Modi’s phone call to Nawaz Sharif on February 13 indicating that he would soon be sending our foreign secretary to Pakistan is unexpected, unwarranted and unfortunate.
It has been made out that the foreign secretary would be going to Pakistan ostensibly as a part of his visit to other SAARC countries in order to further Modi’s proposals pertaining to the region. Such a visit by an Indian foreign secretary to SAARC countries is unprecedented and if at all, such SAARC-related consultations are required surely it is up to the incoming chairman of the grouping, notably Pakistan, to undertake them. Moreover, if there is such a pressing urge for these consultations by our government they can easily be undertaken through our missions or through the joint secretary dealing with SAARC. Clearly, the government is using SAARC-related consultations merely as a fig leaf to cover the resumption of our diplomatic engagement with Pakistan. Even the foreign ministry spokesman could not but admit that the “bilateral agenda” would be on the table when the foreign secretary goes to Pakistan.
The foreign secretary’s visit to Pakistan for what is likely to be talks about the modalities of resuming a dialogue is unwarranted because the government had quite rightly taken a firm and principled stand that engagement could only be resumed if Pakistan desisted from involvement in terrorist activities directed against India. It may, in this context, be recalled that the government had called off our foreign secretary’s visit to Pakistan scheduled for August 25, 2014, because the Pakistan High Commissioner despite our advice to the contrary had gone ahead with meeting Hurriyat leaders in Delhi.
This, together with Pakistan’s repeated and blatant violations of the 2003 ceasefire agreement and its continued support of terrorist activities against India, induced the government to make it clear that a resumption of talks was contingent on the cessation of such activities by Pakistan. Accordingly, Modi in his UNGA address in September 2014 in New York made it clear that “a serious bilateral dialogue with Pakistan” was only possible “without the shadow of terrorism” and therefore the latter must “create an appropriate environment”. Since to date Pakistan has not given us satisfaction on this account the resumption of a dialogue with it is inexplicable and unjustified. Indeed, our endeavours to promote a dialogue in these circumstances does not reflect well on us.
Dialogue with Pakistan, while it continues to export terror to India, is unfortunate per se as this only emboldens it to persist with such delinquent behaviour. This is what had been done by both the Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh governments with disastrous consequences for India. It is, however, doubly unfortunate to do so now as Pakistan shows no inclination to address our concerns on terrorism despite the fact that we have made it clear that dialogue would be contingent on it mending its ways. This will naturally induce Pakistan to regard the Modi government as a paper tiger and thereby expose India to increasing terrorist attacks supported from across the border.
It goes without saying that the decision to send our foreign secretary to Pakistan will, of course, disappoint those who had seen in Modi’s cancellation of the foreign secretary-level talks in August 2014, his not meeting Sharif on the sidelines of the UNGA in September and the firm response to the cross-border firing initiated by Pakistan as the beginning of a more appropriate policy in regard to that country. Indeed, it was hoped these moves were a precursor to a much stronger and more proactive policy vis-à-vis Pakistan calculated to inflict pain on it for exporting terrorism to India. Regrettably, such an approach does not seem to be on the cards. Modi’s Pakistan policy, in fact, appears to be very similar to that of Manmohan Singh. Both leaders have shown a remarkable vulnerability to pressure on this issue, a disinclination to impose costs on Pakistan designed to compel it to desist from its use of terror against India, a readiness to engage with Pakistan at any cost, and above all incessant flip flops in dealings with that country.
To make matters worse it is probable Modi’s decision to reach out to Pakistan for a resumption of dialogue was under pressure from Obama as well as from the PDP. Sartaj Aziz, the Pakistan PM’s foreign affairs adviser, is reported to have made known that Modi was “persuaded” by the US to resume dialogue with Pakistan and that the “internal dynamics” of Kashmir may also have had a role. He probably isn’t far off the mark as the USA’s propensity to meddle in the region is only too well known and the PDP with whom the BJP is angling for a coalition government in J&K wants India to engage with Pakistan and the separatists. Whether or not there is any truth in such speculation, the fact that there is such a perception seriously damages the Modi government’s credibility as a strong and principled entity that was, hitherto, an important asset. It will promote the impression that India is amenable to be pressured and can be pushed around even on matters of critical national import both by external and local players. This does not bode well for India and will adversely affect its international standing.
To conclude, therefore, the Modi government by deciding to send our foreign secretary to Pakistan has signalled that it has given up on the possibility of pursuing a robust policy vis-à-vis that country designed to compel it to abandon the use of terror against us. This is a grave error for which India will have to pay a heavy price. In this context, the government would do well to note the rationale for the adoption of a tougher policy towards Pakistan, which was spelt out in the following terms in a press statement, to which the author was a party, by some members of the Indian strategic community in August 2013: “India has for much too long meekly put up with Pakistan-inspired terrorism and our citizens across the country have paid a terrible price. This has only encouraged Pakistan in its pursuit of such policies. It is time that policies are devised that will impose a cost on Pakistan for its export of terror to India, and thus change the cost-benefit calculus of these policies and actions. A proactive approach by India towards Pakistan must be the order of the day, as it will yield us much better results than those garnered by policies of appeasement which have regrettably been pursued by us for years.”
The writer is a former Deputy National Security Adviser, Government of India. Email: email@example.com