No table for three

Modi’s gamble won’t work unless Delhi gets act together on J&K, border management.

Written by C. Raja Mohan | Published:August 21, 2014 12:05 am
India had called off the talks between Foreign Secretaries slated for August 25. India had called off the talks between Foreign Secretaries slated for August 25.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision this week to cancel the foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan has drawn much political flak at home and generated some international concern that the NDA government might be departing from its proclaimed commitment to improve relations with the neighbours.

Although many motivations have been attributed to the decision, the principal rationale is not difficult to discern — to change the terms of the dialogue with Pakistan on the question of Jammu and Kashmir. Delhi’s main argument is that Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit’s meetings with Kashmiri separatist leaders amounted to an unacceptable interference in India’s internal affairs.

Pakistan’s spokesperson, as well as the NDA government’s critics in India, point to the fact that Delhi had chosen to live with the engagement between Islamabad and Kashmiri separatists for many years. They argue that Delhi’s decision to cancel the talks is an unfortunate and unexpected departure from two-decade-old Indian policy.

That there is a discontinuity in India’s approach is exactly right. The Modi government appears to have come to the political judgement that it will no longer accept the involvement of the All Party Hurriyat Conference, a collection of Kashmiri separatist groups, in the India-Pakistan dialogue. Delhi wants to put the Kashmir question back in a strictly bilateral, inter-governmental framework with Islamabad.

The continuing turbulence in Kashmir, the frequent military crises with Pakistan and the consequent international pressures to engage Islamabad saw India reluctantly yield some space for the Hurriyat in the peace process nearly two decades ago. Since then, Delhi has often directly engaged the Hurriyat, opened back channel talks with Pakistan on resolving the Kashmir question, allowed contact between the Hurriyat and Islamabad and facilitated the travel of separatists to Pakistan.

Throughout this period, both Pakistan and the separatists pressed for a trilateral dialogue. Delhi rejected a table for three but agreed willy-nilly for three separate bilateral tracks. The Modi government is now saying there is no place for the Hurriyat in the peace process with Pakistan. Delhi’s new approach is a bold gamble, to say the least.

Delhi’s rethinking on Kashmir came into view with the recent decision to end some of the freebies to the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP), based in Delhi and J&K since 1949. Although Delhi thinks the UNMOGIP has outlived its utility, it is some distance away from simply asking the UNMOGIP to leave. Clearly, Delhi is keen on ending the vestiges of an international presence in Kashmir.

If Delhi succeeds in getting Pakistan to accept bilateralism on Kashmir, it will be a major political triumph for India. Despite the challenges it confronts at home and on its western frontiers, however, Pakistan is unlikely to return to status quo ante and drop the Hurriyat proxy. The Hurriyat has been a symbol of India’s own failures in J&K and of Pakistan’s capacity to intervene across the Line of Control.

It is one thing for the Modi government to declare that the Hurriyat is beyond the pale. It is entirely another to alter the ground realities in J&K. That the BJP is interested in forming the next government in J&K is not a secret. Modi himself has visited J&K twice in the last three months. If he has a strategy to bring peace, stability and development to J&K, Modi is yet to reveal it.

Equally important is the challenge of managing the Kashmir frontier with Pakistan. The ceasefire, which has been in place since the end of 2003, has been fraying for some time. If Pakistan has the ability to raise tensions on the LoC and the International Border in Kashmir, India needs an effective strategy to manage the escalation dynamic. Delhi needs to maintain tight political control over Indian military responses to Pakistani provocations and must avoid drifting into a conflict it does not want. Tough rhetoric is no substitute for calm reflection on how to cope with the multiple consequences of military escalation.

Given the presence of nuclear weapons in the arsenals of India and Pakistan, any escalation of border tensions or a vigorous Indian response across the LoC in the event of a major terror attack will quickly draw the international community into the regional dynamic. Foreign ministers from the West will fly into the subcontinent urging India and Pakistan to stop fighting and start talking.

Any number of busybodies will want to mediate between Delhi and Islamabad on Kashmir. While internationalising the Kashmir question has always been part of Pakistan’s strategy, preventing external intervention has been a major Indian political objective. It is India’s careful engagement with Pakistan and a dialogue on Kashmir that have kept the major powers at arm’s length. Any serious breakdown of the peace process will bring the great powers back into play and undermine Modi’s new emphasis on bilateralism.

As the NDA government recalibrates India’s Kashmir and Pakistan policies, Delhi must do a much better job explaining the logic behind the cancellation of the foreign secretary talks, widely seen as abrupt. It must let the international community — especially Pakistan’s friends, including the United States, China and Saudi Arabia — know that India is not abandoning the peace process with Islamabad and is ready to deal with all outstanding issues, including the Kashmir question, within a bilateral framework. Above all, Delhi must keep open all channels of communication with Pakistan.

