Over-reaction to an irritant

The government has done itself no favours, as the decision is bound to add to the popularity of the separatist leaders in the Valley.

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:36 pm IST

Published - August 20, 2014 12:46 am IST

Diplomacy is not a limited overs cricket match. But by >calling off the Foreign Secretary-level talks with Pakistan scheduled for August 25, the Narendra Modi government has behaved precisely as if it was that. For more than a decade now leaders of the secessionist Hurriyat have regularly met Pakistani diplomats stationed in India, as well as visiting leaders starting with General Pervez Musharraf when he came for the Agra summit in 2001. Such meetings that demonstrate Pakistan’s preference for the separatists are no doubt an irritant, but New Delhi’s usual practice had been to register an objection and move on, not letting the issue derail the dialogue process. Implicit in this approach was the realisation that engagement was the key to normalising relations with Islamabad. Also, there has been grudging acceptance on the Indian side that an India-Pakistan agreement on Kashmir needs the Hurriyat on board. For, while there is an elected government, the separatist leaders do carry a great deal of influence in the Valley on the larger political questions about the State. The Centre too has been in both official and secret talks with the Hurriyat leadership. In the light of this, the proper course would have been to express displeasure at the Pakistan High Commissioner’s invitation to the Hurriyat for consultations before the talks between the Foreign Secretaries. But to have cancelled the talks shows a shockingly inadequate grasp of history, and is short-sighted. India has called off engagement with Pakistan many times in the recent past for far more serious reasons, only to realise after each hiatus that there is no other alternative. The immediate question now is if the talks between Prime Minister Modi and his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif will take place as planned on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in September.

The government has done itself no favours, as the decision is bound to add to the popularity of the separatist leaders in the Valley. Pakistan has described the cancellation as “a setback to the efforts by our leadership to promote good neighbourly relations” with India. Equally, it could prove to be a political setback for Mr. Sharif, who is already under siege. Opposition leader Imran Khan’s agitational politics have shaken the weak foundations of Pakistan’s civilian democracy. Adding to the brinkmanship are elements in the Pakistani security and political establishment that believe their Prime Minister is too soft towards India. The Modi government could only have further weakened Mr. Sharif’s position. That, in the long run, undermines the prospect of normalising India-Pakistan relations, more than the Pakistan High Commissioner’s meeting with Hurriyat leaders.

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