Sunday May 19, 2024

Exigencies of local politics

By Akram Shaheedi
September 24, 2018

Head of PPP Media Cell

All politics is local politics, said former US speaker of House of Representatives, because dynamics of local politics cannot be wished away by the movers and shakers no matter what side of the equation they belong to. Its undercurrents greatly influence the pursuits sought in the internal and external politicking by the ruling or opposition parties. In dictatorship or in democracy, in oligarchy or in the proletariat state, in despotic dispensation or in an egalitarian polity, the exigencies of local politics undoubtedly have profound impact in calibrating the ground realities of domestic politics. Local political preferences may not be ruled out even at the expense of well-established traditions and precedents.

The news of abrupt cancellation of meeting between Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj on the sidelines during the UN General Assembly current session in New York, is the perfect phenomena of the juggernaut of the exigencies of domestic politics those do not care for the diplomatic faux pas despite its resultant gravity. In this case, Indian general elections those are few months away mainly forced the government to back off from its commitment without giving convincing argument. The abrupt and unilateral cancellation of the meeting by India between the two foreign ministers is utterly devoid of sound judgment on the part of Indian Foreign Ministry. It was like inflicting sledgehammer on the toe of diplomacy by India as it was least expected by any stretch of imagination. Indeed surprising, if not shocking, reflective of Indian out of place epiphany that should have dawned before agreeing to the meeting instead of making the bolt face afterwards mired in impetuousness of grotesque proportion.

The argument of India that the meeting was cancelled due to Pakistan’s glorification of ‘terrorists’ ‘cross-border terrorism’ and ‘unclean intentions’ was indeed an afterthought and therefore did not come around convincing among the fair minded political analysts. The imperatives of local politics outweighed all other calculations at this point of time.

The prime minister of Pakistan has expressed his dismay over the cancellation of the meeting whereas the foreign minister of Pakistan was taken aback like the nation and indeed the diplomatic circles the world over. It may be kept in mind that the status of the meeting was just a meeting carrying no specific agenda and was intended to break the engagement logjam that had been casting long shadows on the already dispiriting relations between the two arch rivals. It was Pakistan’s new leadership sincere initiative, ‘though misstep’ to reach out to the Indian leadership based on sincere commitment to create an enabling environment with the intention to enhance engagement process to pave the way for structured dialogue that might prove as prelude to tackle the long standing issues through peaceful means, the only viable option.

The rejection of Pakistan’s diplomatic move in churlish manners by Indian Foreign Ministry, asserting specious grounds like “unclean intentions,” was devoid of plausibility and accepted norms of diplomacy.

No doubt, it was an afterthought because the forthcoming general elections compulsions seemingly had prevailed upon the diplomatic subtleties. But this realisation should have come in the mind of senior leadership before scheduling the meeting. It might be construed that the decision was taken in isolation without deliberating upon it through the normal decision making process at the highest level. It did not fall in the realm of possibility when policy matter pertaining to Pakistan was the subject matter in India. The guessing game was likely to linger on.

The question was as why this afterthought when stakes were too high? Most of the political analysts were of the view that the Indian government led by Narendra Modi was now pre-occupied under the considerations of the general elections those were scheduled to be held next year. Friendly overtures and bonhomie with Pakistan might erode (BJP) popular support base largely built by ruling party on the narrative of anti-Pakistan rhetoric. The alacrity had upped significantly during the BJP rule. It was unfortunate that ‘Pakistan bashing’ was considered as vote winning slogan in India and vice versa in Pakistan too in lesser degree.

It may be recalled that the (PTI) leadership in its election campaign used to label the former prime minister as ‘Friend of Modi’ to mobilise political capital to pave the way for his party’s victory in the elections. The party recklessly used the narrative of ‘by hook or crook’ to achieve the political objectives. Similarly, the Indian political leadership generally beats the drums of anti-Pakistan rhetoric for gaining electoral advantages because anti-Pakistan sloganeering is a proven penchant to win the support of the masses. The ruling party of India (BJP) is notorious for selling this formula aggressively as compared to the other major political parties in India. The surge of extremism in India provides an excellent opportunity to exploit it to its full potential, and the ruling party is determined not to lag behind in the frenzy.

It can be safely predicted that thaw in the frosty relations between two nuclear powered neighbouring countries is the remote possibility till the elections next year in India. The new government in New Delhi may resume the talks once firmly in saddle. Pakistani leadership and Foreign Office may therefore not read too much out of the Indian government’s bumbling refusal to meet the Pakistani foreign minister in New York as was scheduled and cancelled in hotchpotch manners. At the same time, Pakistan may not resort to the cascade of point scoring showcasing as standing on high grounds. Instead, it may treat it as one of the occurrences in perpetuity in its projections keeping in view the exigencies of the election campaign that no democratic leader can afford due to the prohibitive price in the form of electoral opprobrium.

The Indian incumbent prime minister and his party (BJP)’s total attention, understandably, must be focused to win the forthcoming elections at all cost. In this pursuit, the ruling party and its leadership may endeavour to undertake whatever is possible to brighten up the prospects of election victory. Pakistan bashing had been and will continue to figure out prominently this time as well. Indian army chief’s threat to Pakistan has given impetus to the ball that is already rolling.

The other downside for the ruling party of the sudden cancellation of the scheduled meeting this time may be the likelihood of the Indian opposition parties to use it as a ploy to whip the government mercilessly. The Indian opposition may hold the government responsible for the resultant diplomatic faux pas due to its myopic and short sighted vision of dealing with the immediate neighbour “allegedly involved in cross-border terrorism”.

The Indian opposition would disarm the government by forcefully articulating that it should have not agreed in the first place to meet the Pakistani foreign minister if they had to cancel it so abruptly after agreeing. It would also question the decision making power of the government on important strategic issues without undertaking the cost/benefit analysis. Backing off in awkward manners has indeed defied the damage control exercise of the government. The government action is too little and too late as the international community is bound to question the Indian government’s sincerity to normalise relations with its neighbour.

The opposition parties of India may also attack the government during their election campaign trail by arguing that the cancellation of the meeting has spotlighted the human right violations in Indian Held Kashmir globally already in the notice of the UN that has strongly recommended investigations by the third party. It may have not been the case if the convening of the meeting had not been agreed upon in the first place. The cancellation of the meeting has served as a fuel on the fire. The poor judgment of the Indian Foreign Office has pushed the Indian diplomacy on the back foot sending out the message, loud and clear, of its non-seriousness in the dialogue process.

On the other hand, Pakistan may restrict to its measured response to the Indian government’s belligerent diplomatic posturing. The Indian army chief’s threat to take out the terrorists operating from the soil of neighbouring country is indeed a pointer to what is going to unfold in the future. Pakistan may desist from rubbing salt into the diplomatic wounds of India while staying put on higher diplomatic grounds. The international community will appreciate Pakistan’s restraints. These roaring challenges of India may be considered largely as playing to the gallery by civilian leadership here. At the same time, this country’s security apparatus should give befitting response whenever deemed necessary.

Pakistan may formulate its response keeping in view the interest of future diplomatic engagements those are likely to see the light of the day once Indians are out of election exercise. Pakistan’s going on the overdrive may hurt instead of helping the prospects of future engagements. Pakistan may not give any such reason and as such may opt to maintain requisite profile and avoid becoming the hot topic during the Indian elections. Pakistan may reiterate pro-actively its policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries as a responsible member of the United Nations.