Sunday, May 25, 2014

Much ado about Modi-Sharif meeting!

(My take on first Namo-Nawaz Sharif interaction....
edited version also ran by Matters India website

Who is Narendra Modi or Nawaz Sharif in the context of 2014? How are these two individuals vital in the sub-continent for the ambitions and hopes that have been created for peace? Or the optimism will be destroyed by a mere photo opportunity, as has been cynically described by a Congress spokesman.

In role reversal, while BJP welcomed the initiatives to reach out to Pakistan, the Congress spokesman and the outgoing Information Minister chose to remind Modi-led regime that the saffron party’s established policy vis-à-vis Pakistan has that Talks and Terror cannot go together.
Does it mean, BJP has given up its anti-Pakistan stance? Or for that matter, where does Nawaz Sharif regime’s legitimacy stand in Pakistan today?
Not long ago, one would not be mistaken to say that in an ostrich-like fashion, to BJP took all the blame for Pakistan’s internal disturbance and terror strikes have been conveniently put on Pakistan. 
Islamabad too – either under civilian or under military dictator – has been pre-occupied for the greater part of its existence in a rather unequal contest with India. 
So presumably it is not wrong to say that the so called diplomatic coup by Narendra Modi long before he started is only media hype.

It also goes without saying that for long Indian foreign policy was treading a predictable path actually guided by the Nehruvian roadmap irrespective of whichever governments came to power.
Modi is known for taking out-of-the-box approaches. The massive mandate and the confidence rested by millions on Indians on him also implies that he continues to trust his instinct and avoid steps what run-of-the-mill types would have. Therefore, my understanding of Modi’s ‘Invite SAARC heads of nations’ is actually knocking at an window under which his government wants to ‘regain’ some of the ground lost in recent years in pursuing the Indian diplomatic path and guiding the national security policy. 

At the same time, Team Modi is cautious about the hype – knowing very well that the hype would only raise expectations. Modi could be sure of his numbers and his confidence, but he is perhaps not quite sure of Nawaz Sharif. How much will a Pakistani ruler deliver, especially the one who suffered an effortless coup in October 1999?

A master at symbolism, something perhaps he excels even better than Atal Behari Vajpayee, Modi wants to give out a message that his anti-Pakistan rhetoric and ‘Mia-Musharraf’ bashing were all political and has ended with elections. Now, he wants to be seen as someone who delivered. Peace with Pakistan, albeit temporarily or even a semblance of peace with Pakistan could be great booster for Modi’s international acceptability.
While Modi counseled by his select team of advisors is weighing a supposed win-win situation in the event the guest from Pakistan for the first time join the coronation of Hindutva icon-turned-development protagonist; Nawaz Sharif has his reasons to reach out to Modi. It was on this backdrop, Sharif made the first call to congratulate Narendra Modi for his electoral victory on May 16, 2014.

I had interviewed a liberal Pakistani writer, Mobarak Haider in March during his trip to Delhi on a private visit. According to Haider, also an author of best seller ‘Taliban: the Tip of a Holy Iceberg’, a sizeable section of “liberal Pakistanis” feel a “strong hardliner Indian government” can be a counter weight to growing Talibanism in Pakistan. “Many intellectuals and liberal Pakistanis think a strong Hindu hardliner government in Delhi (that is one headed by Modi) could be in Pakistan’s interest in its battle against Taliban”. But he also hastened to add that such a view is held by a “microscopic minority” as people are generally apprehensive of retaliation.

So far, Modi, even his detractors would admit, has made only right noises about his responsibility and the need to ensure inclusive development. This has given hopes to Nawaz Sharif, who is also a hardcore politician and someone well guided by the consideration of commerce. Therefore, Sharif too wants to make forward movement with India eyeing certain goals especially on two fronts – peace on strategic front and to promote trade and commerce. Pakistan economy is in doldrums and therefore it needs a vast market place like India.
Self with Mobarak Haider
There are a few compulsions also. In effect, there’s reason to believe that a Hindu hardliner regime in Delhi would pressurize Pakistan to understand that “for too long extremists were operating from Pakistani soil”. Thus, to check mate ‘exposure’ by India, Islamabad would be compelled to “squeeze” the Talibani network in Pakistan and prevent them from planning and executing attacks across the border. Now, it will not be erroneous to say that a ‘weak’ management of terror related matters by India in the last decade under Manmohan Singh has not only harmed India but possibly also Pakistan.  Perhaps even the Pakistani side realizes that there is need to fine tune its military and counter-terror doctrine. Therefore, perhaps, Haider puts it well, that Pakistan’s ‘new army doctrine’ for the first time in 65 years has shifted its focus from the eastern border to “internal enemy in the northwest”. “Although, the Pakistan army assures that we shall keep India as our Enemy No.1, yet the admission that the enemy within is more dangerous at the moment, may well prove to be a turning point in our history,” he says. 

It is also understandable that as Talibanisation poses a serious problem afflicting Pakistan. In fact, not long ago stepping up the pressure, the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did some plain speaking urging Pakistan to act immediately against the military groups and powerful Talibani network in Pakistan. “You can't keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbours,” Clinton had told Pakistan.  On its part for long, India has been raising the issue of Pakistani elements aiding and abetting terrorism. But it is significant to note that now the US has also started talking on these matters. The Talibans are largely seen as responsible for cross-border strikes in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan adding to the woes in the entire region. Modi has struck a good chord with Afghan ruler apparently, now he needs to create a personal harmony with Nawaz Sharif. 

But the Team Modi is cautious and therefore, rightly, tried to downplay the ‘bilateral prism’ in the May 26 swearing-in and whose who attendance. Arun Jaitley, therefore, waxed eloquently, “The invitation to all leaders of SAARC nations to be present at the ceremony is to showcase Indian democracy and its strength to the world at large. It is a democracy event; it should not be viewed through the prism of bilateral issues between countries". One cannot agree more. 

On the same argument, the protest from Tamil parties including from those who are in the ruling combine NDA is actually a case of blowing things out of proportion. If Modi decided to call all SAARC nations, he could not ignore Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa either. 


1 comment:

  1. It seems beat reporting has given some colour to thought also. Good analysis.