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Why Narendra Modi’s Pakistan policy is hardly innovative

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s approach towards Pakistan swings like a wild pendulum. They make hawkish statements when out of power and cuddle the neighbour with an impromptu hug when in power- without imagining the repercussions of either. The recent ‘sudden’ halt by the Prime Minister in Lahore while coming back from Kabul is another such addition to the motion of this swinging pendulum. Home Minister Rajnath Singh has hailed this ‘stop-over’ by the PM as an example of “innovative diplomacy” and Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj has called the PM ‘statesman like”. But hardly of the two are true.

Flashback June 2015, when the Foreign Minister on record stated that there will be no talks with Pakistan as long as Zaki-ur-rehman Lakhvi or Hafiz Sayeed (both master minds of the Mumbai 26/11 attack) remain free. Then come July and the BJP’s spokespersons were claiming victory after the Ufa talks of the ‘big breakthrough’ on terror related talks. This was nothing new. In a Joint Statement, way back in September, 2006 after a Summit bilateral in Havana between Dr ManmohanSingh and the then Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan not only “agreed that terrorism is a scourge that needs to be effectively dealt with” but also “decided to put in place an India-Pakistan anti-terrorism institutional mechanism to identify and implement counter-terrorism initiatives and investigations”

Similarly, in the Joint Statement issued after a bilateral meeting between the then Foreign Ministers of India and Pakistan on September 8, 2012, Pakistan had not only agreed to “fight terrorism in an effective and comprehensive manner, so as to eliminate the scourge  in allits forms and manifestations” , but alsocommitted to “bring all the perpetratorsof the Mumbai terror attacks to justice expeditiously”

A series of events preceded the much hyped Ufa talks:-

1. The Prime Minister in a dramatic move invited the Prime Minister of Pakistan for his swearing in ceremony on May 26, 2014. This was followed by the now infamous ‘Saari-Shawl’ and mango diplomacy.

2. This was followed by again a much touted declaration of Foreign Secretary level talks between the two countries on July 23, 2014

3. Even as this bonhomie was being touted, Pakistan continued its violation of the Indian borders and intensified firings and shelling manifold. Its High Commissioner in India dared us by audaciously meeting the Shabir Shah, a leading Kashmiri separatist to discuss Kashmir.

4. Amidst severe criticism the Government then decided to withdraw from the Foreign Secretary talks on August 18, 2014.

5. This flip flop was followed by Pakistani courts first granting bail to and then releasing the dreaded terrorist and prime accused in the Mumbai 26/11 attack Zaki-ur-rehmanLakhvi in absence of the Pakistan Government providing ample prosecution evidence.

6. Even as Modi’s Government and his Minister Rajyawardhan Singh Rathore were undiplomatically celebrating covert counter terrorist operations in Myanmar, the Pakistan Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan on June 10, 2015, ‘threatened and warned’ India.

7. On July 8, 2015, the Pakistani Defence Minister Khawaja Asif threatened India with a Nuclear attack.

8. Even while the Prime Minister was preparing for his talks with his Pakistani counterpart, Pakistan shamelessly violated the LoC in Baramulla in Jammu and Kashmir killing two Jawans and injuring one over July 8th and 9th

Then comes August 2015 – The Udhampur terror attack on BSF convoy and the Gurdaspur terror attack followed. In a blatant show of aggression, Heavily Armed Terrorists using Chinese made grenades from Pakistan walked into Gurdaspur unhindered and killed 10 civilians and 7 security personnel including a Superintendent of Punjab Police.

In September, Modi Government in another about-face of sorts called of the much publicized National Security Advisor level talks. Much drama was created by both sides and Modi’s spokespersons emphasized the need of having a dialogue on terror while Pakistan pushed for the K-word. At the end the entire theatrics ended in calling off the NSA level talks. Modi Government’s unpreparedness and lack of backchannel talks with Pakistan was thoroughly exposed in this disaster of sorts.

Before coming to the present, let us rewind into the BJP’s record viz-a-viz terror and Pakistan. Let us recall the Vajpayee-Nawaz Sharif era. To understand BJP’s foreign policy, it is very essential to look back at three most important events- Kargil, Parliament attack and Operation Parakram.

