Just how far India’s relations with Pakistan have deteriorated under the atavistic watch of Modi & Co, is evident from the ripples caused by the publication of a book co-authored by two former intelligence chiefs from India and Pakistan, A S Dulat and Gen Asad Durrani.
True to its grain, the Indian government denied a visa to Durrani to participate in the launch of the book, ‘Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and The Illusion Of Peace’. Following the ban on Pakistani artistes and sportspersons, and denial of visa to someone like Moneeza Hashmi, there was little likelihood that New Delhi would allow a former ISI chief steal the limelight on Indian soil.
Denying space to Pakistan and Pakistanis has indeed been the number one priority of the Modi-led government since coming to power four years ago. In moments of hubris, Modi publicly threatened to isolate Pakistan internationally. His agenda also included: an increased level of brutal repression in Kashmir and systematic victimisation of over 200 million Muslims in India. In short, to reinvent the wheel of Islamophobia. There is little sign of that obsession abating in the period ahead as the BJP stokes communal hatred to cash in on the Hindu nationalist vote to secure a second term in power from 2019.
That is not to say that there is no resistance in India to the hate-filled agenda of Hindutva. The launch of the Dulat/Durrani narratives provided an occasion to talk sense in view of the BJP-RSS fulminations against the minorities and their dangerous anti-secular designs. Former foreign minister Yashwant Sinha, who quit the party recently, reiterated his stance pleading for a humanitarian approach to bring peace in the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir. Former prime minister Manmohan Singh and former vice president Hamid Ansari were the guests of honour on the occasion, giving the book launch a distinctly anti-BJP flavour. Veteran Kashmiri leader Farooq Abdullah was also present.
Not having read the non-fiction spy book, I shall refrain from commenting on its contents – except some points reportedly stressed by the two authors. Gen Durrani, for example, suggests that in Pakistan it was alright to have a hardliner like Modi in power in India. “The reaction in Pakistan to Modi’s election was that it served India right. Let Modi take care of India, destroy its image, and possibly destroy its inner balance”. He further stated that the ISI’s preference was for hard-line leaders as they can take hard decisions the Congress was unable to make.
Durrani takes note of Modi’s penchant for theatrics, like landing in Lahore after delivering stern messages to Pakistan. Modi likes to keep others guessing and believing that he is the man of the moment. “But he has no intention of doing good for the region; his only thought is of creating an impact back home”. The former ISI chief avers that he preferred Vajpayee who did not deliver but his approach was right.
On the issue of Kashmir, the former RAW chief thinks that the two sides have to settle on the Line of Control. Dulat says that was also the essence of Musharraf’s four point formula: LoC-plus. The LoC cosmetically dressed up so that both sides won, neither lost. Durrani recalls Z A Bhutto’s advice: Take what you can get. He says neither India nor Pakistan can take entire Kashmir. “There is no direct solution to the Kashmir dispute…there should be an indirect and incremental approach, starting with little steps, like bus and trade.” When we want all or nothing, we are likely to get nothing, he concludes.
These comments are pertinent at this stage because things have taken a different turn. As compared to Musharraf’s ‘win-win’ mantra, Pakistan has gone back to invoking the UN resolutions. India has hardened its position too, unleashing greater state terror in the occupied territory and castigating Pakistan for cross-border terrorism. The situation is further complicated by India’s low-intensity war along the LoC and the Working Boundary. In line with the BJP’s hawkish attitude towards Pakistan and the Kashmiris, the Indian media has also hardened its stance against Pakistan. Hitting Pakistan is perceived as a symbol of patriotism.
Is there any sign of hope in this dismal setting? The US, which has traditionally nudged the South Asian rivals to engagement, is now tilting towards India. That may suit New Delhi well except when Washington tightens its embrace and invites the former to be a partner in American designs against China and Russia. In an interesting move, Modi has visited Russia to discuss further steps in the “privileged strategic partnership” between the two countries, with special emphasis on greater trade and economic cooperation.
There was symbolism as well. Putin and Modi voiced “support for a new architecture of security and cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region that should be based on non-bloc principles, openness, and equitable and indivisible security”. Earlier, Modi paid an important visit to China, trying to narrow differences while stepping up their trade notably in technology sector.
Will Pakistan continue to be an exception to Modi’s multidirectional foreign policy initiatives which also cover Iran and the entire Gulf region? The book of two master spies may not amuse him, but nothing stops Modi from noting what the two former intelligence chiefs have advocated. The Indian side would do well to begin by reducing the din of anti-Pakistan propaganda, to make it feasible to take some small steps towards normalisation of India’s ties with Pakistan. They will find willing partners on this side of the border.