A20 INDIA NEWS/SNUBBING PAKISTAN India Abroad August 29, 2014
India has an established position that the peace process with Pakistan shall remain suspended till the perpe- trators of the Mumbai attacks are brought to book.
But even the Manmohan Singh government, which established that position, violated it several times by trying to
organize ‘non-talks’, track II talks and various variations
of talks, even talks on talks.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who opposed those
moves and advocated a tough position on Pakistan, surprised everyone by offering foreign secretary level talks
without saying so.
After his talks with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz
Sharif, it was announced that the ‘foreign secretaries
would remain in touch’ by phone, through high commissioners etc, but the dates of the talks were announced
without any plausible reason.
India’s Pakistan policy is reduced to the question, to talk
or not to talk. The question should be whether the time
has come for progress in normalizing relations.
Nawaz Sharif did nothing to be rewarded by talks ever
since he returned from India except for sari diplomacy.
On the contrary, the ceasefire was violated several times,
the Kashmir issue was raised and the Most Favored
Nation status was forgotten.
The businessman prime minister of Pakistan ignored
the tantalizing offers of India’s business-friendly prime
minister. The dates of the talks were announced regardless, for no rhyme or reason, except a commitment to
improve relations with Pakistan and other neighbors.
Meanwhile, the situation in Pakistan has deteriorated,
making Nawaz Sharif’s position precarious. The talks had
failed once again even before they started. Prime Minister
Modi himself openly criticized Pakistan’s proxy war.
The cancellation of the foreign secretary level talks was
ostensibly on account of the meetings that the Pakistan
high commissioner held with the Hurriyat leaders, but it
came as no surprise against the background of the lack of
response of Pakistan to India’s overtures.
The government also had an eye on the forthcoming
elections in Jammu and Kashmir. The whole episode
beginning with the invitation to Nawaz Sharif and ending
with the cancellation of the talks has served only to make
the new government in India aware of the realities of
Pakistan. But it deserves credit for not dithering in the face
of Pakistan’s interference in India’s internal affairs, as its
predecessors had done.
Since India had not reacted to such meetings except in
words, Pakistan had taken it for granted that it had a
legitimate right to ascertain the wishes of those whom
they considered representatives of the Kashmiri people
before engaging in talks.
Even after the cancellation of the talks, the high commissioner continued his meetings, leading to legitimate
demands that he should be expelled.
What did India expect from the talks? It was obvious that the two sides would have only reiterated their
positions. Pakistan would have raised the Kashmir and
Baluchistan issues and we would have demanded an end
to terrorism and punishment of the Mumbai marauders.
India had nothing to gain by the talks except for some
brownie points from the United States for being reasonable. Pakistan desperately needed the talks to get arms
and money from the Americans. So it remains unclear as
to why we upgraded the ‘keeping in touch’ formula to foreign secretary-level talks.
It could either be the anxiety of the new government to
break new ground with Pakistan. It could be the pressure
of the peaceniks, who want uninterrupted
peace talks with Pakistan. It could even be
some false expectations raised by some jour-
nalists and others, who gained access even to
Muhammad Sayeed, the most wanted
Pakistani in India. But the overall impact is the
clear assertion that Pakistan was not ready to
grasp the hand of friendship extended by
A strong school of thought in India has it
that we need to support the democratic forces
in Pakistan and encourage the civil society
there, going to the extent of strengthening
Sharif against the fundamentalists and the
This has been proved wrong once again.
History has taught us that, regardless of the
changes in the Pakistan government, the policy
of hatred against India has been consistently
maintained. Moreover, Sharif has always had
strong links with the jihadis and the army.
A hardening of the Indian position on
Pakistan may well be the consequence of the
episode. Many had speculated what the Modi
government’s reaction would be if a major terrorist attack is launched by Pakistan. The situation is serious enough even now and the
instinct of the present government would be to
be tough with Pakistan.
Some reports indicate that the talks were
designed to prepare for a possible meeting
between Modi and Sharif in New York.
Considering that no breakthrough was expected at the summit, a preparatory meeting at the
political level was hardly necessary. Now the
possibility of the summit itself has receded.
The Pakistan experience calls into question the very foundation of the new neighborhood policy that Modi has announced. The only foreign
policy indication he gave during his Independence Day
message was that all the SAARC nations would fight
poverty together and that India would help SAARC to
emerge as a power in the world.
This is an unexceptionable dimension to foreign policy.
But it should not be forgotten that SAARC has not fulfilled even its limited promises because of the bilateral
issues among them and the grievances each one of them
has against India.
Neither Indira Gandhi’s demands for strict reciprocity,
nor the Gujral Doctrine, which envisaged unilateral con-
cessions by India had helped in the past to build up
Modi mentioned his visits to Bhutan and Nepal, which
were extremely successful. The package that he offered to
Nepal was unprecedented and his speech in the Nepal
parliament, containing various assurances, was considered
a game changer. But the fact remains that the Nepalese
newspapers are still voicing apprehensions about India’s
intentions. Questions are being asked about India eyeing
Nepal’s water and using security as a code word to bypass
Even our other neighbors are likely to suspect our intentions if we make friendly moves. To make such a slippery
ground the corner stone of our foreign policy is hazardous
indeed. We should manage our relations with our neighbors, but go farther afield to the east and the west to battle poverty and to gain strength. We should realize that we
do live in a ‘tough neighborhood,’ as Henry Kissinger
famously said in justification of our nuclear weapons tests
T P Sreenivasan is a former Ambassador of India and
Governor for India at the IAEA; Executive Vice-Chairman,
What’s the point of talking to Pakistan?
Kerala State Higher Education Council and Director
General, Kerala International Centre.
T P SREENIVASAN
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, center, greets his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif after taking the oath of office in New Delhi May 26. According to Ambassador Sreenivasan, the episode beginning with the invitation to Sharif and ending with the cancellation of the scheduled talks this month has served only to make the new Indian government aware of the realities of Pakistan. ADNAN ABIDI/REUTERS