Mature democratic politics requires an Opposition that does not blindly oppose. Leadership is tested when it shows the ability to rise above the expected and the predictable, and to display courage of conviction based on the evaluation of events and ideas on merit. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s support of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise visit to Lahore to wish Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on his birthday is a good example of such leadership qualities. His response took many people by surprise, including in the BJP and among his own allies.
Quite simply put, India does not have the option to not engage with Pakistan. As a neighbouring country, Pakistan cannot be wished away. The problems between our two countries will remain, and possibly fester more dangerously, if we decide to close our eyes to the existence of a bordering nation-state. In diplomacy, “katti” is usually not a very good option. Besides, there is something a trifle un-seemly for a country like India, which has legitimate aspirations to sit on the high table of the world, to be endlessly bogged down by an endemic conflict in its own backyard.
Given this, Mr Modi’s unexpected stopover in Lahore, and the warm welcome he received from Mr Sharif, strengthens the possibility of the resumption of structured talks. But where praise is due criticism must also be taken on board. The policy of the BJP government towards Pakistan thus far has been a saga of the most extraordinary flip-flops. What is clearly discernible is the absence of a carefully thought-out and calibrated strategic framework for furthering the engagement with Pakistan. Pakistan has been steady in its policy of avowals of friendship combined with sustained aggression. Our response has been reactive, impulsive, contradictory and oscillating.
With regard to this latest initiative, several questions arise. Did the Modi government not expect some form of armed reprisal sponsored by the Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence and the jihadi organisations that work under their tutelage? This has been the invariable pattern in the past whenever a break-through has been made with the civilian govern-ment in Pakistan. But Pathankot clearly demonstrates that we were woefully ill-prepared in anticipating the expec-ted. Even though action-able intelligence was reportedly available, a group of terrorists from Pakistan managed to penetrate an Indian Air Force base and inflict heavy damage, including the killing of seven military men. Should not responsibility be fixed for this state of affairs? Moreover, was this gesture of a lightning visit to Lahore preceded by in-depth back channel and Track-II diplomacy, including with the Pakistani “deep state” consisting of the Army and the ISI? Again, notwithstanding this dramatic air shuttle, where are we today?
The reports that Masood Azhar, the mastermind of the Jaish-e-Mohammed that executed the Pathankot attack, has been put under preventive detention have been rubbished by no less a person than Masood Azhar himself. Mr Sharif has made some agreeable noises about taking “action” against those who perpetrated this attack, but not much seems to be happening on the ground, and the foreign secretary-level talks, notwithstanding the positive spin given by the diplomats of both countries on their deferment, are again in limbo. Essentially, for lack of detailed and sustained preparation and anticipation prior to the taking of a new initiative, we are back to square one.
There is another aspect that must come up for scrutiny. What has been the role of our good friend, the United States, in curbing and eliminating the terrorist infrastructure in Pakis-tan? If there is one coun-try that can exercise some tangible influence on the Army and the ISI in Pakistan, it is America. America has concrete evidence of Pakistan-backed terror-ism. In convicting David Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana for the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, America has accepted the culpability of both state and non-state actors in Pakistan for this carnage. The US government has, indeed, put a reward of $10 million on the arrest of Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed.
But is this not tokenism, when it is aware that Mr Saeed roams about a free man in Pakistan, with the full knowledge of that coun-try’s government? Terr-or sanctuaries prolife-rate in Pakistan in full view and the Taliban in Afghanistan claim open support of the Pakistani government, yet the US remains as generous as ever in its aid to Pakistan, including supplies to the Pakistan Army.
Mr Modi may have called President Barack Obama by his first name as many as 19 times in the course of a half hour radio programme when the latter visited India in January 2015, but should not this endearing familiarity also translate into some pressure by the American government on Pakistan to take concrete and verifiable measures to curb and dismantle its terror network? Or is America’s avowed fight against global terrorism en-tirely a selective and expedient process, activated only when the consequences of that terror directly impinge on its own short-term interests? America, more than any other country in the world perhaps, understands that terrorism anywhere in the world is a threat to countries everywhere on the planet.
Why then have we not seen a more robust and effective American intervention in Pakistan in support of our strategic goal of neutralising the terror networks operating against us with the full support of the “deep state”? With presidential elections due in the US, the chances of any new policy initiative for Pakistan are receding. But India must continue to raise this matter on a sustained and strong basis with Mr Obama, or whoever succeeds him.
Engaging with Pakistan to find a solution to the issues that divide us must remain our strategic goal. Neighbours, without an option to relocate, must co-exist in peace in their own long-term interests. To that extent, Mr Modi’s air dash to Lahore must be welcomed. But for such dramatic gestures to yield lasting dividends, care must be taken to imbed them in a strategic framework that eschews “event management” diplomacy.
*The Writer is Author-Diplomat and a Rajya Sabha MP