Challenges for Modi
Challenge 7: To ensure that, in actual practice, as distinct from theory and stated public policy, the Indian military enables and supports political, civil initiatives by India’s elected government to resolve issues with Pakistan such as Siachen and Sir Creek instead of exercising the veto power which it has come to exert over the past several years?
Notwithstanding India’s commendable electoral continuity over six and a half decades, the heavy, persistent deployment of troops in Jammu and Kashmir, especially post-1989 and in the north-eastern states for tens of years imbues the Indian military command with a weightage that weighs in with opinions at crucial stages in the formulation of certain – not all – political policy decisions. This is also true of other major countries.
But in India one senses that the ‘the lady doth protest too much’ about how unqualified the political, civil factor is in shaping defence policy or military matters simply because there has never been a military intervention in the elected continuity of a democratic order.
Challenge 8: To revive the Musharraf-Manmohan Singh backchannel process on Kashmir, without being misperceived, or accused by one’s own ideological extremist-partners of opting for a ‘a soft-out’, leave alone being accused of merely following in the tracks of the Congress Party.
For all one knows – and one knows more and more about less and less – a top-secret backchannel process may well be underway already. One earnestly hopes this is so.
However, going by the astounding lack of discretion and restraint shown in Pakistan in recent times, if not in India as well, in publicly referring to the imminence, or the currency of a backchannel process on Kashmir, one would be pleasantly surprised if a publicly-lip-sealed dialogue is actually taking place. The whole point about the backchannel is secrecy – not publicity, which is the quickest way to kill potential cures for lasting sores.
To its credit, the longest-running, (since late 1991), quiet, (not officially secret), non-media-reported (by choice) bilateral Track 2 Dialogue between the two countries known as the India-Pakistan Neemrana Initiative (IPNI) has managed to keep its mouth shut for over two decades. No credit is claimed for any success, or a micro-move forward.
Yet, to date at least, every single government that has come to office in both countries – and there have been plenty since 1991 – has permitted IPNI to continue. Something somewhere may be getting done, For instance, simply practising the art of listening to each other, without the posturing that is inevitably brought on when there is a media gallery expecting to be played to.
Advances towards reconciliation on Kashmir – which along with Cyprus and Palestine ranks among the most elusively soluble crises lingering into the 21st century – through the Musharraf-Manmohan Singh backchannel formula were crystallised as the cumulative result of decades of previous, other and ongoing processes, both off-the-record like IPNI or on-the-record like some, as also helpful discourse in media, academia, and the political process.
Starting with an attempt to define and demarcate a shared acceptance of the physical composition of Jammu and Kashmir in the 21st century, the Musharraf-Manmohan formula aspired for sustained dialogue across the LoC between Kashmiris on both sides, accompanied or followed by authentic devolution of power and control from New Delhi and Islamabad, culminating in demilitarising possibly the most militarised region in the world.
To set this as a challenge for a prime minister reportedly aiming to abolish Article 370 of the Indian constitution – far from reconciling with Pakistan or with the Hurriyat approach – is, of course, attempting to tilt at windmills. But then, this is a dream-dish list. So anything goes.
Challenge 9: To reformulate India’s covert policy of countering Pakistan in Afghanistan and of supporting some of the armed secessionists in Balochistan – and elements elsewhere in other provinces – without weakening India’s capacity to remain a major regional power.
Just as Nepal and Bhutan have a special relationship with India, with respective divergences, so does Pakistan – as an immediate neighbour of Afghanistan – have a far more legitimate interest in its north-western next-door than India does. Yet India is taking both a publicly healthy role – helping build hospitals, a parliament building, a highway etc – as also taking a very unhealthy interest in matters between Afghan and Pakistan. Through funding support, through training, through weapons’ supply, through ‘guidance’ for an assortment of elements which reportedly include fringe-fraud Taliban-types, terrorists, nationalists and soft assets in a few sections of media, civil society and politics .
Afghanistan’s relationship with Pakistan will always be far more multi-layered, inter-dependent and inter-woven than an Indian-Afghan relationship. By the unchangeable potency of geography, ethnicity, language, dialects, religion, sects, culture, trade, shared livelihoods, even shared villages, the Pakhtun parts of Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces have a virtually imperishable, irreplaceable bond with Afghanistan – a bond under which a love-hate dimension also bobs up and down from time to time.
Challenge 10: To reach out to Pakistan, not with a ceremonial handshake at a Saarc summit but with a spontaneous hug, an embrace so warm, so infectious that, at one sudden stroke, the tone, the tenor and the tempo is newly energised? And to do so, knowing full well that the Vajpayee visit to Minar-e-Pakistan was followed by Kargil, that the guilty of November 2008 have not yet been convicted. That, for its part, Pakistan also nurses its own valid grievances about the Samjhota Express and numerous other incidents where Pakistan has been falsely implicated and accused.
Both countries face a future of increased internal volatility and uncertainty, of painful inequalities and inequities and intense human needs and deprivations. Working together rather than working apart would be far more mutually curative, respecting each other’s evolving national identities and recognising each other’s vital interests.
This is about remembering history without being trapped by it. This is about envisioning a future full of risks, yet equally fulsome about a better unknown.
The writer is a former senator and federal minister. www.javedjabbar.com