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 discussed the resumption of the dialogue. The Pakistan desk of the ministry of external affairs knows full well that Nawaz Sharif was attacked on his return to Pakistan from New Delhi for his failure to meet with the Hurriyat, as his predecessors had done. This became such a big issue that when I was in Pakistan days later (in the august company of Ved Pratap Vaidik), both formally and informally, this was stressed. Thus, the consequences of warning High Commissioner Abdul Basit against maintaining his scheduled meeting with the “separatists” should have been clear to the meanest intelligence in the MEA. If the meeting with the Hurriyat leaders were called off, the howls of protest in Pakistan would have drowned all attempts at dialogue. There was nothing to be gained from making an issue of such a trivial matter.
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I say “trivial” because nothing earth-shattering, either for us or the Pakistanis, has resulted from earlier meetings of the Hurriyat with the Pakistanis, including visits of Hurriyat leaders to Pakistan that we ourselves had permitted. From a Pakistani point of view, meeting the Hurriyat is an excellent way of selling to the Pakistani public the explanation that “Kashmiri” wishes are not being ignored or bypassed in the dialogue process. From the Indian point of view, the “separatists”, who are Indian citizens, whatever their view, are of such significance as to have warranted our “interlocutors” talking to them. What harm, then, can come of Geelani et al letting off steam in Pakistan House — the same steam they let off on a daily basis in the Valley?
Then there is the question of sovereignty. Pakistan may be weaker than India in every respect but there is at least one in which Pakistan is our equal and will remain so, and that is in the dimension of sovereignty. If India as a sovereign country refuses to buckle under Pakistani pressure, it is only natural that Pakistanis will not countenance infringement by India of their sovereignty. That is why the imposition of new conditionalities, flying in the face of precedents, will be seen as infringing on Pakistan’s sovereignty. The parallel being drawn in some quarters with India snubbing Pakistan by talking to Baloch separatists is as misbegotten as it is misplaced, for Balochistan is not an issue between India and Pakistan. We have neither had nor sustain any claims on Balochistan. On Kashmir, the Pakistanis do — and that has been acknowledged by India, even if India is (rightly) adamant that there can be no compromise on its sovereignty over the whole of J&K, as a result of the Instrument of Accession and Article I of the J&K constitution.
Such are the subtleties of diplomacy. They go ill with foreign policy strutting on a 56-inch chest. I am sure the MEA as an institution knows all this but is helpless because all power is being increasingly concentrated in one authoritarian. We stand warned that whimsicality and bullying are going to characterise our relations with Pakistan over the next five years; exactly the kind of whimsicality and bullying that led to the Austro-Hungarian Empire attacking Serbia a hundred years ago, leading to the devastation of the two world wars.
The writer is a Rajya Sabha MP from the Congress