SRINAGAR: After New Delhi unilaterally called off the Foreign Secretary-level talks with Islamabad, following the meeting of Hurriyat leaders with Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit, the cross-border shelling has again started with a bang. Few more lives have been lost and if seen technically, the 2003 ceasefire along the borders has virtually come to an end.

New Delhi’s move to call off the talks is seen as an attempt to send a terse message to both Pakistan and the Kashmiri separatists. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led government in Delhi has surely started “fulfilling” its electoral promises and this surprising move seems to be the beginning of a new rather tough bilateral journey.

“Terror and talks cannot go hand in hand,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi had repeatedly said during the election campaign. But he had himself given a pleasant surprise when he invited all heads of the SAARC countries including Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to his swearing in ceremony.

Diplomatic circles were taken aback as it was something quite unexpected of the tough-talking Modi. If the insiders are to be believed New Delhi was keen to see Nawaz Sharif being part of the grand swearing in ceremony but it could be covered up under the larger outreach to all SAARC nations.

It was during the brief meeting between Modi and Nawaz the decision to hold the Foreign Secretary-level talks was taken. And the expectations were raised for a wider scope to formally renew the dialogue process between the two sides. It had raised hopes that both leaders could meet in New York in September on the sidelines of UN General Assembly.

It is very difficult to read the mind of the new government in Delhi. Even the senior journalists and analysts in Delhi fail to assess any critical issue including that of foreign affairs. But will the tough line the new government has taken bear any fruit for lasting peace in the region. The reason New Delhi gave for calling off the talks was also not provocative enough to take an extreme step to say categorical no to engagement with Pakistan.

In the past over six years including these three months of Modi government, Government of India’s major concerns vis-a-vis Pakistan and the dialogue have remained confined to issues related to terrorism, Mumbai trial and Hafiz Saeed et al. Whatever the progress on Mumbai and other issues, New Delhi had still shown willingness to engage with Pakistan.

The timing of this extreme step is also something one cannot easily ignore. Pakistan has been grappling with more than one challenge to save the country from complete destabilization. From terrorism shaking its foundations to the new calls for reformation targeted at Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan has been going through one of the toughest tests in the recent past.

Prime Minister Modi told Nawaz during his meeting in Delhi that his country should put a break on aiding and abetting terrorism, but three months was too less a time to see the results. And the reason to call off the talks as admitted by keen watchers of India and Pakistan affairs was not tenable. Pakistani leaders and envoys have been meeting Hurriyat leaders since 1994 and it has not changed the dynamics of the political engagement either between India or Pakistan or Delhi and Srinagar.

The meetings between Hurriyat leaders and the Pakistani High Commissioner were publicized much in advance. If at all GoI had objection to these interactions they could have barred them from flying down to Delhi. Putting them under house arrest is a routine in Srinagar. It is interesting to note that Syed Ali Geelani, the octogenarian separatist leader has been under house arrest for over six months now and he was not allowed to offer a single congregational prayer on Friday. But he was not stopped from flying to Delhi. This uncovers the intentions of government to let these meetings happen and then use them for calling off the FS level talks. In case Delhi would have stressed on terrorism, cross-border skirmishes and the prolonged delay in Mumbai trial, one could understand the essence of the decision to call off the talks and take the situation back to era of hostility.

Many analysts are linking the decision to the forthcoming assembly elections in four states. Since BJP took a tough line during the election campaign for Lok Sabha elections, it will have to show the results on ground. The four states including Jammu and Kashmir that are going to polls by the end of the year have already started witnessing heated campaigns revolving the issues related to borders and Pakistan. This is surely going to help the BJP to polarize the voters and get the lion’s share. The lines are clearly drawn particularly in Jammu and Kashmir. Since the BJP bagged two seats in Jammu in parliamentary elections they are now eyeing on most of the assembly segments. BJP president Amit Shah’s warning to Pakistan on Monday that in case shelling continues the forces will give befitting reply also indicates how the party is going to up the ante on this front.

With the tension escalating on borders, the brunt of this renewed hostility will have to be borne by the people who live along the borders. What all stakeholders fail to realize is the fact that the ceasefire announced in 2003 and followed up with more Confidence Building Measures on both sides of Jammu and Kashmir had yielded dividends for the general public. This bonhomie from 2003 to 2008 might have upset the hawks and vested interests on both sides, but it had done wonders on re-engagement of people across Line of Control and giving relief to lakhs of people living on the borders. Their lives had dramatically changed and they could live in peace after more than a decade.

While Pakistan needs to change its policy and not take any step that is provocative, the government led by Modi in Delhi also has to work for bringing peace to the region. Unlike Vajpayee who did not enjoy majority for his party, Modi is strong and can over-rule any other leader. He has more advantages on delivering better than what Vajpayee did. In case Modi stops flexing muscle and starts peace mission, he will be remembered more than Vajpayee, who had earned goodwill in both Kashmir and Pakistan for his statesmanship, vision and delivering something different in last 60 years. Votes will come and go but the lives lost in the wake of tension will not come back and will increase the distance.

(Rising Kashmir)