End of neighbours’ bonhomie

The Indian government decision to call off foreign secretaries’ level meeting scheduled in Islamabad on August 25 brought back Kashmir into limelight which was largely considered a dead issue. Pakistani High Commissioner to India Abdul Basit’s meeting with the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) leaders resulted in cancellation of this meeting.
Both the secretaries were tasked by two prime ministers, who met in New Delhi on the swearing-in ceremony of Narendra Modi in May, to formulate a roadmap to revive the stalled peace process. The cancellation of the meeting, which was taking place after a hiatus of two years, not only irked Pakistan but also jeopardised summit level meeting between the two prime ministers in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly’s annual session next month.
 
It had long been a tradition that Pakistan often, through its diplomats stationed in New Delhi, holds consultation with the Kashmiri leaders especially with the Hurriyat Conference. Kashmiri leaders always urge Pakistan to take them into confidence, as they are a principal party to the conflict, so that they can at least become indirect partner in the dialogue process. Even former president Pervez Musharraf had had long meetings with the Hurriyat leaders in New Delhi. The Indian government always showed displeasure over these meetings but moved on.
 
The Hindu, one of the leading Indian dailies, aptly termed this decision a shockingly inadequate grasp of history, and short-sighted. India has called off engagement with Pakistan many times in the recent past for far more serious reasons, only to realise after each hiatus that there is no other alternative.
 
India’s ruling elite is in a transitional phase. Most of its leaders, including Prime Minister Modi, used to espouse hardline stance being an opposition leader. It still lives in the same mode. Several leaders are making conflicting statements about the foreign policy and particularly its relations with Pakistan. Ironically, diplomats and army high command also left no stone unturned to derail nascent goodwill which was generated due to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to India.
 
On August 12 in Ladakh, Prime Minister Modi came down hard on Pakistan and made a very strong statement. He said that “the neighbouring country has lost strength to fight a conventional war but continues to engage in the proxy war of terrorism.”
 
It was widely expected in India and Kashmir that BJP would pull out from the talks and escalate tension with Pakistan to mobilise Hindu votebank in Jammu region. The current positioning and constant firing along the Line of Control (LoC) is considered a manifestation of this larger political strategy.
 
On August 15, Amar Sinha, Indian Ambassador to Kabul, in an interview with TOLO Newscriticised Pakistan for its suspected proxy war tactics and encouragement for terrorism, emphasising that Pakistan was using Afghanistan as its combat zone for its war against India.
 
Previously, Indian army chief General Dalbir Singh Suhag on his first day in office warned Pakistan that India’s response to any beheading-like incident in the future would be “more than adequate, intense and immediate”.
 
These unwanted statements weaken pro-peace lobby in Pakistan. Therefore, officials were compelled to respond in the same coin. It is largely noticed that during the present government, Kashmir has not been a regular part of foreign office weekly briefings. However, befitting reply is fast replacing niceties of the diplomacy.
 
Foreign Office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam stated that Pakistan was not subservient to India. It had a legitimate stakeholder in the Jammu and Kashmir dispute. Pakistan High Commissioner to India Abdul Basit, while justifying his meeting with the Kashmiri leaders, stated that “We strongly believe that our interaction is helpful to the process itself. It is helpful to find a peaceful solution to the problem. It is important to engage with all stakeholders. So that is the bottom-line for us.”
 
It is often said that domestic politics drives foreign policy agenda. The results of the recent Indian national elections have made a huge impact on the domestic politics of Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir. Ruling coalition partners, National Conference and Congress Party, lost all Lok Sabha seats in Jammu and Kashmir. State Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir are also due in October 2014.
 
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is desperate to win upcoming state assembly elections to implement its agenda such as clipping of Article 370 of the Indian constitution which grants special autonomous status to J&K within Indian union. Additionally, BJP wants to show the world that Kashmir has reconciled with the state and no more interested in pro-independence movement.
 
In this context a well-thought-out political strategy has been chalked out to sweep Jammu region where 37 assembly seats out of 87 are located. Ladakh has also four seats. Prime Minister Modi visited Jammu and Ladakh in his brief stint in power and inaugurated several mega projects and pledged huge economic packages for both regions just a few month prior to the state elections. Commenting on the India decision to call off the dialogue The Telegraph India writes that “belligerence on Pakistan works as good electoral strategy” in the Jammu region.
 
It was widely expected in India and Kashmir that BJP would pull out from the talks and escalate tension with Pakistan to mobilise Hindu votebank in Jammu region. The current positioning and constant firing along the Line of Control (LoC) is considered a manifestation of this larger political strategy.
 
The ideological convergence of hostile army and right wing ruling BJP pose a serious challenge to Pakistan’s diplomacy and political leadership. Serious and result-oriented engagement with India is a key challenge to the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. It is matter of fact that inside Pakistan public discourse is gradually shifting from peacebuilding and trade diplomacy to counter hostility towards India. There is serious danger that the tiny peace lobby in both countries and particularly in Pakistan can further shrink if dialogue remained suspended and LoC violations becomes day-to-day affairs.
 
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s desire to have improved trade relations with India is not a weakness. Pakistan should not be discouraged by the recent negative events and keep an eye on the larger picture. The regional economic connectivity and conflict resolution through peaceful means should be the key buzzwords for Pakistan diplomacy and politics.