India's policymakers should understand by now that Pakistan will not offer one-sided strategic concessions to India under any circumstances. It is also evident by now that Kashmiris will not relent even if Pakistan did. Hoping for Islamabad to concede or punishing Kashmiris by blocking international aid during a natural disaster like the recent historic floods will not help India wish away its troubles on its western borders.
Veteran Pakistani diplomats could write several volumes on the unpredictable and aggressive nature of Indian diplomacy. And they won't be alone. Internal documents declassified by the United States government and posted on State Department's website quote former president Richard Nixon calling Indian diplomats “a slippery, treacherous people.” His Secretary of State and a world authority on diplomacy Henry Kissinger is quoted in one document as saying, “They are the most aggressive […] people around.” What American officials have discovered about India in protracted Cold War diplomacy is something that we in Pakistan are experiencing on regular basis for nearly seven decades now. The Indian style of diplomacy – excessive humility on the outside, aggressive and determined on the inside – is credited with turning a small dispute in Kashmir into a nuclear flashpoint and a humanitarian tragedy. India continues to have troubled relations with almost all of its nine neighbours.
Despite this history, Islamabad was caught by surprise when New Delhi abruptly cancelled foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan that were slated for Aug 25, 2014. The cancellation came on Aug 18, six days before the meeting. The Indian excuse this time was that Pakistan was meeting Kashmiri freedom leaders from Hurriyat, an umbrella group of Kashmiris demanding end to seven decades of Indian military occupation. The Indian decision was conveyed to Pakistan's High Commissioner in New Delhi, Mr. Abdul Basit minutes into his meeting with Kashmiri leader Shabbir Shah at the Pakistani diplomat's residence. An Indian External Affairs statement accused Pakistan of 'attempt to interfere in India's internal affairs,' implying that Kashmir was a domestic Indian matter.
The Pakistani response was swift and strong. “Pakistan is not subservient to India,” Pakistan Foreign Office spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said on Aug 19, “It is a sovereign country and a legitimate stakeholder in the Jammu and Kashmir dispute.” On Kashmir, Ambassador Aslam, who served in India, said, "Kashmir is not part of India. It is a disputed territory. There are numerous UN [Security Council] resolutions.” Why Pakistan was surprised that India cancelled the first high-level talks in two years? The reason for the Pakistani surprise was the flimsy excuse India used this time. Pakistani diplomats based in New Delhi have been publicly and openly meeting Kashmiri leaders in the Indian capital forever. According to the UN, Kashmiris are a party to the conflict.
Pakistani meetings with Kashmiri leaders have always been transparent and designed to facilitate an end to the conflict. No Indian government before Narendra Modi objected to this. But this time, displaying unnecessary arrogance, Mr. Modi's Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh telephoned Pakistan's High Commissioner and asked him not to meet Kashmiri leaders.
The question is: what led Prime Minister Narendra Modi to think that Pakistan would heed his call to boycott Kashmiri leaders? Mr. Modi is apparently under the impression that Pakistan is in no position to dictate terms of engagement. The Indian media claims that Modi's government insisted Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to avoid meeting Kashmiri leaders while attending Modi's swearing-in in May this year. By design, Premier Sharif's visit was limited to attending the inaugural ceremony. The hardline BJP-led government probably misinterpreted this to believe it can dictate Pakistan on Kashmir.
India is doing to Nawaz Sharif what it did to Pervez Musharraf. Critics in Pakistan say the former president bent backwards to accommodate India. He succeeded in nudging the Indians to agree to major breakthroughs in resolving aspects of the Kashmir conflict and the two border disputes of Siachen and Sir Creek. But India kept delaying signing the agreements until Musharraf was no longer in power. The Indian response to Prime Minister Sharif's overtures has baffled observers. Premier Sharif has sent several positive signals to New Delhi, including willingness to grant it the most-favoured nation status despite the discriminatory Indian tariff regime against Pakistani products. Why would India not seize this opportunity to strike permanent peace and solve problems? One week before cancelling peace talks, Narendra Modi visited Kashmir, a region effectively under Indian army rule. Without provocation, Modi accused Pakistan of 'fomenting terrorism' in India and inside Kashmir. Even Indian security analysts contradict this. Under Musharraf, Pakistan allowed Indian army to construct a fence along the Kashmir ceasefire line. This made evident to the world that armed freedom resistance against Indian military occupation in Kashmir was indigenous and not inspired by Pakistan.
Modi's statement, followed by cancellation of talks on a flimsy excuse, cast doubt on India's desire for peace. It is possible that New Delhi is miscalculating, hoping that Pakistan, besieged by terrorism on the Afghan border and internal political and economic instability, might be ready to give strategic concessions if India just waits enough for Pakistan to blink first. There is good reason to believe that this calculation is currently driving Indian policy toward Pakistan. The Indians might also be under the impression that Washington, driven by considerations in Afghanistan, would succeed over time to force Islamabad to give strategic concessions to India in terms of trade and Kashmir that would end any need on India's part to offer concessions in direct negotiations with Pakistan. India's policymakers should understand by now that Pakistan will not offer one-sided strategic concessions to India under any circumstances. It is also evident by now that Kashmiris will not relent even if Pakistan did. Hoping for Islamabad to concede or punishing Kashmiris by blocking international aid during a natural disaster like the recent historic floods will not help India wish away its troubles on its western borders.
Prime Minister Modi's government has no option but to take back its unrealistic and untenable position on Pakistani diplomats meeting Kashmiri leaders in New Delhi and elsewhere and return to peace talks at the earliest.
The writer is a senior research fellow at Project for Pakistan in 21st Century, an independent think-tank based in Islamabad
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