Modi needs to add carrot and stick to bonhomie diplomacy
by Ashok B Sharma on 08 Jan 2016 6 Comments
The two simultaneous terror attacks on vital Indian assets at the beginning of the year – one at the air force base at Pathankot (India) and the other at the Indian consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif (Afghanistan) – have raised questions regarding Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “innovative” and “risky” diplomacy with Pakistan.


Mr Modi took a risk to make a surprise landing in Lahore to greet Mr Nawaz Sharif on his birthday and attend the wedding celebration of his granddaughter on his way back from Afghanistan to India on Christmas day. The move was adventurous and characteristic of his style of functioning and helped revive the stalled talks between the two neighbours.


Evidently, Mr Modi was impatient to return the courtesy visit that the Pakistan Prime Minister paid during his swearing-in ceremony 19 months ago. After that, the Modi-Sharif bonhomie saw shawl-sari diplomacy with the former presenting a shawl for latter’s mother and the latter gifting a sari for former’s mother.


Initiating any dialogue process with Pakistan invites reactions from the Pakistan Army and the ISI that call the shots in that country. When the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee took a bus trip to Lahore to meet his counterpart Nawaz Sharif, the Pakistan Army could not tolerate two leaders coming closer. Sharif was unseated in a military coup after he signed the Lahore Declaration with his Indian counterpart and Pakistani aggression in Kargil sector followed.


Mr Vajpayee attempted to initiate dialogue with Army chief Pervez Musharraf who assumed power, but failed. Thereafter, the UPA Government attempted to initiate dialogue process but could not succeed throughout its decade in office. Mr Modi took the risky adventure of visiting Pakistan which his predecessor Manmohan Singh had not dared to do.


These lessons were before Mr Modi. He failed contain the fallout of his risky adventure. While the Afghan forces could neutralize the attack on Indian consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif and ensure no loss of Indian lives and assets, at home it took a long time to neutralise the attack at Pathankot and there were casualties among the security forces.


This raises question about ineffective border management and security. As per reports, the terrorists entered through routes used to smuggle narcotics into India under the very nose of the security forces and Punjab police, and there are partners on the Indian side for this illegal trade. The terrorists are entrenched with the narcotics trade and the Pakistan Army reportedly facilitates such mass infusion of narcotics and infiltration of terrorists. Modi should have done his homework in effective border management and security to prevent the Pathankot fallout. There is nothing wrong in the diplomacy of bonhomie but a carrot and stick policy is also needed.


Modi’s words in Afghanistan, “There are some who did not want us to be here. There were those who saw sinister designs in our presence here. There are others who were uneasy at the strength of our partnership,” was enough to provoke the terrorists and bring on the Mazar-e-Sharif attack.


Let us see how Modi’s diplomacy with Pakistan moved. He made his debut by inviting all SAARC leaders to his swearing-in ceremony on May 26, 2014. Subsequently talks with Nawaz Sharif settled for foreign secretary level talks between the two countries in August in Islamabad. But Pakistani High Commissioner to India, Abdul Basit, went ahead and met the Kashmiri Hurriyat leaders despite caution from India. The Modi government had then maintained that the talks between the two neighbours should be in the spirit of the Shimla Agreement and Lahore Declaration that rules out involvement of any third party in resolving the longstanding Kashmir issue. Mr Nawaz Sharif had, during Modi’s swearing-in ceremony, made a departure from the usual practice of meeting with Hurriyat leaders.


There was a marked rise in ceasefire violations by Pakistan at the borders, resulting in casualties on both sides and attempts by terrorist groups to infiltrate. New Delhi then insisted that there can be no talks with Pakistan until there is peace at the borders and the latter should rein in the terrorists.


Sour India-Pakistan relations had an impact on the 18th SAARC Summit in Kathmandu in November 2014. New Delhi, thereafter, stepped up efforts for dialogue in the entire South Asian region. Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar was sent on a SAARC Yatra and met his Pakistani counterpart and other Pakistani leaders.


The two leaders met at the sidelines of the SCO Summit meeting at Ufa (Russia) where both countries were co-opted as members. This led to the Ufa Declaration that proposed a meeting of the NSAs of the two countries in New Delhi, followed by an early meeting of DG BSF and DG Pakistan Rangers and a meeting of DGMOs of both countries – the date and the venue for which would be decided by Islamabad.


Unfortunately, after the Ufa joint statement was signed, Pakistan raised the issue that Kashmir was specifically not reflected on the agenda even though it mentioned “prepared to discuss all outstanding issues”. The Ufa statement also called for cooperation in eliminating terrorism and expediting the Mumbai case trial, including additional information like providing voice samples. But recurring ceasefire violations at the borders again derailed the NSA-level talks. However, the talks between DG BSF and DG Pakistan Rangers took place in September 2015 in New Delhi as this was a regular bi-annual event and not part of the Ufa agenda.


Dialogue is necessary in diplomacy. Flexibility is a norm to achieve the goal and hence in diplomacy there can be no full stops, only commas. The bonhomie between the two prime ministers continued with waving of hands at the UN Summit in September 2015 and shaking of hands at the Paris climate negotiations in November 2015, and finally the NSAs and foreign secretaries of both countries met in a third country – Thailand – in Bangkok city in December 6, 2015 and discussed peace and security, terrorism, Jammu and Kashmir and other issues including tranquility at the Line of Control. They agreed to carry forward the constructive engagement.


In contrast to Ufa, Pakistan could get Kashmir issue specifically inserted on the agenda. Subsequently, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj covered considerable ground in thawing the India-Pakistan dialogue process during her visit to Islamabad for the Heart of Asia Conference. She signed a joint statement along with the Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani that focused on improving security, bilateral ties, defence cooperation and resolving the Kashmir issue. She also called for seamless trade and transit connecting India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and beyond to Central Asia.


This sequence of events gave Prime Minister Modi the optimism to make a call to Nawaz Sharif on his birthday and cannily accept the polite impromptu invitation to land in Lahore. He happily tweeted about his “surprise” visit on the way back from Kabul to New Delhi. Even his visit to Kabul was not officially announced in India when he left for Moscow, though it was vaguely hinted at.


Thus, in his own innovative style, Mr Modi found a way to reciprocate Mr Nawaz Sharif’s visit for his swearing-in ceremony. But Mr Modi needs to add a carrot and stick policy to his bonhomie diplomacy. The scheduled foreign secretary level talks are scheduled to be held in mid-January, with the possibility of the two leaders meeting at the Davos World Economic Forum and subsequently at the SAARC Summit in Islamabad. One can only hope that there will be some forward movement without the customary two steps backward. 

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