At a time when both Islamabad and New Delhi have allowed tensions to escalate alarmingly fast over the Kashmir unrest, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh went to Islamabad on Tuesday to attend a meeting of Home Ministers from the South Asian Association on Regional Cooperation. However, the Centre has sought to downplay the visit and insisted that there will be no exclusive meeting between Singh and his Pakistani counterpart.
In an address to reporters in the national capital, Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju said: “The SAARC meeting is a multilateral meeting. There are some commitments. He is not going to give some message or have a separate meeting with (the) Pakistani Home Minister.” To further drive home the point, it has been understood that National Security Advisor Ajit Doval will not be part of the Home Minister’s contingent. However, according to recent reports, this was not the original plan. The intention was to include a bilateral exchange between both nations, where New Delhi would nudge Islamabad towards allowing a reciprocal Indian team to visit Pakistan and investigate the Pathankot attacks. Suffice to say, domestic politics, including the recent mass unrest in Kashmir, have come into the equation.
The Modi government obviously fears that any faux pas on this front could leave it vulnerable to accusations from the opposition of mishandling the situation and looking weak in front of Pakistan. Despite the caution asserted by New Delhi, it is fairly evident that opposition parties will continue to attack the government for the visit. Despite the Modi government’s inconsistencies in dealing with Pakistan, its decision to send Singh seems reasonable in the larger scheme of things. The official response has been that since India is the largest player in SAARC, any attempt to withdraw Singh from the meeting of Home Ministers would be seen as an abdication of India’s regional responsibilities. Unofficially, however, it presents Singh with the chance to discern the mood in Islamabad and prepare the ground ahead of the more significant SAARC meet later this year in Islamabad, to which Prime Minister Narendra Modi has received an invitation.