Tuesday, February 05, 2019
India’s Pakistan policy has zig-zagged wildly with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He first wooed his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif, descending on his home in Lahore on Christmas Day in 2015, to wish him on his birthday. But Modi lacked the stamina and the gumption to take on the Pakistani deep state, which responded with the Pathankot attack barely a week later, in January 2016.
After nearly two years of hurling fire and brimstone at Pakistan, and visiting world capitals to demand that Islamabad be proscribed for its support to terrorism, Modi seems to suddenly believe that Islamabad’s offer of permitting a corridor from Gurdaspur in India to Kartarpur in Pakistan offers the prospect of acting as a bridge to the neighbouring country.
Kartarpur, in Narowal district of Pakistan’s Punjab province, is the place where Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, spent the last 18 years of his life till his death in 1539. The gurdwara built here is one of the holiest shrines in Sikhism. The Pakistan government has approved the development of a corridor from Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur to the international border. On November 22, the Modi Cabinet approved the development of a corridor on the Indian side –from Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district to the international border. This strip will allow pilgrims from India to visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib without a visa throughout the year. On November 24, Modi likened the proposed corridor to the breaching of the Berlin Wall that led to the end of the Cold War. On Monday, Vice President Venkaiah Naidu laid the foundation stone for the project at Mann village in Gurdaspur district.
All this happened after three months of unrelenting attacks by the BJP and its National Democratic Alliance partner, the Shiromani Akali Dal, on Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu for announcing that Pakistan had decided to allow Sikh pilgrims direct access to the Kartarpur gurdwara. Sidhu had been informed of this by the Pakistan government during his visit to Islamabad to participate in the swearing-in of Imran Khan as prime minister in August. It was on this visit that Sidhu had hugged Pakistan Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa, for which he was attacked by the BJP.
On his return to India, Sidhu had written to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj urging her to take up the Kartarpur Corridor issue at an official level. However, he was reprimanded by Swaraj for his pains. The Shiromani Akali Dal had questioned his patriotism and Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal had accused him of furthering his own agenda. Sidhu was generous enough to ignore this sniping after the Union government later did exactly what he had proposed – take up the Pakistani offer.
Why did the Modi government change tack? Usually matters relating to Pakistan are a convenient way of whipping up anti-Muslim sentiment in the Hindu heartland, a staple BJP electoral tactic.
The reason is that anti-Pakistani sentiments no longer resonate in Punjab. Muslims on the Indian side and Sikhs on the Pakistani part of Punjab were, so to speak, “cleansed” during Partition. Today, the horrific events have receded from memory, and been replaced somewhat by nostalgia for the days of united Punjab. This was evident from the fact that Sidhu did not face criticism within Punjab itself. Indeed, given the Pakistani offer, it appeared that New Delhi was scoring a self-goal among the Sikh community by not taking it up immdiately.
Hence the quick about-turn. Even so, New Delhi ensured that the Kartarpur corridor will not be the basis of normalisation of ties, especially since its groundbreaking ceremony in Pakistan was scheduled for November 28, the week India was commemorating the 10th anniversary of the horrific terror attack in Mumbai. Sushma Swaraj politely declined the invitation to attend, noting however, that India would be represented by Union Ministers Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Hardeep Singh Puri.
But this is not the only about-turn this month. Earlier on November 9, India participated in the second Moscow format meeting on Afghanistan where Taliban representatives were present. It did so by using the artifice of sending two retired foreign service officers who work with government-funded think tanks in New Delhi. So far, India has maintained that it did not recognise the right of Afghan insurgent groups to participate in any peace talks because of their jihadist background. The real concern, however, has been New Delhi’s belief that the Taliban are a mere proxy for Pakistan.
A third straw in New Delhi’s confusing wind has been the visit of former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik to Jammu and Kashmir, where he met Hurriyat leaders. Bondevik is currently the head of the Oslo Centre for Peace and Reconciliation, and given Norway’s penchant for peace-making, there is speculation that some peace moves are afoot. The fact that New Delhi permitted the visit is significant. That Bondevik clearly sees his role as a peacemaker is evident from his remarks in Srinagar and his subsequent visit to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Pakistan.
This too is an about-turn. For six years, no foreign dignitary has met Hurriyat leaders, and New Delhi has sought to isolate the Hurriyat since 2014. At the same time, it has refused to talk to Pakistan, especially on the issue of Kashmir where it has adopted a policy of militarily finishing off the militancy.
This recent development suggests that the Union government may be realising that it is in a no-win situation with regard to Jammu and Kashmir currently, and needs a way to break the ice with both Pakistan and the players in the state.
What is not clear even now is whether these shifts in New Delhi are because Modi wants to minimise the possibility that some of these issues will act as a drag on his re-election campaign, or if they represent a change of heart in New Delhi.
