it has to brace itself for the most crucial upcoming assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh.
The Nawaz Sharif government too has its own political constraints as it is inching closer to general elections in 2018. No government in India or Pakistan has thus far won or lost an election solely for reasons of its policy with its arch-rival neighbor. Nor is it likely to happen. Elections in India and Pakistan are lost or won mainly because of the domestic situations.
And yet the political tribe from both the countries has tried to put its best forward when it comes to their policy toward their perceived enemy number one while approaching their respective general elections.
India and Pakistan have lived for past seven decades with mutual distrust and animosity.
No one in the world but they themselves can change this mindset. But the least that can be done by the two South Asian neighbors is that they must not allow their perceived rivalries and animosities to completely derail the talks process.
What India and Pakistan have been doing in past few weeks is precisely this. This madness must stop. But who will bell the cat?
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view