The NDA government is betting that the changed circumstances and India’s own improved international standing since the 1990s allows it to reframe the dialogue with Pakistan. If Delhi can’t get its internal act together in J&K, prevent major terror attacks across the nation and bring synergy between the military management of the border and international diplomacy, Modi’s gamble could turn out to be rather risky.
The writer is a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, Delhi and a contributing editor for ‘The Indian Express’

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  1. R
    Aug 21, 2014 at 2:15 am
    Why should India try to placate or give urances to US, China, and Saudi (Pak's friends) that India will engage with Pak? There is no reason to give an urance or any reason for talk cancellation to anyone. India should and must behave as a world power.
  2. R
    Aug 21, 2014 at 2:46 pm
    in jail? nah. all it needs to take is one encounter
  3. A
    Atul Atul
    Aug 22, 2014 at 2:21 am
    Indian so called intellectuals need to understand a very simple principle - in any country talk of secession from a country is called treason - an offense punishable by death. Until now, for whatever reason, Indian government has tolerated the likes of Huriyat conference even they openly talk about separation from India. Just one of these leaders should be tried in the court of law and hanged if found guilty. Just one hanging will cease all the talk about secession. We have many distinguished intellectuals who have never fought a war nor have stomach for it but feel free to be on the front to advise the government on what it should do. Why do they feel they have the right? uming the PM Modi is wrong, what do they propose in return India should do? Give up Kasmir?
  4. A
    Avinash Janardan
    Aug 21, 2014 at 8:38 am
    Indian security experts talk endlessly about road map / long term strategy / international community etc. But world gives respect only to military and economic strength. Now in fast changing scenario, international community would only worry how to contain ISI (sponsored terror organization) and their cousins like ISIS.
  5. A
    Avinash Janardan
    Aug 21, 2014 at 12:35 pm
    Our security experts are too much obsessed with things like road map / long term strategy / international community opinion etc. I do not believe that they don't know that the world respects only military and economic strength. Now in a changed scenario, the international community's only worry would be how to contain ISI (sponsored terror organization) and their cousins like ISIS.
  6. B
    Balakrishnan Subramanyam
    Aug 22, 2014 at 3:32 pm
    One can never ignore the fact that stan right from 1947 has been fiddling with fire relating to Kashmir State.stan had no business to send in Rangers under the guise of tribals to grab parts pf Kashmir & keep crying foul there after.Kashmir problem would not have arisen if only Mr Pandit Nehru had not foolishly declared a Cease Fire Unilaterally without his cabinet approval stalling Indian Army's successful operations & thereafter bungling further by talking the matter to UN when there was no need to have done so.Successive Congress governments were following Mr Nehru's mistakes by taking a totally timid approach to stan & lleaving an impression of stan being a serious party to the Kashmir matter.sta being an aggressor ,how can they ever claim any rights of being a rightful party in any thing relating to the Kashmir matter.It is construed as a dispute only pertaining to the part of Kashmir having been illegally taken by an act of aggression ,A thief can never claim a right to any of the stolen goods.stan's stature is nothing less than a thief claiming sympathy & rights to be a party relating to status of Kashmir.Once Kashmir had become an integral part of India based on the Instrument of Accession signed by Maharaja Hari Singh, where is the question of the state's accession being ever questioned at all? Why all the hue & cry about the correct steps taken by the Modi government to start taking a tough stance with stan in this issue? Hurriyat Leaders are all paid agents of stan without any representative status in Kashmir.They can never be a stake holder or party to any parleys that the Government of India may have with the Government in stan.Why at all give any room for any third person entering the arena? If any of the previous governments had not taken any objections to the Hurriyat leaders meeting or meddling in Kashmir affairs,it only speaks about the utter callousness of such Governments including the Congress & the NDA regime under Mr Vajpayee.stan has never behaved as revealed by History & will never behave because of their avowed Hate India Policy & as such what we need to do is to strengthen our own defence mechanism to put an end to the menace called stan instead of allowing stan to keep bullying us all through by an undeclared Proxy war.Let our Media not play a foul game by generating sympathy wave for stan or an anti Modi sentiment to question tehright moves taken by our present government. The Pak High Commissioner had no business to enmtertain the Hurriyat leaders after having been cautioned by our Foreign Secretary Ms Sujata Singh.He has been repeatedly doing things beyond the permissible diplomatic ethics fact for the repeated breaking of the diplomatic privileges being indulged by Mr Basit,he needs to be sent back forthwith & not tolerated any longer.It is necessary that the w Indian nation should speak in one voice & not allow any foreign agencies to exploit any internal deifferences getting voiced as being presently done.Mr Narendra Modi knows his job very well & the entire Indian Potion is behind him save & except the divisive elements.
  7. B
    Aug 21, 2014 at 6:28 am
    What is result of contentious talks for the last several decades, Tiger Hill? Not only India, US has also talked with Pak for the last 14 years on subject of terrorism in Pak. US also got nothing despite its billions of aids. stan has got an Islamic agenda. Other talks etc are camouflage of being a modern state. Every body knows Army handles external relations there. So until Pak army comes under civilian Govt, talks are futile. India &US are calling Sayeed a terrorist but Pak says he is a great man. Any body, Any country talking with Pak will get nothing. Pak has its own agenda and it does not change from change of Govt. like in India.
  8. H
    Aug 25, 2014 at 12:43 am
    Teen Digada....kaam bigada.
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