The abrupt cancellation of the NSA-level Indo-Pak talks in New Delhi scheduled for Aug. 23-24, 2015, on “terror” and “other outstanding issues” (‘Kashmir’ not mentioned) signifies a dangerous drift in Indo-Pak relations, which could potentially lead to a disastrous cataclysm in South Asia. The circumstances of the cancellation are disturbing and portentous.

Pakistan Prime Minister's Adviser on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz and India's National Security Advisor Ajit Doval
Pakistan Prime Minister’s Adviser on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz and India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval

India as the major South Asian power needed to display statesmanship of a high order to ensure successful conduct of the meeting not allowing it to be derailed on spurious grounds. Kashmir is by no means in “undisputed” possession of India as claimed by the Indian rulers. Nor is “terrorism” an issue unrelated to the Kashmir conflict. Further, the separatist All Parties Hurriyat Conference has been a part of the Indo-Pak confabulations over Kashmir since the Vajpayee-Musharraf days. It would thus seem that Indian diplomats and security officials as well as the Indian foreign minister have behaved churlishly and arrogantly with their Pakistani counterparts leading to the Pakistani delegation’s decision to walk out of the talks.

Sartaj Aziz, the Pakistani National Security Advisor lucidly and convincingly explained his country’s position on the issue in an NDTV program. The Indian NSA, however, chose to remain noticeably silent. The increasing number of violent incidents along both sides of the Line Of Control on the border, killing innocents and injuring others on a large scale and destroying crops and property in border villages would indeed call for an independent human rights audit and appraisal.

There is a dangerous drift in Indo-Pak relations from the days of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee (1999-2004) to the days of Narendra Modi (since 2014) through the days of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (2004-14). Of the three Prime Ministers, Vajpayee was the most successful in attempting to cut the India-Pakistan-Kashmir Gordian Knot with the able though somewhat flawed assistance of military adventurer-turned President of Pakistan, Parvez Musharraf. The ten-year rule by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was a “lost decade” in terms of its tragic inability to carry forward the legacy of Atal Behari Vajpayee on Kashmir and on Pakistan. Narendra Modi’s regime has raised more questions than answers and failed to fulfil the expectations raised during his inauguration in May 2014.

Prime Minister Vajpayee showed vision and statesmanship in his policies towards Pakistan and Kashmir. Though India and Pakistan became nuclear powers in May 1998, Vajpayee showed courage in undertaking a successful bus trip to Lahore in Pakistan in February 1999 which resulted in the Lahore Declaration. Despite the Kargil adventure by General Parvez Musharraf and the Gujarat Carnage of 2002 supervised by then Chief Minister Narendra Modi, Vajpayee persisted in his path of peace with Pakistan. General Musharraf seized power in Pakistan through a military coup in October 1999 and made himself president of the country. Vajpayee invited President Musharraf to India leading to the Agra Summit in 2001. The summit talks between the two heads of state were prolonged and successful. A last-minute hitch over whether the issue of “terrorism” or that of “Kashmir” should be prioritized (India preferring the former and Pakistan the latter) led the former general of the Pakistani army to stage a walk out without concluding the discussions. Vajpayee, the statesman, failed to invite the Pakistani president to stay a day longer in Agra, visit the holy Ajmer Sharif and then resume the discussion towards a successful conclusion. The Indian Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani was alleged to be the man who stood in the way of a proper discussion between the two heads of state. Vajpayee did make an admission of this during his subsequent presentation in parliament. The failure to invite Musharraf to stay on for a day longer in Agra was, however, costly and the expected Agra Declaration failed to materialise.

Despite this setback, Vajpayee continued his efforts for peace and a settlement of the Kashmir dispute. President Musharraf, ever an out-of-the-box thinker, while attending the 2004 SAARC Summit in Islamabad, produced his “four point formula” on Kashmir: i) make the borders irrelevant and allow free movement across the LOC; ii) provide self-government or autonomy, not independence; iii) demilitarize the region; and iv) set up a mechanism for joint management.

The formula had huge implications for Pakistan’s inherited positions and meant a considerable movement from the past. However, Prime Minister Vajpayee lost the 2004 elections to parliament.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who followed was essentially a bureaucrat, not a seasoned political leader such as Vajpayee. He was unable to take up the “out-of-the box”proposal made by President Musharraf for discussion. He was constrained not just by the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), but also by his own Foreign Service bureaucracy. The opportunity for a settlement was not taken up. Manmohan Singh’s inability to seize a deal in the winter of 2006-07 frustrated President Musharraf who later became embroiled in a political power struggle and was eventually forced to step down in August 2008. The India-Pakistan-Kashmir Gordian Knot remained uncut!

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the product of the conservative, Hindu-centric Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh, the political formation behind the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). His hostility to Pakistan is politically driven. His performance as Prime Minister since May 2014 has clearly established his inability, unlike his predecessor Atal Behari Vajpayee (also of the BJP), to rise above his party. This has led the rulers of Pakistan to revive talk of forgotten UN resolutions, something which the “four point formula” of Musharraf might have prevented.

The prospects for peace in Kashmir today are worse than before. Narendra Modi’s rejection of the role of the All Parties’ Hurriyat Conference, his opposition to talks with Pakistan without preconditions and his overt actions directed to communalisation of the polity are steadily eroding his credibility as prime minister of a complex multi-religious country. An informed journalist reports that radical separatism in Kashmir today is merging with radical Islam of the Salafi kind. Kashmiri syncretism has disappeared. A volatile mix prevails, which Pakistan takes advantage of. Increasing Salafi violence could drag India and Pakistan into a war, which, since the Pakistani army is now deployed mainly in its Western border, increases the chances of its turning into a nuclear clash.

Kadayam Subramanian is a former Director General of Police in Northeast India and former Director of the Research and Policy Division of the Government of India’s Ministry of Home Affairs in New Delhi.

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