After testing a Nuclear Bomb, a month after assuming office- certainly prepared by the previous Narasimha Rao Government, Atal Behari Vajpayee shook hands with Nawaz Sharif and inaugurated the Lahore Bus. Vajpayee wanted to be statesmen, and certainly for every Indian Prime Minister (barring few exceptions like Indira Gandhi) peace with Pakistan certainly means etching their name in history.

The bus to Lahore went nowhere and Kargil happened. Vajpayee and the entire BJP Government and administration were caught snoozing when Pakistan attacked India with the help of Kashmiri militants.

Some contrarian views suggest that Atal Behari Vajpayee knew about the Kargil infiltration long back, but he did nothing in time, and more than 500 lives of army men were lost. The intelligence failure leading to Kargil is pardonable and is of lesser relevance here. The only reason that India lost so many precious soldiers, was because Vajpayee restrained the army from crossing the LoC (Line of Control).

The government bungled before the war broke out. India's military and intelligence establishments erred in assessing the indicators.

It came as a shock for the Kargil Review Committee (headed by defense analyst K Subrahmanyam) when a lady officer at Army Headquarters told it that General Ved Prakash Malik, then chief of army staff, got a report of intrusions by Pakistanis a day before he was to leave for Poland on an official visit. General Malik instructed his office not to forward the report until his return.

The Vajpayee Government’s naivety caused the loss of atleast 527 Indian soldiers and 1363 soldiers were left wounded. They were busy with “peace fever”. Across the board there was a craving for friendship with Pakistan. Military and intelligence personnel neglected all indicators about General Pervez Musharraf's duplicity.

Kargil also showed our military leaders in poor light. Even when they started getting reports of the intrusion, they underplayed it, at high cost. Defence Minister George Fernandes termed it, initially, a 'small intrusion.' Even a cursory look at the newspapers of April-May 1999 makes the government's attempt to underplay the event evident.

Although we should salute the brave men who made supreme sacrifices and India won the war, but it further exposed the pusillanimity of the BJP Government

First came the Lahore Bus ride, then Kargil, then a ceasefire, then calls for a final war (aar-paar ki ladaai) with Pakistan and finally the much-trumpeted thaw in Indo-Pak relations. All through the BJP Government made attempts at peace and war, innocent Indian citizens continue to be slaughtered. India’s symbols of Democracy, the Red Fort and the Parliament, have not been spared while the Prime Minister oscillates between playing a dove and a hawk.

In December 2001, Parliament attack followed. To avenge the Parliament attack, the BJP led Vajpayee Government again made a terrible mistake in which hundreds of our soldiers lost their lives without even fighting Pakistan at the border.

Perhaps the biggest and the most lesser known failures of the Vajpayee Government was Operation Parakaram. Vajpayee Government in its zeal to counter Pakistan’s hand in the Parliament attack began mobilization of troops at the Indo-Pak border. This resulted in a 10 month standoff between the two countries.

The Kargil conflict led to the death of 527 Indian soldiers while heroically taking back heights occupied by Pakistanis in 1999. Shockingly, without going to war, 1874 Indian Soldiers died!

Usually extremely tight-lipped about casualty figures, the defence minister George Fernandes had to disclose them in the Rajya Sabha. "The number of Army personnel killed or wounded in Jammu and Kashmir and the western sector during the mobilisation, Operation Parakram, from December 19, 2001 to October 16, 2002, was 1,874," said Defence Minister George Fernandes on April 30, 2003

This, by any benchmark, is a truly staggering figure for a 10-month period, even if the counter-insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir are taken into account.

In the initial phase of Operation Parakram itself, after the December 2001 Parliament attack, over 100 soldiers were killed and 250 injured during mine-laying operations. 
Vehicle accidents, artillery duels with Pakistan and other incidents led to many more casualties.

Relentless counter-insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir are also, of course, exacting a heavy toll on the soldiers, with over 1,000 being killed in terrorist activity between 2000-2003

So the “Nationalist” BJP is not only responsible for killing 527 soldiers in Kargil, it is also responsible for killing 1874 more soldiers due of this humongous misadventure!

The cost of sustaining Operation Parakram was reported to be have been pegged by India’s National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) at Rs 7 crore a day. This works out to approximately Rs 2,100 crore over 10 months

Let us now again come back to the events which preceded Narendra Modi’s much talked about sudden visit to Pakistan.

