Working out a viable relationship with Pakistan is in India’s vital national interest. But the wholly bogus nature of the Narendra Modi-Nawaz Sharif bonhomie on the occasion of Modi’s republican coronation now stands revealed in all its nakedness. In a childish display of extreme petulance, the India-Pakistan foreign secretary-level talks have been called off. The excuse proffered is that the Pakistan envoy had met with, and was scheduled to meet again with, Kashmiri “separatist” leaders on the eve of the talks. He had been warned after Round I of his interaction with them that if Round II took place, India would spurn dialogue and revert to the two-year-long stand-off.
The excuse is wholly misplaced. The Simla Agreement of 1972 removed Jammu and Kashmir from the international agenda and effectively placed it in the ambit of bilateral discussion and resolution: “a final settlement of Jammu and Kashmir”. The trade-off was simple. India recognised that there were issues relating to J&K that needed to be resolved and Pakistan agreed to secure the resolution of these issues bilaterally instead of in an international forum. In actual fact, India, much more than Pakistan, especially in recent decades, has shied away from bilateral dialogue, while Pakistan has attempted from time to time, but without success, to revert to the UN. But the basic position today continues as it was four decades ago at Simla — India accepts that there is an external dimension to J&K, and Pakistan that dealing with these issues is strictly remitted to the bilateral, not multilateral, sphere of diplomatic interaction.
On the domestic front in India, the principle of “the sky is the limit” has long been instituted for determining the parameters of “autonomy” for J&K; autonomy that must, however, fall short of challenging the integrity of India or the finality of J&K’s accession to India. All else is negotiable. On the external front, it is recognised as legitimate for Pakistan to raise issues relating to “a final settlement of Jammu and Kashmir”.
It was in pursuance of this legitimacy granted to Pakistan by the Simla Agreement of 1972 that, just under two decades ago, the P.V. Narasimha Rao government recognised the legitimacy of Pakistani envoys and political leaders including Kashmiri “separatists” (under the umbrella of the Hurriyat) in their consultations in preparation for successive phases of the ongoing dialogue process. There has thus been a bipartisan, indeed, multipartisan understanding within India (at least till now) that such interaction falls in a class by itself and so does not constitute a casus belli or even a casus diplomati to break off the bilateral dialogue to which both are pledged.
Had Modi any new objection to this, he was duty-bound to make it clear to Nawaz Sharif when he met him in New Delhi and they continued…