Author : Deepak Sinha

Originally Published 2015-12-31 09:31:25 Published on Dec 31, 2015
Decoding the Lahore stopover

It’s too early to say if the Prime Minister’s Pakistan trip was a calculated risk or his playing Russian roulette with diplomacy. But he has made clear that he wants peace with Pakistan and is unafraid to disrupt the status quo 

If there is one thing that Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to have picked up during his recent visit to Russia, it appears to be the well-known game of chance, Russian roulette. For the uninitiated, it is a lethal game in which a player places a single round in a revolver, spins the cylinder, places the muzzle against his or her head, and pulls the trigger. If nothing else, Russian roulette certainly is a high stakes game of life and death involving equal parts of sheer luck and utter self-belief.

Mr Modi’s unexpected visit to his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif’s palatial residence in Lahore has certainly let the cat among the pigeons, as far as the Opposition and hardline elements within the Sangh Parivar are concerned.

Nothing could be more surprising than to hear a Congress spokesperson suggest that such a spontaneous and unanticipated visit was “ominous”. What is truly ominous is the absence of dialogue between two adversarial nuclear powers, one of which has plans to deploy tactical nuclear weapons, thereby, making a volatile and dangerous situation even worse, given the added uncertainties that are being introduced. It may be worth recalling that the Soviet Union and the United States continued talking to each other, even during that most dangerous of times such as the Cuban missile crisis.

There can be little doubt that the relationship between both our countries is bedeviled by complexities from our past, with the issue of Kashmir certainly being at its heart. However, there is absolutely no reason why future generations on either side must continue to be held hostage by history and hardliners who have vested interests in the status quo and the least to lose in the insurgency in Kashmir or in any future conflagration.

It is important to remember that the Assembly election in Jammu & Kashmir last year was a clear mandate for change and progress. Not only has the Hurriyat lost all vestiges of support but the insurgency is also at its lowest ebb since 1989.

Cross-border terrorists are neither finding the traction, nor the opportunity to cause the kind of mayhem they had in the 1990s. If anything, they are an embarrassment and a source of trouble for their mentors and have, in some ways, been responsible for the increasingly troubled situation in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, glimpses of which were seen on television a few months ago.

Moreover, recent attempts by the Pakistan Army and Rangers to activate the Line of Control were met with a disproportionate response from India which quickly resulted in a return to the status quo.

Given that the Pakistan Army is engulfed in countering a full-blown insurgency at home which is led by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and in Balochistan, peace and tranquility on its eastern border with India is certainly to its advantage.

In India’s context, if economic progress is to be given the primacy promised by the present government, Prime Minister Modi, given his earlier firmness, has little choice but to engage Pakistan. The existing security environment gives him an ideal opportunity to make a substantive contribution to this effort.

All of this is, however, steeped in risk as those opposed to any improvement in relations, especially the militant groups and their mentors in Pakistan, will make all attempts to derail any progress by undertaking terror attacks within our borders, as they have over the years. Any such action, especially if it is of a spectacular nature, will immediately result in hardliners in India, who are in any case viscerally opposed to Mr Modi, baying for his blood.

Given these circumstances, Mr Modi’s sudden stopover in Lahore, which has been referred to as “ambush diplomacy” by a spokesperson of the Congress, provides him an ideal opportunity to influence the ongoing engagement without committing all his political capital. This gives him some space to manoeuvre in case things go wrong, as was the case former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his peace initiatives with Pakistan.

Ironically, despite all the complexities surrounding the issue, we know that the final contours of any solution to Kashmir will involve its division along the existing Line of Control. While the Hurriyat and other militant groups will not be happy with such an agreement, the cessation of Pakistan Government funding and support will make them irrelevant. Such an agreement will also enable the opening up of borders, more people-to-people contact and enhanced trade and commerce.

The truth is that, while those in Lutyens’ Delhi or Islamabad’s Government quarters may be committed to the status quo, the people on both sides want much more. The present dispensations on both sides and the current circumstances give us an opportunity to move ahead.

This article originally appeared in The Pioneer.

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Deepak Sinha

Deepak Sinha

Brig. Deepak Sinha (Retd.) was Visiting Fellow at ORF. Brig. Sinha is a second-generation paratrooper. During his service, he held varied command, staff and instructional appointments, ...

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