The India Pakistan Standoff
By Sabena Siddiqui
Narendra Modi called off foreign secretary-level talks between India and Pakistan less than three months after he invited Sharif to his inauguration as a gesture of goodwill. It was rather astonishing as Modi had invited his Pakistani counterpart himself , in retrospect it seems like it was just a ploy to display some sort of superiority. Nawaz was largely ignored during his stay in New Delhi and not given much importance. He was not able to discuss important issues such as the Kashmir issue or India’s accumulation of water by building dams on the rivers that flow into Pakistan.High-level Indian government sources said India had told Pakistan any indulgence to separatists was unacceptable when Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif came for the Modi inauguration. Sharif stayed away from the Hurriyat group when he went to India. It was an opportunity wasted due to the new Indian Prime Minister’s bull-headed stance on Pakistan and Nawaz Sharif faced severe criticism at home for his futile visit.
It has been proven time and again that Pakistan needs to formulate a policy of step by step and integrated approach to relations with India. India has to be kept engaged in dialogue on core issues on a regular basis.Nawaz Sharif has had extraordinarily good terms with the Indians and has serious business interests there as well , still the Indian government has sent Sharif a terse message to desist from any contact with Kashmiri leaders. Recently, Pakistan High Commissioner to India had meetings with leaders of the All Party Hurriyat Conference, such meetings have been happening for decades. Pakistan was snubbed and told off , saying the neighbours interference in ‘India’s internal affair’ was unacceptable.The foreign secretary level talks scheduled for 25th August in Islamabad were cancelled. Indian External Affairs announced that ‘ Pakistan High Commissioner’s meeting with the ‘so-called’ separatist leaders undermines the constructive engagement initiated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his very first day in office.’ Pakistan was told to choose between an Indo-Pak dialogue or meeting the Kashmir leaders.
It was also attempted to raise question about Pakistan,s intentions , this was totally unreal as the Kashmir issue is one of the oldest pending issues with the United Nations.
It is formally recognised as disputed territory and Pakistan is totally within its rights to maintain contact with Kashmiri leaders.
There are UN resolutions declaring Kashmir disputed territory. Disregarding India’s views, the Pakistani High Commissioner went ahead to meet Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Shabir Ahmad Shah and Yasin Malik. Yasin Malik of JKLF protested the Indian government decision saying it showed India was not interested in talking about Kashmir at all, only in talking trade with Pakistan.
The cessation of talks was surprising as all Pakistan High Commissioners have met Hurriyat leaders on their Independence Day celebrations and Iftars over the years.
This stern reprimand signals some new Indian plans in the offing, bitter consequences for Kashmir in the future could be the reason the talks have been cancelled. It looks like the Kashmir liberation movement could be brutally suppressed in the Modi era. Modi has a distinctive belligerent attitude, which he displayed when ruling Gujarat.
The Modi government wants to divert Indians from internal problems by keeping the temperature high on the border. Indian media has picked up the topic with relish , presenting Modi and his government on higher ground. “Pakistan and powers within that country do not want Indo-Pak ties to be normal,” Defence Minister Arun Jaitley said. Along with this, he also upped the ante with cross border firing almost on a daily basis.
Resuming these talks would be an uphill task in the absence of back channel diplomacy. This meeting was fundamental for future engagement , its cancellation would set the talks process in reverse now. Pakistan termed the decision to call off talks a setback to efforts by Pakistani leadership to promote good , neighbourly relations with India.
Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam said Pakistan was not subservient to India , and was a legitimate stakeholder in the Kashmir dispute. There should be no softening of attitude towards India when their posture is so hawkish. Unilateral concessions to India like trade and transit trade route to Afghansitan should not be considered, also MFN status should not be given to India.Meaningful dialogue is only possible on the basis of equality, India cannot and should not try to bully Pakistan if it wants peace in the region.
Its arrogance should be ignored and there should be no appeasement as this could be mistaken for weakness on our part. Its preconditions for dialogue are merely to create hurdles in the peace process. Since the beginning of the Composite Dialogue process, Pakistani leaders and officials regularly met Kashmiri leaders before and after the talks to receive feedback and learn about the situation on ground.
This time India has adopted a stern tone, forbidding Pakistan from meeting the Kashmiri leaders. This dictate denotes the different India since the advent of Modi, a hawkish and aggressive country trying to divert its public from problems at home. “Pakistan’s defiance” was the wording used by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs as it briefed Indian media about what India had forbidden Pakistan from doing. Pakistan was being told to make a choice between Kashmir and talks with India. The move might impact an expected meeting between Modi and Nawaz Sharif in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly next month.
On 15th August, Modi gave an unusually lengthy Independence Day speech. He talked about strengthening relations with the neighbours which marks continuity with previous governments.
It should be interesting to note that there was no mention of Pakistan, while a substantial passage was devoted to Nepal’s successful transition from insurgency to a democracy. It seems Modi , in his arrogance ,did not consider it suitable to mention Pakistan.
More developments came about after a speech by Modi in Jammu last week, where he accused Pakistan of continuing a proxy war of terror against India. This was the first signal that Modi was planning to pump up the rhetoric for ratings and a diversion. Some foreign policy experts also believe that this latest India /Pakistan upset could be a blessing in disguise for the beleaguered Sharif who is facing a political impasse literally at his doorstep, the PM House.
Things have come to such a pass due to years and years of leniency shown to India in the hope things would mend.
The US has been influencing governments in the past to offer one-sided concessions , back channel dealings and personal agendas of the government have made the situation nearly unrecoverable.
All this has to change, Pakistan has to put its foot down and let it be known to India that it cannot be talked down to in this manner.
The Indian attempt to relegate a subservient status to Pakistan cannot be tolerated.
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