Modi’s flawed Pakistan policy
The Narendra Modi government’s Pakistan policy is like sand dunes, today a mountain, tomorrow a flat space. Like sand dunes’ existence is predicated on the solo external factor of wind, the Modi government’s Pakistan policy too is influenced by external events and these external causes are perennially terror attacks in India.
The current see-saw being witnessed in India-Pakistan bilateral relations where the two South Asian nuclear rivals are living in a war-like scenario is not so much because of Pakistan but because of Modi government’s naïve diplomacy wherein calibrated diplomacy has given way to event management.
How does one explain the extreme swings of the pendulum that characterize Modi government’s Pakistan policy? Way back in May 2014 when Modi had invited his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif to attend his swearing-in ceremony on May 26, 2014 and thereafter engaged with Pakistan in a saree-shawl diplomacy, did Modi not know that his out-of-the-box strategy of dealing with Pakistan will come to a naught because of external factors?
Was Modi unaware of the past baggage of history that whenever the top political leadership of the two countries try to smoke the peace pipe, non-state actors in Pakistan do their best to derail the process by mounting a high profile terror attack in India, with or without connivance from mischievous elements among the state actors? Was he ignorant or simply being naïve?
Then the Modi government launched yet another out-of-the-box diplomatic initiative — the unprecedented policy of trying to mend the relations through the national security advisers. Leading Indian media outfits then sang paens of Modi’s “master move” as this was an indirect way for reaching out to the powerful Pakistan Army. Soon enough, on Oct. 23, 2015 the Pakistan government changed its NSA and brought in Gen. Nasser Khan Janjua from the Inter Services Selection Branch in place of Sartaj Aziz from the Central Superior Services. The Modi government failed to read the situation correctly even though Gen. Janjua and his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval interacted many times but without a tangible breakthrough.
Then Modi did something that no other Indian prime minister had ever done before him. He diverted his special plane from Kabul to Lahore on the Christmas Day last year to personally wish Nawaz Sharif on his birthday.
It’s an open secret that Modi takes all major policy decisions in all fields, including foreign policy, all by himself, irrespective of the fact whether the Cabinet minister of the ministry concerned is taken on board or not. That’s why his detractors often accuse Modi of running a presidential style of government.
Modi’s Lahore trip too was a classic example of his acting solo as none of his cabinet colleagues and even his high profile NSA Ajit Doval who was with him in Kabul knew about his impromptu decision to visit Lahore. Yet again, most leading Indian media outfits showered accolades on Modi for his “visionary” approach.
Obviously, it never occurred to Modi that his predecessor Manmohan Singh who was born in Pakistan and was the prime minister of India for full ten years never visited Pakistan even once during his entire tenure. Singh had been chastened by the November 2008 serial terror attacks in Mumbai, India’s very own 9/11.
Modi ought to have learned from Singh’s unassuming and yet firm style in dealing with Pakistan, which had just one mantra at its core: “Trust, but verify.” But he didn’t. And just a week after the Lahore bonhomie, the Pathankot airbase was attacked by terrorists who could be neutralized only four days after the attack.
Despite this serious provocation, Modi, as well as his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Amit Shah, continued to take a soft line toward Pakistan and even went to the extent of inviting a Pakistani team (which included officials from the Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI) to the Pathankot base for “joint probe.” This move too failed to achieve anything positive and only triggered condemnation of the Modi government from the opposition parties and the common man.
The final straw on the camel’s back proved to be the Sept. 18 terror attack on the Indian Army forward unit in Uri in Jammu and Kashmir, in which 18 soldiers were killed.
After the Uri attack, the government not only suddenly did a complete somersault of its Pakistan policy but, as has been its wont, issued series of tough warnings to Pakistan in a pro-active manner.
It held meetings after meetings at the highest levels and vowed publicly that Pakistan will have to pay for its alleged terror attacks. The worst knee jerk reaction was on Sept. 26 when Modi himself chaired a meeting to review the Indus River Water Treaty. Signed in 1960 and underwritten by the IMF and leading western powers, the Treaty has survived three full-fledged India-Pakistan wars and the limited Kargil war in 1999.As for Pakistan, it is nobody’s argument that Pakistan is an angel. Of course not! After all, there is no smoke without fire! Pakistan too needs to conduct itself more maturely and responsibly.
The writer is a Delhi-based journalist.