Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Aug 10, 2016
Modi should not travel to Pakistan for #SAARC2016 Summit

A little more than a year ago, on the sidelines of the BRICS and SCO Summits in Ufa, Russia, the prime ministers of India and Pakistan, Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif, had a productive meeting. It was then decided that the National Security Advisors (NSAs) of the two countries will engage in discussions on the issue of terrorism that plagues relations between the two countries and that Modi will travel to Islamabad to participate in the SAARC Summit in 2016.

The SAARC Summit is scheduled to take place in Islamabad on November 9-10. In the absence of any communication to the contrary, it can be presumed that the Ufa declaration regarding Modi's participation in the SAARC conclave stands.

One week is said to be a long time in politics and international relations. By that yardstick, 13 months would signify an eternity. Much water has flown down the Indus since then. Bilateral relations are nowhere near where they were even eight months ago. In view of the state of the current relations between the two countries, it will be highly imprudent for Modi to undertake a visit to Islamabad in three months time.

It will be useful to quickly recap how the ties between the two countries have evolved over the last one year.

On return home from Ufa, Nawaz Sharif was, regrettably but not surprisingly, not able to deliver on his commitment to hold NSA level talks on terrorism. Pakistan Army was incensed that the 'K' word did not figure in the bilateral document issued from Ufa. Not for the first time, Pakistan went back on its word. NSA talks scheduled for August 23 did not happen.

The Ufa talks were quickly followed by attacks in Gurdaspur on July 27 and Udhampur on August 5. The perpetrators with direct, conclusive links to Pakistan, were apprehended.

On November 30, the relations, however, witnessed a marked upswing when the two Prime Ministers had an impromptu tete-a-tete on the sidelines of the Paris Climate Change Summit. This was followed by a surprise, unannounced meeting between the NSAs and foreign secretaries of the two countries in Bangkok on December 6, 2015. This meeting paved the way for the visit by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to Islamabad on December 8-9 to participate in the Heart of Asia meeting to discuss peace, security and economic aid to Afghanistan. In the discussions with Sartaj Aziz, the Foreign Policy Advisor to Nawaz Sharif, it was decided to launch the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue (CBD) to discuss all issues related to peace, terrorism, Kashmir and others.

The zenith in this see-saw of hot and cold ties between India and Pakistan was reached on December 25, when Modi decided to have a short, unplanned halt in Lahore on way back from Russia and Afghanistan to wish Sharif on his birthday, and to attend the wedding of Sharif's granddaughter. It was decided that the foreign secretaries will meet on January 15, 2016.

Recent developments

The feel good atmosphere was not destined to last long. It was shattered by an attack by Pakistani Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists on the strategic Pathankot air-base on this New Year day. An immediate fallout was that the meeting between the two foreign secretaries did not take place.

The last eight months have seen a rapid decline in the bilateral ties with the nadir being reached during the recent visit of Home Minister Rajnath Singh to Islamabad on July 3-4 to participate in the SAARC Meeting of Interior Ministers.

The recent escalation has occurred in the aftermath of the killing of Burhan Wani, a Hizb-ul-Mujahideen commander in Kashmir, by the Indian Army on July 8. More than 50 deaths have taken place in the ensuing protests which have been instigated and incited by Pakistani terrorists Hafiz Saeed and Syed Salahudeen.

In Islamabad, Pakistan took no action to control or contain demonstrations and protests by anti-India elements from Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e Taiba during Rajnath Singh's brief visit.

In his remarks to the Interior Ministers of SAARC nations, Rajnath Singh, without naming Pakistan, said that it is not enough to condemn and criticise terrorists. It is essential to punish them. Moreover, not only the terrorists but institutions, organisations and countries supporting terrorism should be punished. In addition, terrorists should not be glorified as martyrs. One country's terrorist cannot be another country's freedom fighter, Singh told the meeting.

Some analysts and commentators had loudly argued before the visit that the Home Minister should not travel to Pakistan, but instead depute his Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi to participate in the meeting. They argued that if the Minister went, it would be playing into the hands of Pakistan. I had consistently and firmly reasoned that Rajnath Singh should attend the meeting as it would otherwise have  provided an opportunity to Pakistan to criticise and blame India for undercutting Pakistan's efforts to promote peace and security in the region. In hindsight, the Home Minister's visit promoted India's objectives and interests as he was able to forcefully project India's clear and unambiguous stand in front of SAARC Ministers and international community on the subject of terrorism.

Should Modi travel to Islamabad?

Looking at the current state of bilateral relations, Prime Minister Modi should actively re-consider his commitment to attend the next SAARC Summit. Modi's participation should be contingent on Pakistan's concrete and visible action on curbing terrorist attacks from its territory on India. It should also commit to forthwith stop all support to terrorist activities against India. Like Vajpayee was able to extract a pledge from Musharraf in 2004 not to allow Pakistan territory to be used against India, Modi should get a similar undertaking from Nawaz Sharif, underwritten by the Army Chief Raheel Sharif. This will be difficult to enforce, but India should definitely try to get this guarantee from Pakistan. Also, Pakistan should be pressurised and impelled to demonstrate significant, tangible progress in prosecuting perpetrators and masterminds of 26/11 and Pathankot attacks. Pakistan should not get the impression that it can continue with its nefarious and heinous actions of training, arming and infiltrating extremists to India to carry out violent and destructive acts without any action by India. It cannot be seen to be business as usual. If Modi travels to Pakistan without any significant and substantial quid pro quo from Pakistan, it will further embolden Pakistan to continue to support and promote terror in India.

There are still a few months between now and the Summit in November. This is the time to send a strong and unambiguous message to Pakistan that it will have to mend its ways if it wants India's participation at the appropriate level in the meeting.

Some commentators have suggested that Rajnath Singh's visit should be taken as setting the stage for Modi's tour to Pakistan later this year. This thought needs to be expunged from our consideration.

Modi's Pakistan policy has been under severe attack and criticism by the opposition (which is not surprising) but also by well informed analysts and commentators. While the Indian government has been able to find an answer to cross-border firing and cease-fire violations by Pakistan by pounding Pakistani positions with even greater ferocity, it has not been able to devise a suitable response to infiltrations and terrorist attacks by elements of JeM, HM and others. India will need to take all possible steps to stop infiltration from across the border as also to step up its intelligence and smash all sleeper cells established by Pakistani or domestic extremist elements in different towns and cities of India.

Abjuring support to terrorism is the least Pakistan can do if it wants the Indian Prime Minister's presence at the SAARC Summit. Otherwise India's Pak policy will be seen by the international community as well as the citizens of the country to be as spineless and supine as its political opponents charge it of being.

The author is a former Indian Ambassador to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.


Ashok Sajjanhar

Ashok Sajjanhar

Amb. Ashok Sajjanhar has worked for the Indian Foreign Service for over three decades. He was the ambassador of India to Kazakhstan Sweden and Latvia ...

Read More +