Three months ago, reckless air-strikes by India and retaliation by Pakistan followed by mutual brinkmanship brought the two nuclear-empowered countries whisker close to a war. On June 13 next, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi will be face to face with his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan at the annual summit of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Bishkek. Though there is as yet no decision on the two prime ministers meeting one to one on the sidelines of the event, speculations are rife about possibility of a peace song in the offing.
Three questions are in order. Will it happen? Will it sustain, if it does? Does it signify a global shift?
Bellicose rhetoric and Pakistan-bashing was the prime essence of Modi’s campaign in the just concluded Indian election that brought his right-wing government back to power with a bigger majority than in 2014. India and Pakistan are like Siamese twins whose relations with each other feed on the mutual belligerence at the domestic political level and whose internal political affairs cast a shadow on each other’s domestic politics. The internal fall-out of the recent sabre rattling in India and its mirror impact in Pakistan does not augur well for a peace pitch.
Within a week of conclusion of Indian elections, a series of incidents including racially inspired mob violence against Muslims and a Muslim war veteran who served the Indian Army for 30 years being declared a ‘trespasser’ by the Foreigners Tribunal in Assam, give an indication of what the next five years in India would be like. These trends are a continuation of a trend that started under Modi’s previous tenure in accelerated mode. Secondly, they are in line with his election campaign that obliterated the difference between Pakistan, Muslim and terrorist. India is moving into a new zone step by step in line with the vision of the Modi led Hindu right wing. Modi’s previous tenure saw him constantly in election mode. Raising public anxieties against Pakistan and Hindu supremacy became crucial props in every election to different state assemblies. Three assembly elections are due this year. Ideologically and for electoral gains, hostility with Pakistan and chaotic violence in Kashmir suits India’s ruling party. Any reconciliatory moves towards Pakistan would militate against such electoral strategies.
BJP election rallies were sites of amplified jargon of ‘Enemy at the door’ and convincing the gullible audience that Modi alone was capable to save the nation. By giving the BJP ticket from Bhopal to terror accused Sadhvi Pragya to contest elections, Modi gave a strong message that sent minorities, specially Muslims into pangs of fear and hastened the pace of the Hindu awakening, peppered with hatred. By giving Modi a mandate for hate and war mongering, India has embarked on a different journey. The incidents in the past five years offer mere glimpses into the drama that is likely to unfold. The foundations of this journey were laid during Modi’s last tenure as prime minister during which liberal voices were persecuted, minorities hounded, a dominant section of media was bought over and public institutions weakened to pave way for centralizing his own authority and power. The spade work was done much before when he was chief minister of Gujarat and 1,000 Muslims were killed tens of thousands uprooted from their homes in riots under his watch and with the patronage of his administration. A new India, frighteningly so, is being built step by step in line with the vision of the BJP-RSS and Narendra Modi as head of the state.
The continuation and acceleration of this hate-project within India is unstoppable and would have ramifications which would be beyond the control of the present dispensation. More attacks on minorities will further deepen their ghettoisation and even possible mobilisation. A more worrying prospect is retaliation leading to anarchy and offering terror outfits like ISIS and al Qaeda, already looking for greener pastures after their battering in the Arab world, a fertile ground to invade. Such prospects are global concerns beyond the India-Pakistan dynamics.
However, present global compulsions may push India and Pakistan to inch closer to beginning a process of engagement. Necessitated by China’s One Belt One Road economic interest and significance of Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline for Indian business houses, that fully backed Modi’s campaign, indicate the possibility of Modi’s compulsion to switch over to peace tunes with Pakistan. Besides, the strategic moves on the global chess board will also dictate the course of India’s policy vis-a-vis Pakistan. USA appears headed for a major confrontation with Iran and if that happens, Pakistan would be pressurised into softening its eastern borders. A conflict in Iran would jeopardise economic desires of China, which recently reluctantly gave the nod for arraigning Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Maulana Masood Azhar, giving Modi the benefit, amidst of the heat of electioneering, of projecting it as his victory at the international level. Things are obviously at play behind the scenes at the diplomatic level. The last time India and Pakistan were engaged in a peace process coincided with the US intervention in Afghanistan.
This time, if it happens, it may be short-lived, primarily due to the genetic code of the BJP-RSS which runs contrary to pacifism and would also expose the inherent contradictions between the belligerent pitch of the election fever and reconciliation efforts. Secondly, the internal strife in Kashmir, whose dispute is intrinsically linked to India-Pakistan relations, may not ebb easily despite a possible peace process. Thirdly, the genie of mob violence against minorities that the Modi-led BJP has unleashed may become too monstrous to be controlled and would also have an impairing impact on India-Pakistan peace. Fourthly, the sincerity of both India and Pakistan comes under question. While the rulers in India are driven by a genetic hatred for Pakistan and Muslims, Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan has made noises that are anything but re-assuring. In the middle of Indian elections when Modi took bellicose rhetoric to a new level, Khan batted for Modi as the man to bargain for peace. On the day of the Indian election verdict, he both made a call for peace and went ahead with nuclear missile test-fire.
A possible calm that the sub-continent may head towards would remain not just fragile but short-lived, plunging the region into deeper levels of hostility. A disaster could be silently waiting in the wings to happen and merits global attention.