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December 29, 2015

Diplomatic capital


December 29, 2015

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”

In the realm of international affairs, these words reflect the very nature of intelligent diplomacy. It is a device that requires constant recalibration to face a dynamic world, where even a tweet can spark an international incident. Charges of ‘flip flops’ and ‘inconsistencies’ may be good sound bites for political attacks, yet they are indicative of any competent nation’s diplomatic strategy.

Indian Prime Minister Modi’s stop-over in Pakistan to meet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif did nothing less than stump the opposition in India, which scrambled to come up with a line of attack against the NDA government, instead of supporting the outreach.

For months, the Congress Party’s narrative criticised the centre for not talking to Pakistan. After the NSA talks in Bangkok and Indian External Mffairs minister Sushma Swaraj’s attendance at the Heart of Asia summit in Islamabad, the same party is now calling the NDA government’s new found engagement ‘unstructured’, adding that the ground realities have not changed.

The Congress’ charge is purely political, yet it is not smart criticism and completely churlish. Major political parties in Pakistan welcomed PM Modi’s visit to Lahore – even separatist groups in Jammu and Kashmir. The international media erupted with praise, yet the majority of opposition parties in India are united against the PM’s move, mining out issues like the progress of the 26/11 trial, Hafiz Saeed, cross-border terror and the Kashmir dispute to counter the praise.

Even Indian news channels that lauded the prime minister were accused by the Congress of being BJP mouthpieces. PM Modi’s Lahore visit indicates his attempt to re-evaluate India’s engagement with Pakistan. It is a two-pronged approach, with Indian officials dealing with the military wing via the NSA level talks in Bangkok and Modi engaging the civilian leadership.

Modi is conscious of the fact that the Indian government cannot look stubborn when it comes to India-Pakistan ties. There is diplomatic capital in engagement, especially atmospherics when the Indian government also enforces red lines.

The Indian government has cancelled talks over Pakistan’s engagement with the Hurriyat as third-party stakeholders in the bilateral process. Enhancing atmospherics in such a scenario is essential to facilitate favourable international opinion.

In the book ‘New Regionalism and the European Union’, political scientists Stelios Stavridis and Panagiota Manoli reflect on the establishment of the European coalition of nations, stressing on the importance of atmospherics to establish and strengthen regional ties, especially to achieve new paradigms. They say: “It is not always the immediate impact that matters, but rather the wider question of socialisation that needs to be acknowledged, which refers to a learning process and the diffusion of norms and behaviours. The potential bridge-making role of parliamentary diplomacy, coupled with its overall socialisation effect, should not be underestimated.”

India and Pakistan ties have always faced a political push and pull, but all challenging diplomatic ties need to be regularly boosted with acts of goodwill and rapprochement. It is an important precursor to achieve any breakthroughs no matter how unlikely they may seem.

Narendra Modi’s visit to Lahore was unconventional, but so are India’s ties with Pakistan, which continuously face the fleeting promise of resolution. Yet, positive atmospherics can never be undervalued, as it is the cornerstone of deft diplomacy.

The main charge against Modi is that he didn’t follow conventional procedure – that he thought ‘out of the box’. However, someone with sights set on a big objective does not shy away from thinking out of the box.

While achieving tangible results is a different challenge altogether, Modi’s action is that of a statesman not a politician.

The writer is a senior news editor at CNN-IBN in India.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @Jamwalthefirst

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