Diplomacy is the art of deflection and reflection. Modiplomacy is the practice of the unexpected and the unpredictable. Within 25 hours of his announcement, Prime Minister Narendra Modi abruptly withdrew his gift of dialogue after Pak terrorists slit a BSF jawan’s throat and gouged his eyes out. The next day, they murdered three J&K policemen and ordered others to quit the force or be killed. Pakistan also released postage stamps honouring slain terrorist Burhan Wani as a freedom icon. The new India-Pak romance, which began after Modi agreed to Imran Khan’s request for a foreign ministers meet in the Big Apple on September 27, ended in a crimson embarrassment for South Block.
Modi is not an easy read for the cabals who seek his ear. When expected to go easy, he goes for the kill. Counselled to be hawkish, he gets mawkish. As the bodies piled up in the gory graveyard of Kashmir, the nation expected him to teach Pakistan a lesson. But he decided to give dialogue a chance after Imran Khan ascended the Islamabad throne in July. From rising petroleum prices to the Pakistan paradigm, Modi had defied public anger and chose what he felt was the national interest. Within 24 hours of agreeing to talks, he realised boycotting Pakistan would serve India’s interests the best. The dialogue fiasco exposed the ideological schisms within the Indian establishment. The pro-accord lobby had sneakily persuaded Modi to go for a handshake, which would have deflected attention from terrorist violence in the Valley and undermined his nationalist legacy in Kashmir. Just as the Valley has been infiltrated by India’s enemies, so has a substantial space in the Modi dispensation been covertly colonised by a clique plotting to drive his core constituency away.
The year 2017 was the bloodiest in the Valley this century; 15 civilians and 53 security personnel were reportedly killed in terror attacks in 2013, while the numbers in 2017 were 40 civilians and 80 security men. Indian forces have eliminated more terrorists than last year, but the intensity of the bloodletting shows no signs of dialling down. In line with the prevailing mood, Indian ministers had ruled out cross-border conversation. Just before the Pakistan elections, foreign minister Sushma Swaraj was quoted as saying, “There cannot be any comprehensive dialogue with Pakistan till it shuns terrorism.” She was firm that “talks were not appropriate while people are dying on the border”. Just a couple of days before Imran’s letter to Modi arrived, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman declared, “Terror cannot go along with talks. Ceasefire violations continue to happen and non-state actors are also trying to infiltrate our borders”. Subsequently, similar views were expressed by senior officials, including from the external affairs ministry, who were aware of the deteriorating border situation. According to Home Ministry records, 724 incidents of ceasefire violation took place during 2017 as against 247 in 2013 and barely 70 in 2010.
As the waters of the Jhelum turned deeper red with the blood of innocents, discreet but determined efforts were on in both countries and foreign capitals to bring India and Pakistan back to the talks table. The momentum picked up soon after the Pak elections were over. To dispel Imran’s image as an Army stooge, his sponsors were determined to establish and stabilise the playboy cricketer-turned-politician as a credible force. Imran is a member of the “People like Us” elite. He is also the 33rd richest Pakistani. The rapid sequence of diplomatic initiatives that followed his victory gave enough indication of the new contours of a secret Indo-Pak romance. A look at the turn of events:
*July 26: Pakistan election results start pouring in. As expected, Imran’s PTI emerges as the single largest party. There is little enthusiasm inside and outside Pakistan for an outfit seen as a Pak army proxy. On the day of his big win, Imran declares, “If they take one step towards us, we will take two, but at least need a start. Kashmiris are suffering for long. We have to solve Kashmir issue by sitting across the table. If India’s leadership is willing, then both of us can solve this issue through dialogue. It will be good for the subcontinent also”.
July 30: Ignoring Imran’s Kashmir bombast, Modi phones in his congratulations and tells Imran, “India desires a prosperous and progressive Pakistan at peace with its neighbours. We hope that the new government of Pakistan will work constructively to build a safe, stable, secure and developed South Asia free of terror and violence.”
*August 10: The Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, Ajay Bisaria, and his deputy meet Imran in the presence of senior PTI leaders, including former Pak foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who is charged with taking the dialogue forward.
*August 18: After Imran formally takes over in Islamabad, Modi writes to him, saying: “We hope that the new government of Pakistan will work constructively to build a safe, stable, secure and developed South Asia free of terror and violence.” The letter isn’t made public immediately in India. (Nor have the full contents been shared in full.) It is left to Qureshi to interpret its intent. His initial claim was Modi’s epistle was an offer for a dialogue, but the Pak foreign office contradicted the statement afterwards.
*September 17: A letter dated September 14 by Imran Khan is delivered to the Indian government. Before it could react, the text was leaked to the media.
Surprisingly, Imran makes Kashmir the fulcrum of the meeting’s agenda. In his 289-word letter, 45 words concern Kashmir. The third paragraph says, “Bridges and Developing Ties: Pakistan and India have an undeniably challenging relationship. We, however, owe it to our peoples, especially the future generations, to peacefully resolve all outstanding issues, including the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, to bridge differences and achieve a mutually beneficial outcome. Siachin and Sir Creek also need close attention to move towards resolution.” He adds, “Pakistan is ready to discuss terrorism.”
*September 18. India swiftly accepts his request. “I can confirm that on the request from the Pakistani side, a meeting between the two foreign ministers will take place on the sidelines of the UNGA at a mutually convenient date and time,” MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar tells the media.
*September 21. The government announces cancellation of the talks as Imran had not given up his “evil agenda”, as if he was a pious personality earlier.
Once again, good faith has been exploited by the provocateurs of peace embedded in the policy superstructure. Modi must never forget that the tragic terrain of Indo-Pak relations is a minefield of misery created by the Pak Army and ISI. Imran’s disingenuous image as Pakistan’s neo-moral force is an avoidable trap, which Modi has sidestepped just in time. The Indian prime minister would be facing some tough questions on his run for a second term in 2019. A tangled tango with a failed state like Pakistan is a suicidal step. The aborted Pak misadventure was obviously scripted by Modi’s enemies within whose plan is to destroy the idea of Moditva.
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