Last Christmas, Modi arranged a surprise meeting with Sharif to wish him well as he celebrated his 66th birthday, with the move applauded by many private TV channels and the print media in their news hour across India. They praised Modi for this brief but humble approach to his counterpart. But one thing that Modi’s well-wishers forget is that the more pressure you apply on Islamabad, the more impending wrath India-Pakistan relations will have to endure. The above mentioned well-wishers of Modi are now criticizing Pakistan for the current Kashmir turmoil, where instead, they should focus on the BJP government and their Pakistan policy.
Pakistan is a weak state. There would be no second thought about it. Last month posters across Pakistani streets urged the Military General to take control of the Government of Pakistan, indicating that Islamabad is in trouble. The New York Times backed up this claim, arguing that “in recent months, the popularity of Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister, has dipped considerably because of corruption allegations that have swirled around his family”. The situation prevails in our neighborhood, and the Modi government fanning the air for political mileage will not heal past wounds. To hide their domestic instability, Pakistani politicians have no choice other than to counter India on Kashmir. For Pakistan’s unity during internal turbulence, their only strategic device involves targeting India against the Kashmir issue. We have to realize one thing very clearly – a weak Pakistan should not be our target. A strong India should be our goal. If any refugee crisis occurs in Pakistan, we cannot tolerate it. We should not forget the current Syrian refugee crisis and how it has impacted the nations of the European Union and their domestic politics. Indian policy makers need to stop beating around the bush and think of new ideas to support Pakistan and ensuring she is democratically strong. It means we have the chance to set the table and host our neighbor for negotiations.
However, now is not the right time to engage with Pakistan. The work carried by the Congress Party under Dr Manmohan Singh’s administration is now being copied by Modi. Modi’s continued engagement with Pakistan in the last two years yielded no results. The same Modi heavily criticized the previous Congress Party’s administration and stated that the BJP government would have more strength to handle Pakistan effectively. Modi and his team have opened their mouth, but now they need to answer to public outcry. Since the government did not have any Pakistan policy, a prediction of no clear answer would be expected.
Surprise visits to wish troubled neighbor leaders birthday is by no means a breakthrough. In the last two years we have only seen unfolding dramas and events under this BJP government, all in the name of foreign policy. In this regard, more policy paralysis can be predicated. The government does not intend to learn any lessons from their failed foreign policy, and this includes our neighbour Nepal and China.
Modi has not only put the failed Pakistani relationship to test, but has also sat his weak external affairs ministry in the hot seat. Even his foreign policy advisors cannot understand his statements or his perceived intentions. He speaks like local political orator on an international stage only increasing an artificial demand. He did not comprehend the difficulty, and even inability, for his team to convert his speeches into policy and how exactly these would be implemented. Previously many who praised his policy meetings and speaking without notes in his hands are now criticizing this, claiming that is has no value.
Now Kashmir is facing setbacks because of two main reasons. Firstly, it is not entirely because of the killing of Burhan Wani the young commander of Hizbul Mujahideen. The reason would actually be the different ideologies held by the BJP and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and forming a government with no consensus on governance. Both parties are completely divided on Hindu-Muslim ideology, leaving the secular idea of India in Kashmir merely shuffling forward. Therefore the question is, how can this coalition give prosperity and peace to the valley? How can this government be people centric?
Secondly, the vote by the Kashmir people witnessed a bigger loss of confidence Modi’s governance than was expected. The young and educated are suffering without jobs. They do not have any hope. Both the BJP and PDP should take moral responsibility for the social impact that triggers Wani’s death to the complete shutdown presently enacted across Kashmir.
Pakistan taking the Kashmir matter to the UN and getting a slap in the face is another issue. However, in the last ten years, with the Congress Party led by the UPA government, Pakistan was not allowed to reach this level. What this describes is that the BJP government has absolutely no clear policy or direction in dealing with Pakistan.
But, as can defend the various steps he has taken to engage with his Pakistan counterpart, these efforts are not actually policy engagements, they are great stage shows. Not one inch of feel good factor can be claimed to have been developed with Pakistan under the policy of Modi’s government. While Kashmir is facing severe turmoil, Modi is fiddle like the King Nero.
The best policy solution would be as follows. First, the Modi government should stop looking to Kashmir as the prism of security, and seek better political engagement instead. This requires more cooperation between the BJP and the PDP, with both should giving up their problematic positions on governance and delivering the public goods that would begin heal the Kashmir valley. The stakeholders should keep in mind that they are meant to be for all sections of the society in the Kashmir State.
Secondly, the recently held South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Home Ministers’ conference in Pakistan was again a water shadow, would no real maneuvers taken to offer peace and security for South Asia. As a rising power India has the strength to deal with any challenges, and therefore has to bear more responsibility than Pakistan to keep the region safe. This is the time to demonstrate this strength, and to fulfill these obligations of peace and security, the Modi government needs new policy directions to deal with Pakistan.