Certainly, the 2019 General Elections were an important consideration when India made peace with the Chinese in Wuhan earlier this year. The BJP knows that bashing Pakistan plays well in its electoral base, but it is one thing to inflate a minor cross-border strike into a military victory, as was done with the so-called surgical strikes across the Line of Control in 2016, and quite another to get involved in a skirmish that may not work so well for India and expose the Modi government’s weaknesses. Likewise, turmoil in Jammu and Kashmir, which was in a state of relative peace in the years before the Modi government, could play badly with the electorate.
The fact is that the Modi government has made a mess of India’s Pakistan and Jammu and Kashmir policy, and now it is seeking to ensure that things do not blow up in its face.
The Scroll November 28, 2018
Reports say that so far some 400 persons have been killed in J&K this year, more than half of whom were militants. This is the highest toll since 2009, when the figure was 375 for the whole year, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal.
But this is only one measure of the failure of the government’s policy. Another was visible last week when Governor Satya Pal Malik dissolved the Assembly that had been in suspension since June, in somewhat murky circumstances. Mehbooba Mufti, the PDP leader, said she had had to tweet her party’s claim to form the government because she could not reach Raj Bhavan either by phone or fax. With 28 People’s Democratic Party (PDP), 12 Congress and 15 National Conference legislators, Mehbooba’s group had a clear majority in the 87-member legislative Assembly.In the meantime, surprise, surprise, Sajjad Lone, the leader of People’s Conference, which is close to the BJP, did manage to have a telephonic conversation with the Governor to stake the claim of his party. Lone has just two MLAs, though he claimed the support of the 26-member BJP group and 18 unspecified legislators.
For this reason, perhaps, the Governor decided to dissolve the Assembly and call for fresh elections in the state. Since the tenure of the Governor’s rule will end next month, the state is likely to go in for a spell of President’s rule.In some senses the circle will have then turned full. Persuading the politicians of the Valley to participate in the elections took a major effort on the part of New Delhi between 1993, when militancy was defeated and 1996 when Farooq Abdullah and the National Conference first refused to participate in the Lok Sabha elections, but were later persuaded to join the contest for the subsequent state Assembly polls that the NC won hands down.
Even though the Congress had won four of the six Lok Sabha seats, the Lok Sabha outcome had not really been credible. It was only when the NC rejoined the electoral process for the Assembly elections that a measure of integrity was given to the elections.
This was even more true, six years later in 2002, when the NC and the newly formed PDP participated in the Assembly elections that were termed by many as the fairest ever to have been held in J&K till then. The reason was that there were now two strong contending Valley parties aligned openly to the Indian Union. This time around, the PDP emerged as the winner in a coalition with the Congress. The main thrust of the militancy may have been defeated at this time, but the levels of violence remained high in the state, often targeting those being perceived to be close to India.
And now we have a situation that could see prolonged President’s rule because New Delhi believes that minus the encumbrance of a state government it will be able to ‘sort things out’ in the state.
That is not likely to happen because the Union government actually has no political plan for the state. It has a tactical military plan which involves the physical elimination of the militancy. But here, too, there is no strategic plan. Killing militants doesn’t mean much in a situation where very clearly the situation has degenerated to the point where militant recruitment has been rising, rather than declining. Further, where between 1993 and 2014, Pakistani jihadis kept militancy afloat, now, there has been a sharp increase in locals joining it. According to one assessment, 164 persons joined militancy till the end of October in 2018. In 2017, 128 had reportedly joined; in 2016, 84; 83 in 2015; and 63 in 2014. These figures bring out the fact that the so-called ‘Operation All Out’ military effort to wipe out militancy may have had the opposite effect.
True, these local youth, often driven by their emotions, hardly pose a threat to the security forces. They are largely untrained and eliminated quite quickly, but they do clearly indicate the failure on the part of New Delhi to build upon the successes of the security forces and remove the underlying political causes of the militancy.
New Delhi’s problem is that it has nothing to offer but an unrelenting military face. The BJP does not believe that the state needs any kind of autonomy, so, there is nothing by way of a political formula that it has on offer. The matter of autonomy is more an issue of perception than reality, in other words, it is the things that New Delhi says and the gestures it makes towards the Valley that are important rather than the substance. But the Union government is unable to do this because the BJP’s local unit in the state is committed to a hard line against militancy and given its outstanding performance in the 2014 state Assembly elections, the BJP believes that it is close to being able to actually form a government in the state, never mind that it has little support in the troubled Valley.
Just what the party will do were it to actually come to power and form a government in the state is not very clear. Given its unpropitious performance as a coalition partner of the PDP in the 2014-2018 period, it is likely to make things worse.
The Tribune November 28, 2018