PM Interview: What Is India's Pakistan Policy, Or Is There a Policy At All?
NEW DELHI: An election campaign by the BJP warning Pakistan against terror attacks on India, subsequent statements by BJP leaders taking Pakistan to task for real or imagined actions, the domestic use of Pakistan to attack minorities and secularists, and yet when it comes to foreign policy substance the NDA government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems adrift. Seems to be, but is it?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi gives the impression of having changed track, and the style of the questioning in what is perceived to be a rehearsed interview with Times Now and the carefully worded answers reveals this. It is not perhaps a very successful approach in assuaging the concerns of not just the Opposition but the BJP/RSS rank and file, but nevertheless the responses indicate that the Prime Minister himself is now playing not to a domestic audience but as he himself said, to the world.
“Now I don't have to explain to the world about India's position. The world is unanimously appreciating India's position. And the world is seeing that Pakistan is finding it difficult to respond. If we had become an obstacle, then we would have had to explain to the world that we are not that obstacle. Now we don't have to explain to the world. The world knows our intentions. Like on the issue of terrorism, the world never bought India's theory on terrorism. They would sometime dismiss it by saying that it's your law and order problem.Today the world has to accept what India has been saying about terrorism. India's dialogue on terrorism, the losses India has suffered due to terrorism, the losses suffered by humanity, the world is now acknowledging that. So I believe we have to take this process forward,” the PM said.
Of course it is quite another matter perhaps that the world had started accepting this under the Congress government as well, with both President George W. Bush and Barack Obama referring to this any number of times. And while the ‘peace’ approach ensures a softening of postures in Washington, it remains to be seen whether this is able to draw dividends at home. More so, as Pakistan still remains the BJP’s favourite whipping nation, and a change in approach can perhaps remain restricted to the PM and that too for a short while.
Domestically of course, the lesser leaders will continue the hype against Pakistan. In the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly after the Lashkar e Tayeba attack on the CRPF in which 8 jawans were killed, the BJP legislators indulged in the usual rhetoric of ‘aerial surgical strikes’ by the Indian Air Force on targets in Pakistan. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh just recently said that India would not be counting the bullets used against Pakistan.
Prime Minister Modi was asked, in what is largely seen as a rehearsed interview, about the policy towards Pakistan and the response encouraged the Opposition to let fly. Not particularly convinced with his ‘we want peace’ approach, Congress MP Anand Sharma said that the PM clearly did not have coherent, clear and consistent policy on Pakistan. CPI(M) politburo leader Brinda Karat attacked the government for a “show based” instead of a substantive policy on Pakistan.
The Opposition criticism is being drawn from the Pathankot attack terror attack where the government did not live up to its repeated promises of teaching Pakistan a lesson. Referring to PM Modi’s unscheduled visit to Lahore to wish Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on his birthday, Karat said, “One day you say you are going to bomb Pakistan. The next day your Home Minister (Rajnath Singh) says you are not going to count the bullets that are going to be used against Pakistan.”
Instead a delegation from Pakistan, including an officer from its Intelligence services, was allowed to visit the Air Force base where the terrorists had struck despite initial statements from Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar that no such permission would be given. In the face of flak at home, the government stated that this was a reciprocal visit with agreement over an Indian delegation visit. Islamabad denied this, New Delhi had little to say, and the issue currently rests there.
The government, for a few months after taking over, assumed what even the cautious questioning by the Times Now anchor was an “uncompromising approach towards Pakistan.” The most dramatic of a series of statements and action, was the government’s decision to snap talks over an invitation by the Pakistan High Commissioner to India to the Hurriyat leaders. Subsequently, without explanation the objection was lifted to allow the visits, with even now the Kashmiri separatists invited for an iftar at the High Commissioner in Delhi.
The Indian position on the Pathankot attack was not the hard response expected by the BJP rank and file in particular, And except for not resuming the talks New Delhi has fallen largely silent on the issue,although encounters with Pakistan militants are being reported every other day from the Valley. The ruling party’s response to the recent attack on the CRPF personnel by the Lashkar e Tayeba in which 8 jawans were killed, has remained at best muted with PM Modi himself not directly answering a soft question in the Time Now interview. This despite the fact that the LeT has struck after a long while, and by claiming responsibility for the terror attack has let it be known that it is still alive and kicking despite Indian protests in the past, and Pakistan assurances of taking action.
Instead PM Modi spoke of how India wanted friendly ties with its neigbours; how both India and Pakistan wanted to fight poverty so “why don’t we come together to fight poverty.” And pointing out that he had said as much at his swearing in ceremony he added, “so there has been no change in our intent, our thoughts and our current behaviour.”
Except that talks are off the table, people to people contacts have been severely restricted, and there has been no movement forward on any one issue that could clear the way for India and Pakistan to come together against poverty as declared by the Prime Minister in the interview. Both countries are huffing and puffing at each other, with peace at best an illusory concept at this stage. More so as the terror attacks continue, and the issues between the two have not even been approached in the last two years.Despite this PM Modi played out the role of the politician wedded to peace in his interview to the Indian television channel, giving the semblance of being reasonable and as the interviewer said very generous towards Pakistan.
He did not even make a fetish of who should India talk to--the government or the military--- as did former PM Manmohan Singh and his officials on many an occasion. How can we talk to Pakistan when we do not know who to talk to, was the oft repeated refrain from South Block. PM Modi entertained no such confusion even for propaganda’s sake, and as he said in the interview, “Look there are different types of forces operating in Pakistan. But the government only engages with a democratically elected system. Our effort for that engagement is continuing. But our supreme objective is peace. Our supreme objective is to protect India's interests. We keep making effort toward that objective and sometimes our efforts are successful.”
He was careful not to speak loudly of possible military action, a tooth for a tooth approach as had been voiced in several election meetings in the 2014 campaign. The Prime Minister said that the military was there to secure the borders, that it had full freedom to take whatever action it wanted at the borders, and that he was very proud of the jawans. Aerial strikes or any kind of military offensive require political clearance, but this was clearly an area where PM Modi had decided not to wander into.
There are many in the larger foreign policy establishment who are concerned about the Prime Minister and his government’s “soft approach” towards Pakistan. In fact New Delhi has almost suddenly stopped even indulging in the characteristic blame game, with fingers now being pointed more at China than at the immediate neighbour. Even for the NSG, despite the loud statements and media hype in Pakistan, the government ignored all to focus on China as the “one country” opposing India’s bid to become a member.
So much so that even the deadly terror attack on the Air Force base in Pathankot, and now the attack in Kashmir on the CRPF has not drawn the expected flak from the government. The silence is certainly deafening.