India’s coercive diplomacy

Tasnim AslamBy S. M. Hali

It was expected that the advent of the BJP government in India would usher an era of renewed efforts for peace in the region. Narendra Modi, during his electoral campaign could not resist the temptation of Pakistan bashing. This was in clear contrast to Pakistan’s election campaign, only a year earlier, in which none of the local political parties made any negative mention of India, rather they promised resolving long outstanding issues with India in quest of regional peace. Pakistani political pundits opined that Modi was constrained to take swipes at Pakistan as part of his electoral campaign compulsion since BJP had been critical of the Congress party’s “soft stance” towards Pakistan. It was prophesied that a sense of responsibility will prevail once Modi becomes the PM and being a champion of trade and commerce, will not spurn Pakistan’s offer of resuming trade ties. Modi’s invitation to all SAARC leaders to attend his inaugural ceremony was looked upon as a whiff of fresh air. Nawaz Sharif’s attending Modi’s installation ceremony was expected to revive the sour relations. Creditably, Modi appeared responsive to Nawaz Sharif’s peace overtures and a thaw was in the offing. Some spanners were thrown later when the Indian Secretary External Affairs revealed that the Pakistani Prime Minister had been forewarned not to meet the Kashmiri leaders and he abided by the warning. Despite such hiccups, Modi’sacquiescence to resuming the process of the peace dialogue, commencing with a Secretary level meeting at Islamabad on August 25, 2014 to chalk out the roadmap of peace talks was promising.

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The euphoria was short-lived, when on August 12, 2014, during a visit to Leh in the disputed Kashmiri territory; Modi launched a strong attack on Pakistan, accusing it of continuing proxy war of terrorism against India, surmising that it has lost the strength to fight a conventional war. The verbal assault was totally out of context but the method in the madness became apparent when Indian forces breached the eleven years’ old ceasefire agreement to commence cross border firing across the LOC as well as the international boundary, killing Pakistani civilians and army personnel. To add insult to injury, India blamed Pakistan for cross border firing but the drop scene was yet to come. On Monday, August 18, 2014, exactly a week prior to the scheduled talks between the two Foreign Secretaries, the parleys were called off on a flimsy pretext.

It was alleged that India’s Secretary External Affairs Sujatha Singh, who was to meet her Pakistani counterpartAizaz Ahmad Chaudhry in the first face-to-face talks between the Foreign Secretaries in almost two years, warned Pakistani High Commissioner Abdul Basit not to meet with Kashmiri leaders but her call went unheeded.

Indian media, as if on a cue, went ballistic. This scribe had the opportunity to participate in dozens of discussions on various Indian TV News Channels, where former diplomats, retired Generals and opinion builders in bellicose statements were demanding that the Pakistani High Commissioner to New Delhi be declared persona-non-grata and diplomatic ties with Pakistan be snapped. Behaving as judge, jury and executioner, some Indian TV anchors and most participants in the talk shows were castigating Abdul Basit for meeting with Kashmiri “separatists” and interfering in India’s internal matters. A pet question, apparently planted, was: “How would Pakistan feel if the Indian High Commissioner in Islamabad met with members of the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) or the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)?”

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India forgets that Kashmir is an unfinished agenda of the 1947 Partition of the Indian Sub-Continent. During the 1947-48 Pakistan-India War on Kashmir, it was India which approached the United Nations Security Council for a ceasefire and is signatory to the UN Resolutions on Kashmir, stipulating a plebiscite for the Kashmiris to exercise their option of acceding to Pakistan or India from which India has reneged. It is illogical to draw parallels between Kashmiris and BLA or TTP; the former have been recognized by the UN as bona fide residents of a disputed territory, while the latter are insurgents and terrorists. Pakistani leaders, diplomats and visitors to India have been meeting with Kashmiri leaders and Abdul Basit’s tête-à-tête with Kashmiris prior to the Secretary level talks has been part of a regular practice to obtain the viewpoints of the main protagonists in the dispute. Previous Indian Prime Ministers, including the BJP stalwart Atal Bihari Vajpayee, whose shoes Modi is trying to fill, have actually facilitated talks between Kashmiri and Pakistani leadership. Modi’s government is not only making a mountain out of a molehill but also showing cold feet in continuing dialogue with Pakistan, despite the urging of the US and the peaceniks in India. By succumbing to the demands of Indian hawks, Modi is denying his own nation’s potential for development by choosing the path of confrontation with Pakistan.

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