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’