FOLLOWING the Uri terrorist attack, attention has turned to India-Pakistan tensions, with the government mulling over options. The government hopes to mobilise the international community to pile pressure on Pakistan and ‘isolate’ it as a state sponsoring terrorism. In reality, though, the crisis in J&K has only become more complicated.
The diplomatic bid to pressure Pakistan depends crucially on an improvement in the ground situation in J&K. But the upheaval shows no sign of abating. Even if the security forces manage to establish some degree of ‘dominance’, how durable it would be depends on the government’s success in opening a political track. However, getting a credible Kashmiri interlocutor to talk to the Modi government in the current circumstances is easier said than done.
Meanwhile, investigating agencies are yet to gather conclusive evidence of the Pakistani hand behind the Uri attack and the government has admitted that like in the case of the Pathankot attack, there have been serious security lapses. These factors, no doubt, hamper our diplomats’ ability to present a compelling case to the world community.
None of the major world powers has finger-pointed at Pakistan. On the contrary, they continue to engage Pakistan. Last week alone in New York, Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif has had friendly exchanges with his Chinese counterpart, presidents of Turkey and Iran, US Secretary of State, among others. Russia and Pakistan are, at present, conducting their first-ever military exercise since 1947. Sharif handed over a dossier to the UN Secretary General containing details of alleged Indian atrocities in Kashmir and demanded that the world body should depute a fact-finding mission to J&K. He spoke of Pakistan’s intention to begin sounding out the Security Council members. The situation in the Valley has already figured in the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Evidently, Pakistan is not facing the cold blast of isolation and is in diplomatic offensive.
India faced a somewhat similar situation in the early nineties when Pakistan instigated the insurgency in J&K, accused our security forces of committing atrocities and attempted to put India in the dock internationally. But the main difference today is that the unrest in J&K is not in the nature of a Pakistan-sponsored insurgency but takes the form of an indigenous uprising, somewhere between civil disobedience and an Intifada, attributable almost entirely to the present government’s failings to push forward a genuine reconciliation process although the ruling party is in power in Srinagar and Delhi.
The Indian diplomacy will be hard-pressed to brand the upheaval as a manifestation of cross-border terrorism. Our diplomats can say, at best, that Pakistan is fuelling the anger in the Valley. The western press coverage of developments underscores that there aren’t many takers for the thesis that what India faces in J&K is ‘terrorism’. Indian diplomacy finds itself on the back foot.
In the early nineties, India actually found it to its advantage to allow fact-finding missions by western diplomats based in Delhi to visit J&K and witness that an insurgency with Pakistani backing was challenging the Indian State and threatening our country’s democratic foundations. Today, the government simply cannot countenance exploring any such ingenuous ideas to cultivate international opinion. Alas, the use of so-called pellet guns turns out to be the proverbial albatross around India’s neck, bringing disrepute to rule of law, which will haunt our country’s image internationally. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has bluntly pointed out that an impression has arisen already that India has something serious to hide. All we could say in response was that Pakistan too has skeletons in its cupboard in Balochistan or elsewhere. Such infantile argument doesn’t wash.
The government could have followed up the visit by the all-party delegation to Srinagar by nominating a team of parliamentarians to start political dialogue. If only such a political track were working today, diplomacy would have been far more credible. The New York Times quoted the prominent figure in the US strategic community, Ashley Tellis, at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, as estimating that nothing short of restoring Article 370 of the Constitution in letter and spirit to its original intent will help matters in today’s circumstances, but then, the RSS cannot be expected to approve any such bold policy on Kashmir. Tellis is an influential voice as an ‘India hand’ and his opinion would be a fair reflection of establishment thinking.
In fact, the US readout of the meeting between Secretary of State John Kerry and Sharif in New York last Monday contains their consensus opinion regarding Kashmir: “The Prime Minister and Secretary Kerry expressed strong concern with recent violence in Kashmir — particularly the (Uri) army base attack — and the need for all sides to reduce tensions.” Clearly, Washington links the Uri incident to the upheaval in the Valley and advises Delhi to engage Islamabad in an effort to restore normalcy in J&K. This is consistent with a series of recent statements by the US state department spokesman distancing the Obama administration from the Modi government’s claims as regards the situation in the Valley and India-Pakistan tensions.
Therefore, the government’s decision to launch a diplomatic offensive to isolate Pakistan can be seen as diversionary tactic, which is unlikely to be productive. The government rhetoric of having phenomenally transformed India-US relationship stands exposed. It was sheer sophistry to have created silly notions over Modi’s excessive foreign tours. Diplomacy is not grandstanding; it is a long, patient grind. Pakistan was indeed rather isolated in the international opinion in the decade of UPA rule. But effective diplomacy today is hampered because the peace in J&K has steadily dissipated during the past two-year period due to lack of leadership in Delhi to consolidate our gains. This brings the focus back on ‘Kashmir problem’, which Pakistan highlights is the root cause of terrorism in India. Simply put, Pakistan seized the high ground.
Indeed, Pakistan will keep the Kashmir pot boiling until the Modi government is frogmarched by the international community to the negotiating table. On the other hand, it is hard to see the RSS allowing Modi to drink from such a chalice of poison —Kashmir talks under duress — which would make the laughingstock of Sangh Parivar’s rhetoric of Akhant Bharat. Meanwhile, the government’s core constituency is clamouring for a robust response consistent with the self-cultivated image of the RSS and Modi being Pakistan’s nemesis. There is danger that buffeted by cross-currents, India may skid into war with Pakistan.
The writer is a former ambassador
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