Modi and the Kashmir Question
The practice of foreign policy – that does not presuppose ‘war is merely a continuation of politics by other means – presumes an interlocution between ‘rational actors.’ This is where strategic affairs have introduced a concept that can be simplistically called the ‘Mad Man’ theory. This theory seeks to explain, what if one of the actors in practicing foreign policy behaves ‘irrationally.’ Prime Minister Narendra Modi created an example of that in his decision to withdraw Sujatha Singh, the foreign secretary from the dialogue at her level with Islamabad.
The foreign office had earlier given the High Commissioner of Pakistan, Abdul Basit, a 15- minute notice effectively to withdraw from the meeting he had scheduled with leaders of All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) of Kashmir. This build-up and the Modi’s eventual decision fall in the realm of ‘Mad Man’ theory. What does this entail?
Over the past couple of decades, New Delhi had, sort of, come to live with the phenomenon of Pakistan HC comporting with APHC leaders occasionally just to keep alive its stake in the Kashmir issue.
But Modi had blazed a trail by inviting all the heads of governments of the South Asian countries to his swearing-in ceremony only in May. Pakistan’s PM, Nawaz Sharif, had graciously acquiesced to it, giving an impression that Islamabad wanted a diplomatic initiative from Hew Delhi in the process of normalization of relations.
Yet, the way Modi acted only two months later, showed that he also wishes to send to Pakistan that there cannot be ‘business as usual.’ He gave the impression that he was capable of acting in an ‘irrational manner’ and escalate a situation in the service of his notion of ‘national interest.’ The question was: what more is needed to bolster this impression to add credibility to this notion.
Before that one needs to understand that the real target of Modi’s message may not have been just the political class of Pakistan, but the country’s foreign office bureaucracy-military cabal that really wields a ‘veto’ over Islamabad’s ‘India policy.’ The culmination of this strategy by India will be to restrict Pakistan from any adventurism against the country in the immediate future.
Still, if this is the strategy that Modi government adopts against the western neighbour, it needs to take a few other steps in Kashmir along with Pakistan. The top priority for the Modi government at the Centre and the Omar Abdullah government in Srinagar is to hold a state legislative election in Jammu and Kashmir.
A very important step towards holding a safe, secure, free and fair poll is to have the army in the barracks and billets. Its physical presence that is obtrusive could act as a deterrent for the people to come out of their dwellings and vote freely. Though the army could provide fool-proof security against any attempt to terrorise the voters and safety of their democratic franchise, their presence also the make fear factor too prominent.
On the contrary, if the polling process is conducted through the state police and some of the central paramilitary forces, this element of imminent danger is taken out of the equation. The political process has to be equally transparent in terms of coalitions built around a genuine desire to give people a fair choice. The freedom of the people to exercise their democratic rights will go a long way in regaining the faith of the Kashmiris for the mainland’s ability to administer impartially.
An attempt should be made to keep the APHC neutral if not directly taking part in the electoral process. They should not be allowed to be a spoiler when the election is undertaken. Similarly, in the government’s reporting of popular participation should be devoid of falsehoods about the actual turn-out in the polls in an attempt at creating a notion amongst the outsiders that there was overall ‘enthusiasm’ in the polling process.
Modi government will also need to send an unmistakable message to Islamabad that they should rein in their agents in Kashmir to not let them intervene in the political and security process leading up to the poll. The corollary to these interventionist strategies is to be clearly identified for the sake of the army and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).
Of course, the Modi government will have to continue the overt diplomatic initiatives leading up to summit at the level of the prime ministers of the two countries. This would be to counteract the excessive impact of the ‘Mad Man’ mythology, making it clear to the interlocutors across the border that Modi could be amenable to reason too.
The author is a senior jounalist