The Modi government has called off the foreign secretary-level talks due on August 25 following the meeting between Pakistan high commissioner Abdul Basit and Kashmir Democratic Freedom Party leader Shabbir Shah on August 18. Indian foreign secretary Sujata Singh in her telephonic conversation with Basit referred to it indirectly as “interference in India’s internal affairs”. Basit protested that this was “standard practice”. Peacemakers in India are worried that this has killed the possibility of Prime Ministers Narendra Modi-Nawaz Sharif meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) meeting next month in New York. The prelude to this short diplomatic contretemps was Modi inviting Sharif and other SAARC leaders to the swearing-in ceremony of his Cabinet in May. It seems that the Modi government had embraced the Pakistan-friendly mode much too fast and jettisoned it with as much alacrity.
The details of the face-off seem quite unimportant. What is significant is the indefinite replay of now-angry-now-friendly Indian approach to Pakistan. It is true that Pakistan high commissioners in India had been indulging in the diplomatically offensive measure of meeting Kashmiri separatist leaders and India’s governments had been expressing their diplomatic displeasure with predictable regularity. The Modi government, it would appear, has put its foot down as it were, and it wants the farce of meetings between the separatists and the Pak envoy to end. This has all the marks of a no-nonsense approach as opposed to the earlier kid-gloves approach. If the Modi government had hoped that Pakistan would change its ways, then it has shown its naivete. What it needs to do now is to state clearly the terms of its talks with Pakistan. It is clear that Pakistan will insist on Kashmir being part of the dialogue process. Modi government will have to make clear its stand.
The Narasimha Rao government and Indian Parliament have further complicated the issue by declaring that the whole of Jammu and Kashmir, including the region in Pakistan, is an integral part of India. India then will have to either negotiate with Pakistan for the return of that part of Kashmir or go to war over it. Remember that after the Shimla Agreement of 1972, Kashmir remains a bilateral issue between the two countries. The military option is ruled out for two reasons. First, once the war breaks out between the two countries, the rest of the world will not remain a silent bystander. Second, even if India succeeds militarily, it would appear that the other side of Kashmir may not be amenable to integration with India. The realistic alternative is to accept the de facto position with India and Pakistan holding on to their respective parts of Kashmir. As a matter of fact, hard-nosed realists on both sides know this to be the only practicable solution.
If Prime Minister Modi wants to break through the clutter of history and diplomacy, he may have to accept the status quo. Modi’s party, the BJP, can do it because it is seen as the hardliner. Hardliners are in a stronger position when it comes to making peace. When NDA was in power last time with Atal Bihari Vajpayee as Prime Minister, the RSS, the ideological mentor of BJP, had mooted the trifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir into Jammu, Ladakh and Kashmir, with the implication that Muslim-majority Kashmir could be allowed to secede. The BJP then was prompt in rejecting the trifurcation proposal. It is necessary for Modi and BJP to think over things before moving on the Pakistan front.