Enough of Modi’s bonhomie diplomacy

Terror attacks on vital Indian assets at the beginning 2016 – one at the air base at Pathankot and the other at the Indian consulate office in Mazer-e-Sharif in Afghanistan – have raised questions on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “innovative” diplomacy with Pakistan.

The Indian Prime Minister undertook a risky adventure when he made a surprise stop at Lahore to greet his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif on his way back from Afghanistan to India. The move was adventurous and characteristic in keeping with his style of functioning. 

Evidently, was impatient to return the courtesy visit that Nawaz Sharif paid during his swearing-in ceremony, 19 months ago. After the swearing in the Modi-Sharif bonhomie began with shawl-sari diplomacy – the former presenting a shawl for latter’s mother and the latter gifting a sari for former’s mother.

Initiating any dialogue process with Pakistan invites reactions from the Pakistan Army and the ISI that virtually call all the shots. When the former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee took a bus trip to Lahore to meet his counterpart Nawaz Sharif, the Pakistan Army could not tolerate two leaders coming closer. Sharif was usurped by a military coup after he signed Lahore Declaration with his Indian counterpart. Pakistani aggression in Kargil soon followed. Vajpayee attempted to initiate dialogue with Army Chief Pervez Musharraf who assumed power but failed. Thereafter the 10-year rule of UPA Government attempted to initiate dialogue but could not succeed. Modi took the risky adventure of visiting Pakistan, which his predecessor Manmohan Singh dared not to do.

In not learning lessons of the past, Modi failed to contain the fallout of his risky adventure. While the Afghan forces and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police neutralised the attack on the Indian consulate office in Mazer-e-Sharif, at home it took some time to neutralise the attack at Pathankot. This raises the question about ineffective border management and security. As per reports, the terrorists used the route drug smugglers usually take into India under the very nose of the security forces and the Punjab police. Suffice to say, there are conduits on the Indian side for this illegal narcotic trade. The terrorists are hand-in-glove with the narcotics trade. The Pakistan Army reportedly facilitates such mass infusion of narcotics and infiltration of terrorists. Modi should have done his homework in strengthening border management and security to prevent the Pathankot fallout. There is nothing wrong in the diplomacy of bonhomie but there should be a carrot and stick policy in place.

“There are some who did not want us to be here. There were those who saw sinister designs in our presence here. There are others who were uneasy at the strength of our Partnership,” Modi had said during his speech in Kabul. Suffice to say, these words were enough to provoke the terrorists for the Mazer-e-Sharif attack.

Let us see how Modi’s diplomacy with Pakistan has moved. It began with an invitation to all SAARC leaders for his swearing-in ceremony on May 26, 2014. Subsequently, talks with Nawaz Sharif settled for foreign secretary-level discussions between the two countries in August in Islamabad. But unfortunately, the Pakistani High Commissioner to India, Abdul Basit, went ahead and met the Kashmiri Hurriyat leaders, despite New Delhi’s warnings. The Modi government had then maintained that the talks between the two neighbors should be in the spirit of Shimla Agreement and Lahore Declaration that rules out the involvement of any third party in resolving the longstanding Kashmir issue. When he attended Modi’s swearing-in ceremony, Nawaz Sharif did make a departure from the usual practice of meeting with Hurriyat leaders.

There was a marked rise in ceasefire violations by Pakistan at the borders resulting in casualties on both sides and attempts by terrorist groups to infiltrate. New Delhi then insisted that there could be no talks with Pakistan until there is peace at the borders and the latter should rein in the terrorists.

The souring of India-Pakistan relations spilled over into the 18th SAARC Summit in Kathmandu in November 2014. New Delhi, thereafter, stepped up efforts for dialogue in the entire South Asian region. Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar was sent on an SAARC Yatra and he met his Pakistani counterpart and other Pakistani leaders.

The two leaders met at the sidelines of the SCO Summit meeting at Ufa in Russia where both the countries were co-opted as members. This led to the Ufa Declaration that proposed a meeting of the NSAs of two countries in New Delhi, followed by an early meeting of DG BSF and DG Pakistan Rangers and the a meeting of DGMOs of both the countries – the date and the venue for which would be decided by Islamabad.

But unfortunately, after the Ufa joint statement was signed Pakistan raised the issue that Kashmir was specifically not reflected on the agenda even though it mentioned: “prepared to discuss all outstanding issues”. The Ufa statement also called for cooperation in eliminating terrorism and expediting the Mumbai case trial including additional information like providing voice samples. But the recurrences of ceasefire violations at the borders again derailed the NSA-level talks. However, the talks between DG BSF and DG Pakistan Rangers did take place in September 2015 in New Delhi as this was a regular bi-annual event and not a part of the Ufa agenda.

But the dialogue process is necessary for diplomacy. Both sides need to be flexible. In diplomacy there can be no full stops, it can have commas. The bonhomie between the two Prime Ministers continued with waving of the hands at UN Summit in September 2015 and shaking hands at Paris climate negotiations in November 2015. Finally the NSAs and foreign secretaries of both the countries met in a third country – Thailand – in Bangkok city on December 6, 2015, and discussed peace and security, terrorism, Jammu and Kashmir and other issues including tranquility along the Line of Control. They agreed to carry forward the constructive engagement. 

In contrast to Ufa, Pakistan could get Kashmir issue specifically inserted on the agenda. Subsequently, the India External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj covered considerable ground in thawing India-Pakistan dialogue process during her visit to Islamabad for Heart of Asia Conference. She signed a joint statement along with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani that focused on improving security, bilateral ties, defense cooperation and resolving Kashmir issue. She also called for seamless trade and transit connecting India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and beyond to Central Asia.

This sequence of events gave Prime Minister Modi opportunity to develop his optimism to make a call to Nawaz Sharif on his birthday and express his desire to land in Lahore and he tweeted the same about his “surprise” visit on the way back from Kabul to New Delhi. Even his visit to Kabul was not officially announced in the country when he left for Moscow. Thus, in his own innovative style found out the way for reciprocating Nawaz Sharif’s visit during his swearing in ceremony. It is high time for Modi to adopt carrot and stick policy along with his bonhomie diplomacy. Ahead are the scheduled foreign secretary level talks in mid-January, the two leaders could possibly meet during the Davos World Economic Forum. Let’s hope for the best!   

(The views expressed are strictly personal)
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