I think, Government of India lost a huge opportunity in altering the India-Kashmir-Pakistan narrative and national interest was again mortgaged to petty domestic politics. A stable and democratic Pakistan is as much a need for Pakistan as it is for India. Thus, efforts to strengthen Pakistan democracy should have been part of India’s strategic thinking.
It is no secret that power in Pakistan is distributed among three elements, the Federal Government, the ISI and the Army. Off the three, the Federal Government has the least power and often struggles to prove its legitimacy, more so when it comes to international relations especially with India. However, 2013 saw for the first time a democratically elected Government transfer powers to another democratically elected Government. Given the history of military dictatorship in Pakistan, this was no mean achievement. So, in came Nawaz Sharif with a solid mandate. Nawaz Sharif has been known to be friendly towards India and in all his previous stints, as PM of Pakistan, he has made attempts to chart a new course in the Indo-Pak relationship. Needless to say the ISI-Army watches his steps closely for signs of weakness or softness in stand towards India. On the other side of the border, 2014 saw a first in the history of Indian democracy. For the first time in 30 years a single party got a complete majority in General Elections and first time since Independence a non-Congress party (BJP) came to power with a thumping majority. In came Narendra Modi with a solid mandate.
As a master stroke in Diplomacy, Heads of state of all the SAARC countries were invited to the swearing in ceremony of the new government. The invitation created a dilemma for Nawaz Sharif. If he rejected the invitation, the world would have said that the new Indian Government was attempting to thaw the relationship but obstinate Pakistan wasn’t willing. If he accepted the invitation, people in Pakistan would have seen it as bowing down to India and India would have claimed victory. It is a known fact now that both the Army and Senior Journalists in Pakistan advised Nawaz Sharif against the visit, indicating that there isn’t much to gain from the visit and Indians can’t be trusted. It is also known now that Nawaz insisted and prevailed over all opposing opinions and decided to make the visit to India and attend the swearing in ceremony. For him, this was an opportunity to demonstrate legitimacy of the mandate, exert authority over the hawkish elements at home and show his seriousness towards economic development of Pakistan, through improved trade links with India. Two democratically elected Governments on either side of the border, with a significant mandate and a clear 5 year term ahead of them augured well for changing equations and relations. However, that wasn’t to be and history repeated itself. A huge opportunity lost, probably for the whole of the coming five years.
Immediately after Nawaz Sharif’s visit, Foreign Secretary level talks were to take place between the two countries. However, the meeting of Hurriyat Conference (HC) leaders with Pakistan’s ambassador to India, was highlighted as an issue and the Foreign Secretary level talks were called off. For those in the know of these matters, HC leaders meeting Pakistan PM or Pakistan ambassador is a routine affair and has happened in the past. Although, the Pakistani Ambassador went ahead meeting HC leaders, the Pakistan PM however kept away from meeting HC leaders during his visit, thus signaling a friendlier stand. Yet, the meeting of HC leaders with Pakistani Ambassador was made into a serious issue and India refused to talk to Pakistan till such encouragement to separatist leaders was not stopped. Certainly this was a setback to Nawaz Sharif’s strategy and strengthened the ISI-Army view point on India. It helped them to show what a mistake it was to have accepted the invitation to visit India, thus weakening the grip of Pakistan Federal Government on matters concerned with International Affairs.
Close on the heels of this incident came the August 14th 2014, long-march in Pakistan. With baseless allegations from Imran Khan of massive rigging during 2013 elections and call for revolution by Canadian based Tahir-ul-Qadri the future of Nawaz Sharif government became jeopardized. While the army was not willing to step-in and meddle into domestic matters they supported the protests that broke out in Lahore due to their dislike towards Nawaz. Mainly stemming from, attempts to try Pervez Musharraf and the recent drubbing by India. Faced with severe protests in Lahore/Islamabad/Karachi and fast losing public support and a possiblity of his Government getting toppled, Nawaz Sharif brought up the issue of ‘Plebiscite in Kashmir’ at the UN General Assembly in September 2014. This, despite an agreement during Musharraf’s regime that, plebiscite issue won’t be brought up at the UNGA.
The trust deficit between the two Governments reached a new low!
The floods in Kashmir in September 2014, which many indicate to be a man-made disaster due to poor water resource management and ecological imbalance, gave a reason for the Indian state to exert its legitimacy in J&K. The heroic activities of Indian Army during the relief work were highlighted time and again. However, it is known now that the relief activities were not fast enough and not sufficient enough and India turned down help offered by international community which would have helped to improve medical facilities required to prevent spreading of any epidemic. With the media no longer focusing on J&K flood victims, we don’t know what their state is. However the message sent was very clear, that Indian Government run by BJP was in control of matters in J&K.
The other news doing the rounds was about the ceasefire violations by Pakistan. Interestingly, Indian media reported violations by Pakistan and Pakistan media reported violations by India, tough to know who’s telling the truth. However, logic would say that with vast domestic unrest and the constant vigil required at the Pak-Afghan border, the army wouldn’t like to open another front to worry about. Nonetheless, the reported intensity of ceasefire violations were so high that the Indian PM after speeches at Madison Square Garden, Dinner with Obama, election rallies in Maharashtra and loss of civilian life in the border area, decided to give a free hand to the Army to fire at will and destroy Pakistani posts. Now the Pakistani media is busy reporting heavy civilian casualty at their end and there are victory signs being flashed in India.
The trust deficit between the two Governments certainly hit another new low and might have reached a level from where reconciliation within coming 5 years becomes tough.
However, what certainly seems to be on track is BJP’s Mission 44+. When viewed in the backdrop of Mission 44+ the Indian strategy becomes clearer and pieces of the puzzle tend to fall in place, albeit, it might have come at the expense of national interest. Proving that the BJP led Government is doing everything to help J&K and also extending all help through all resources at its disposal is a way to ensure that J&K people view BJP as the best option in the upcoming State Elections over PPP and NC and discrediting Hurriyat Conference completely. I certainly don’t intend to say that everything Pakistan does is benign. I only want to point out that all that India does is not benign either. I also don’t intend to point out that this is not the first time that domestic politics has influenced relationship with Pakistan or our stand on Kashmir. I only want to point out that the current Government is no different. Whatever be the outcome of the elections it is for sure that relations with Pakistan and hence legitimacy of Indian presence in J&K be settled amicably soon. More importantly the mandate at both sides has gone a begging.