Sushma Swaraj went to Islamabad for the ‘Heart of Asia Summit’ which was multinational exercise in which she met Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif. This was all a calculated exercise after the noise of the NSA talk disaster was over. All was good. But even before that something unusual happened on the sidelines of the November 2014 SAARC Summit.

Certain sections of the media had today reported that the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi met his Pakistan counterpart, Shri Nawaz Sharif and held extensive talks utilizing the good offices of a private industrialist as a mediator. This meeting, if it happened, took place despite categorical denial on part of the Government about many having been planned, leave apart, a meeting having taken place.

Infact it was underlined and publicly stated in the media that "While the PM had bilateral meetings with all other 5 heads of government's on the side lines of the SAARC summit", none happened with Pakistan. The Government then said, Prime Minister Shri  Narendra Modi held bilateral talks with all Heads of Government and State attending the 18th SAARC Summit in November 2014 with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif the only conspicuous exemption.

External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said, "It was decided earlier that there will be no structured talks as no requests had come... I said it before we are ready for a meaningful bilateral dialogue. When circumstances are there, we will have that dialogue. Nothing else....We are ready when they are ready."

Asked whether Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan will exchange pleasantries at the dinner or at the retreat tomorrow, he only said "when a senior Indian leader and senior Pakistani leader come face to face, they exchange courtesies.

The dilly dallying on an issue as sensitive and detrimental like our relations with Pakistan has been visible ever since Shri Modi's Government assumed office. Be it the posturing at the swearing in of Shri Modi, invitation to Kashmiri separatists by the Pakistan High Commission, subsequent bail and release of accused of Mumbai 26/11, unprecedented violations by Pakistan from across the borders, declaration and then cancellation of NSA talks on two occasions, blatant disregard of Ufa joint statement by Pakistan or Pakistan raking up Kashmir and third party mediation at UN, the nation's Pakistan policy has been nothing but disastrous flip flops.

A 160 second animated meeting between the two Prime Ministers were followed up in Paris on December 1, 2015. Winter was covering South-Asia, but the ice between India and Pakistan now seemed to be breaking.

After being a mute spectator to more than 900 ceasefire violations from across the border ,death of 78 security personnel since June 2014 and 25% increase in cross border infiltration this year,  Narendra Modi Government was now shifting from his hawkish mode to the ‘dove’ mode. The same Government which cancelled the NSA level talks in September held an NSA level talk in a third country- Thailand, just four months after their stand that Kashmir and all outstanding issues won’t be discussed. In Bangkok, a framework for a comprehensive dialogue for every, yes each and every outstanding issue including Kashmir was made between the two NSA’s who met secretly. This was done when the Indian Parliament was underway, and the Prime Minister or his Foreign Minister did not even bother to inform the lawmakers of the country about such a thing taking place at a neutral venue.

With such blunders in the Government's show case, the people of India were then told that NSA talks happened in Bangkok as a continuation of the talks between PM and his Pakistani counterpart.

Former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has often said that “we can choose our friends, but we have no choice with regard to our neighbors”

Let us not be hypocritical of our stand with Pakistan. Every Indian wants a meaningful, result oriented dialogue with Pakistan, but not at the behest of our dead bodies. Narendra Modi with all his political rhetoric during the Lok Sabha elections on Pakistan, failed to keep his word. His self proclaimed ’56-inch’ chest seemed to have vanished. Posturing is all very well when it comes to foreign affairs, but pragmatism is the need of the hour.

Narendra Modi’s so called halt in Lahore is being termed as ‘innovative diplomacy’, but he seems to be now only following the pragmatic diplomacy of Dr Manmohan Singh who kept his word on Pakistan and never visited the country only for self publicity and optics. Instead he concentrated on deliverables and always preferred dialogue and result oriented talks with Pakistan, whether back channel or otherwise. It is said he and Pakistan almost came to closing a dispute. This he did on his own principles.

The section of the media who is hailing Modi’s Pakistan policy right now is again falling into the Vajpayee-Lahore-Kargil-Agra trap. It is high time we bring some maturity and gravitas to our foreign policy. Especially when we cannot choose our neighbours.

For meaningful talks to take place, India’s stand should always be consistent -certain core issues with regards to unjustified belligerence on part of Pakistan involving cross border terrorism, violation of ceasefire line and application of due process of law to the accused in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks have to be put in place. Full Stop.  


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