Opportunity is elusive, experience is dangerous and judgment is difficult—Hippocrates.
It’s as if the ancient physician was diagnosing India’s Pakistan affliction. The last Congress Prime Minister Manmohan Singh created enough opportunities to be laughed at by Pakistan. The dangerous experience of dealing with India’s treacherous neighbour did not teach any of our PMs that peace with the enemy is forever elusive. At last, in Narendra Modi India has a leader worthy enough to meet guile with statecraft. With a masterstroke of an invitation to attend his swearing-in ceremony, Modi isolated Pakistan among the international community as a nation unwilling to acknowledge India’s democratic process. A dithering Nawaz Sharif, waiting for the Army to ‘approve’ his trip, exposed Pakistan’s fraudulent democracy. Sharif’s final acceptance reprofiled him in the eyes of the world as a puppet Prime Minister. Moreover, he came across as a leader afraid of offending Islamic terror lobbies like LeT by participating in Modi’s event.
Peace can be a powerful weapon in the hands of the strong as much as it can be a damp squib, exploding in the face of the weak. Perhaps the most comical exponent of détente was Manmohan Singh, whose authority among India’s neighbours, including Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, was subzero. His aim was peace with Pakistan at any cost, even if it meant giving up the strategically important heights of Siachen and the contentious Sir Creek. He was even ready to delink action on terror from the composite dialogue process. He was the last among a long line of Indian Prime Ministers who refused to see that Pakistan sought not peace but dominion over Kashmir. Dovetailing with personal beliefs was Manmohan’s party’s minority appeasement policy, as if Pakistan was a wayward son who could be persuaded to mend his ways, and not a lethal enemy which has fought three wars with India and lost. The generation of politicians whose Pakistani homesickness turned them into sentimental puddings with fond memories of the land they left behind after Partition—I K Gujral LK Advani and Manmohan Singh—shaped India’s Pak policy. But Modi has no such baggage.
While Manmohan tried to make Pakistan inclusive in the peace process, Modi has chosen to isolate it through peace. Roosevelt’s phrase in 1900 defined US foreign policy: “Speak softly and carry a big stick, you will go far.” This time Modi chose to speak softly to Pakistan, which knows that he always carries a big stick. Sharif didn’t have to go far—just a hop from Islamabad to New Delhi, but in the tortured context of Indo-Pak relations, it is an unfathomable distance. Modi realises this. His critics, who once wondered how this provincial leader would handle national affairs, would be flummoxed by the way he handled his first international event as Prime Minister-elect. First, he exposed Pakistan’s democratic lie. America—whose billions of dollars in aid to Pakistan are used partly to finance the ISI’s terror campaign—stands publicly embarrassed as the benefactor of a slave democracy. Modi’s invitation also confounded the Kashmir issue for both America and Pakistan—that is the Army, wearing Sharif’s democratic mask, which is issuing Pakistan’s wish list to the world. Modi’s invitation also backed Sharif and the Pak Army into a corner, exposing its democratic pretensions with SAARC and also Indian Muslims.
Coalition partners, for whom foreign policy was an unchartered territory, have dominated the last two decades of Indian government. The only factor that united both governments was their talent for corruption. To expect Mulayam, Mayawati or Mamata to understand the nuances of Panchsheel would be like asking a blind man to copy Mona Lisa.
Modi can afford to be magnanimous. With his formidable street-fighting instincts giving him an impeccable sense of timing, generosity was the missile he launched across the border as a statesman backed by a massive mandate. It has set the tone to engage Pakistan, both in peace and in war.