Wake Up Call From Kashmir: Modi Govt's Pakistan Policy Is As Confusing As UPA's

10 March 2015
Rajeev Sharma

New Delhi: Something is seriously amiss in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Pakistan policy. The Modi government is sending confusing - and confused - signals on as to how exactly it wants to deal with Pakistan. The latest incident of Pakistan High Commissioner in India Abdul Basit meeting top Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani in New Delhi on Monday has pushed the envelope further for the Modi government. The Modi government needs to be crystal clear on terms of engagement with Pakistan. Unfortunately, it isn't. It was at the initiative of Modi himself - when he was the PM-designate and had not yet been sworn in as the Indian Prime Minister - when he had played a grandiose card of inviting top Pakistani leadership to his swearing in on 26 May, 2014. It was a bold foreign policy move by Modi which had taken Pakistani leadership unawares. Pakistan has always been known for beating India hands down in foreign policy optics and has always scored brownie points over India. But the Modi move turned the tables on Pakistan. For a change, it was Pakistan - not India - which was scurrying for cover. It took several days for Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his high-profile brother Shahbaz Sharif's entreaties with the Pakistan Army top bosses to 'allow' Nawaz Sharif to attend Modi's swearing in. The Modi masterstroke eventually paid dividends and Nawaz Sharif attended Modi's inauguration. More importantly, during his stay in India, Nawaz Sharif did not meet any Kashmiri separatist and did not utter the 'K' word. In fact, Nawaz Sharif did not act like most Pakistani leaders and went back home without stirring the much molten pot of India-Pakistan bilateral relations. In fact, Nawaz Sharif came under fire from his own domestic constituency for his softness towards India. When insinuations were made that he was not happy with his India visit, a statement was issued by his office confirming that he had no complaints from his hosts during his India visit. From then and there on, India-Pakistan relations suddenly started going downhill - a familiar phenomenon. Suddenly Pakistan upped its ante and resorted to unprovoked firing along the International Border and the Line of Control and the Pakistani envoy (Abdul Basit) met Kashmiri separatists just ahead of the first-ever meeting of the two counties' foreign secretaries in Islamabad on 25 August. The Modi government pulled the plug and unilaterally called off the foreign secretary-level talks, telling Pakistan that either they talk to 'us' (the Indian government) or 'them' (the Kashmiri separatists). There was no change on the ground situation when PM Modi sent his new foreign secretary S Jaishankar to Pakistan earlier this month, albeit under the garb of 'SAARC Yatra'. Obviously, the Modi government wanted to make amends on its Pakistan policy and resume contact with the difficult neighbour without ceding diplomatic ground to Pakistan. After all, the Modi government had to send a signal to the international community that it was keeping Pakistan engaged. As expected, no breakthroughs followed in the India-Pakistan bilateral context during Jaishaknar's much-hyped Pakistan visit. Incidentally, PM Modi had sent his foreign secretary to Pakistan without an iota of assurance from Pakistan that it would move away from its policy of engaging with the Kashmiri separatists, which was seen to be a bottom line for the Modi government to do bilateral business with Pakistan. The wheel has come full circle now. Abdul Basit has met Geelani, the most prominent Kashmiri separatist leader. Now what does the Modi government do? How will the Modi government react? Basit met Geelani for about 30 minutes at the latter's residence in New Delhi and discussed the whole gamut of India-Pakistan relations including the current situation in Jammu and Kashmir, torpedoed by a political row has erupted over the release of separatist Masarat Alam. This was on a day when none other PM Modi himself had told parliament thus: 'I also lend my voice to the outrage on the release of the separatist... this is not one party's outrage, it is the nation's outrage.' This is highly confusing politics by PM Modi - or shall we call it confused politics? At a time when the ruling BJP is facing heat over its questionable political marriage with chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed's People's Democratic Party in Jammu and Kashmir, New Delhi's confusing policy can be highly damaging in the long run. Prime Minister Modi needs to tell his countrymen what exactly his Pakistan policy is. As of now, there is not an iota of difference in the Modi government's Pakistan policy from the previous UPA government.