There was never any great hope that under cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan’s stewardship Pakistan would break new ground in relations with India, overcoming the inertia that now characterises these ties. It was not as though there was no desire in Imran to see the dawn of a new era but the very fact that he had been catapulted to the post of Pakistan prime minister with active backroom help from the military was enough to dispel any impression of bonhomie in the days ahead.
Combined with it is that the coming year in India will see elections in BJP-ruled states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh and later in all of India for the Lok Sabha in a situation where anti-incumbency is a live issue, and consequently Indian hawkishness on Pakistan is manifest.
The war of words between the Indian and Pakistani delegations at the UN General Assembly has indeed raised the level of acrimonyeven as the foreign ministers of the two countries who were to meet have not done so with India crying ‘wolf’ over the brutal killing of three Indian policemen ostensibly by Pakistani intruders, and the glorification of slain Kashmir terrorist Burhan Wani, with Islamabad issuing a postal stamp in his name.
When Imran extended his hand of friendship to India, he had not reckoned with the deep animosity of the Pakistan Army which has for years sabotaged civilian efforts to forge durable peace with India by triggering specific terror strikes. Be it Kargil or Pathankot or even Prime Minister Modi’s impromptu visit to Lahore to call on then prime minister Nawaz Sharif on his birthday, the Pakistan Army has reacted with calculated intent to sabotage all peace initiatives.
One way for India to call Pakistan’s bluff was to go ahead with peace talks despite the army’s or its intelligence wing the ISI’s provocations but New Delhi was fearful that the BJP government would then look weak before the national electorate for which the Modi government was not prepared.
It is indeed debatable whether it was right for India to call off the foreign minister-level talks recently. Had it gone on with the talks, it could well have been a fitting rebuff to the Pakistan Army hawks. A few eyebrows in India would have been raised but it was worth the effort. Be it relations with India or Afghanistan or the US, the Pakistani establishment with the Army unofficially sitting atop it with all the power but no responsibility, would like to be at the centre of any decision-making.
Until a civilian administration in Pakistan develops the gumption to move on with India, this would continue and by unwittingly playing to the Pakistan Army’s tune, the Modi government is allowing itself to be outplayed in this game.
Yet, all said and done, it would be puerile for India and Pakistan not to see merit in pushing ahead with a peace agenda because the hostile relationship is harming them both grievously in terms of lower growth, especially in Pakistan, and soaring expenditure on defence.
Pakistan Foreign Minister Saad Warraich whose own country’s record in terms of upholding human rights has been abysmal indeed had no business to sling mud at India at the United Nations over the conditions of Muslims and Christians in India based on isolated incidents. The manner in which he painted RSS as a terror outfit was objectionable.
Likewise, colouring the labelling of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh in droves by the National Registry of Citizens with the minority tag was no less unfortunate. There is no comparison between how the minorities are treated in India and Pakistan. If there is persecution of minorities anywhere, it is not in India but Pakistan where they have been hounded, killed and turned out.
India is absolutely right when it asserts that an essential prerequisite to any headway on talks has to be on the cessation of terrorist activities by terror groups operating in Kashmir with Pakistani acquiescence. Talks on other issues can then follow.
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