THE coming general election in India is on the horizon. Prime Minister Modi has done all in his power to milk India-Pakistan hostility to the fullest. As of now, optimism is oozing out of the BJP camp and Modi, on his part, is exuding expectation of a convenient walk-over. The question that presents itself begging for an answer is: what now? Perhaps, the time may be ripe for the perspicacious observer to sift the grain from the chaff and, thereafter, to formulate an intelligent inference whether or not the BJP leader intends to carry out his pre-election rhetoric to the letter or, alternatively, to don the mantle of responsible governance in his second term if re-elected. In so far as the tricky field of foreign affairs goes, logic would tend a tad towards the second-mentioned option. But, then, logic is not the controlling force, in so far as sub-continental politics goes!
There is no gainsaying the fact that the result of the ponderous Indian elections will undoubtedly have a bearing on the shape of things to come, both bi-laterally and within the region. Apart from other things, let it not be forgotten that the very formation of a government and its subsequent functioning carries a momentum all its own. This phenomenon should never be under-estimated. Nevertheless, it would hardly be advisable to confuse the pre-poll rhetoric with the eventual policy options of the new government. This is particularly true in the field of external affairs. But then, when was the last time logic made an entry into this equation?
In making any analysis, one must not underestimate the undoubted impact on the sub-continental equation of our (new?) government’s narrative on the issue. For the moment, suffice it to say that signals discernable so far have at best been – for want of a more appropriate word – mixed. Several variables essential to the formulation of policy vis-à-vis our (not too friendly) neighbour appear either not to have been taken into account or not afforded due diligence. Nevertheless, one has hopes that the Foreign Office mandarins have been diligently working on the why’s and wherefore’s and in brushing up our narrative.
One factor that appears to have been totally ignored this far is that the essentials of India’s policy towards Pakistan were decided a long time ago with the obvious blessings of the Indian Establishment. These can logically be expected to continue, the results of the elections notwithstanding. Any change will merely be in nuance rather than substance. It may be a bit early in the day to be jumping to unwarranted conclusions. Then again, it is not in the fitness of things to bend over backwards in trying to appease the hardliners in India. Principles, rather than platitudes, should govern our approach to relations with our neighbour. The pity is that on occasions like this, all and sundry of our finest jump into the fray and insist on putting in their two-penny’s worth. Even those who have hardly had a nodding acquaintance with India-Pakistan issues gleefully grab the opportunity to pen weighty columns evaluating the ‘options’. Some even indulge in the somewhat unsavoury practice of attempting to jump the gun.
Take the matter of ‘aman’ or peace, for instance. The good old dictionary defines peace as “a state of quiet or tranquillity; freedom from or cessation of war or hostilities”. Definition-wise, peace is a ‘good thing’ per se. There can hardly be two opinions about this. The desire and quest for peace between the two neighbours is wholly unexceptionable; with the caveat that peace, in order to be positive and lasting, must needs be honourable, equitable and fair. Mere reaching out for an elusive peace, without weighing the consequences, is like trying to race a cart with square wheels. An equitable settlement of contentious issues is the stepping-stone to peace, rather than the other way around. Platitudes can never be a substitute for good sense. A mere ‘declaration of intent’ (much like the MoU) has no substance on its own unless it is backed up by tangible evidence of its essential ingredients.
The media clamour in favour of resumption of the bi-lateral dialogue is neither here nor there. The dialogue so far has hardly shown promise. A re-oriented approach may be called for. It may perhaps be more politic to tackle the root causes of tension first before going for further Confidence Building Measures as has been the wont thus far. What one has witnessed in the – now on, now off – dialogue process till date is basically akin to a surgeon opting for cosmetic surgery on a patient without waiting for the festering sores to heal first.
Real peace comes at a price; it hardly ever falls into the laps of those hankering after it. The two sides need to demonstrate unvarnished commitment to transit into an ‘issue settlement’ mode. What is known in this age of cybernetics as ‘virtual peace’ is in the interest of neither country. As it is, this part of the world is in a state of sixes and sevens. There is talk of peace, yet no one but no one, is willing to pay the price. It would be advisable to put an end to the inane charade of mere hankering after peace and to get down to brass-tacks. Or is one talking out of turn? Having got the foregoing off the chest, the fact remains that the result of India’s General Election is bound to have a profound impact on the shape of things to come. Coming back to the expectations from the mandarins of the Foreign Office, it should be hoped that they have worked out the options and, if possible, formulated a plan ‘B’, the one essential that has been conspicuously missing in our ‘options’ thus far!
— The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of OIC.