Tem­per­a­tures Rise Again

Southasia - - COMMENT -

Re­la­tions be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan have de­te­ri­o­rated sharply this year, es­pe­cially after can­cel­la­tion of the much-an­tic­i­pated meet­ing be­tween the for­eign sec­re­taries of the two coun­tries. There has been a dra­matic rise in cross-bor­der fir­ing along the Line of Con­trol (LoC) that sep­a­rates the In­dian and Pak­istani-held sec­tions of Jammu and Kashmir. The cross-bor­der shelling has re­sulted in many deaths and has ter­ror­ized vil­lagers on both sides of the LoC. A meet­ing was held be­tween the Pak­istani High Com­mis­sioner to In­dia, Ab­dul Ba­sit and lead­ers of the All Party Hur­riyat Con­fer­ence (APHC), an al­liance of In­dian Kashmir separatist groups. This seemed to in­sti­gate the In­dian gov­ern­ment to an­nounce that it was can­cel­ing the for­eign sec­re­taries’ meet­ing. They jus­ti­fied their decision on the grounds that the meet­ing con­sti­tuted “gross in­ter­fer­ence” in In­dian af­fairs. It needs to be re­mem­bered though that such meet­ings have long been ac­cepted and even fa­cil­i­tated by the In­dian gov­ern­ment.

This time around, it seemed that In­dia was try­ing to rewrite the “ground rules” for In­dian-Pak­istan re­la­tions. How­ever, it was ob­vi­ous that with a Modi-led BJP-gov­ern­ment in New Delhi, it could not be “business as usual” be­tween the two nu­clear-armed states. When it was re­vealed after the Sharif-Modi meet­ing, the for­eign sec­re­taries of the two coun­tries would meet, it was said that re­la­tions be­tween the two coun­tries would be re­vived and would lead to a com­pre­hen­sive peace di­a­logue which had been stalled since 2008. It was also said that there were ef­forts afoot for a his­toric rap­proche­ment with Pak­istan. At one level, it can even be said that the In­dian Prime Min­is­ter was him­self in­stru­men­tal in scut­tling the meet­ing and in revving up the tem­per­a­ture at the LoC. On a visit to the Ladakh re­gion of Jammu and Kashmir, he ac­cused Pak­istan of wag­ing a “proxy war” in Kashmir. It is also true that since com­ing into power ear­lier this year, Modi and the BJP had re­peat­edly said they would pur­sue a more ag­gres­sive for­eign pol­icy, which in­cluded high­light­ing In­dia as the nat­u­ral leader and re­gional hege­mon of South Asia and ac­cel­er­at­ing the In­dian mil­i­tary’s “mod­ern­iza­tion” pro­gram. The BJP gov­ern­ment also seemed to be en­cour­aged by Wash­ing­ton which had again started court­ing In­dia after the ear­lier spat in­volv­ing an In­dian fe­male diplo­mat. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion had re­sponded to Modi’s elec­tion by in­ten­si­fy­ing its en­deav­ours to woo In­dia and in­volve New Delhi in isolating and strate­gi­cally en­cir­cling China.

In­dia’s new gov­ern­ment has also been try­ing to ex­ploit the grave cri­sis cur­rently rock­ing Nawaz Sharif’s gov­ern­ment, in the hope that con­ces­sions can be ex­tracted from it when it is on the de­fen­sive. En­cour­age­ment can also be em­a­nat­ing from Pak­istan’s mil­i­tary-se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment, which re­sents Sharif’s at­tempt to as­sert greater con­trol over the coun­try’s for­eign and na­tional-se­cu­rity pol­icy, Im­ran Khan and his Pak­istan Tehreek-e-In­saf and Al­lama Tahir-ul Qadri and his Pak­istan Awami Tehrik have mounted weeks of protests chal­leng­ing the le­git­i­macy of Sharif’s 15 month-old gov­ern­ment. The BJP gov­ern­ment’s ag­gres­sive stance against Pak­istan and its ratch­et­ing up of the ten­sions on the LoC also seems to fall in line with its plans to in­sti­gate com­mu­nal ten­sions in Jammu and Kashmir in the run-up to state elec­tions. Un­der con­di­tions where the separatist, pro-Pak­istani groups are ex­pected to urge an elec­tion boy­cott, the BJP be­lieves that it is well-po­si­tioned to se­cure a majority in the state leg­is­la­ture. This would then en­able it to re­al­ize a long­stand­ing goal of the Hindu right to ab­ro­gate Ar­ti­cle 370 of the In­dian con­sti­tu­tion which gives Jammu and Kashmir spe­cial sta­tus within the In­dian Union. The US, which counts both In­dia and Pak­istan as im­por­tant al­lies, has de­scribed the can­cel­la­tion of the for­eign sec­re­taries’ talks as be­ing un­for­tu­nate. But it has not crit­i­cized In­dia for seek­ing to change the diplo­matic ground rules. The US, in fact, seems to be urg­ing New Delhi and Is­lam­abad to take steps to im­prove their bi­lat­eral re­la­tions. It seems the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion does not want to risk an­tag­o­niz­ing Modi prior to his vis­it­ing New York and Wash­ing­ton in what will be his maiden US visit as In­dia’s Prime Min­is­ter.

The flare up in Indo-Pak­istani ten­sions is, nev­er­the­less, a most un­wel­come de­vel­op­ment for Wash­ing­ton. It fur­ther com­pli­cates the US ef­fort to strate­gi­cally and po­lit­i­cally re­con­fig­ure Afghanistan, so it can with­draw most of its troops from the coun­try while main­tain­ing Afghan mil­i­tary bases from which it can project US power across en­ergy-rich Cen­tral Asia and threaten China and Rus­sia. The ten­sion on the LoC also bodes ill for an In­dia-Pak­istan re­la­tion­ship which was slowly crawl­ing to­wards some kind of nor­malcy. Can the two coun­tries af­ford this kind of rise in bor­der tem­per­a­tures?

Syed Jawaid Iqbal

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