Less than a week after it was unexpectedly agreed upon by the two sides in Ufa, the spirit of the India-Pakistan joint declaration appears to have evaporated. There has been firing from across the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir; the Pakistan Foreign Minister has announced that there is no question of any dialogue where Kashmir isn’t on the agenda; and the Opposition Congress in India has mocked the joint statement as something only an inexperienced policeman could have thought of.
Elsewhere, the upholders of diplomatic propriety – a kind description of a clutch of factionalists in the Ministry of External Affairs – have ridiculed the direct contact that the India’s National Security Adviser established with the Pakistan High Commissioner in Delhi in a last-minute attempt to salvage something of the Ufa understanding.
Let’s assume that Ufa was indeed a two-day wonder that will struggle to find a place among the footnotes in the history of India-Pakistan relations. What does the experience tell us of the state of play on both sides of the Radcliffe Line?
First, there is an unanswered question: if the joint statement in Ufa was indeed so heavily tilted in favour of India, as the pundits now say it is, why did the delegation accompanying Nawaz Sharif agree to it? Sharif isn’t a complete novice and neither is the iconic status accorded in Pakistan to the Kashmir issue entirely unknown to the Pakistan delegation. Somehow I don’t think it was only the smooth-talking charm of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that did the trick. Nor do I seriously believe that NSA Ajit Doval used some mysterious special leverage to pull a rabbit out of the skull cap. Why did Sharif agree to a document that was calculated to ruffle feathers at home?
We can, of course, fall back on the grim reality that while civilians govern, it is the military that rules Pakistan. And there was just no way the pampered inhabitants of cantonments and their friends in different places would agree, for example, to a genuine investigation into the conspiracy behind the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai. Nor would they ever agree to downsizing the thriving and even lucrative ‘Liberate Kashmir’ industry that even has branch offices and individual affiliates in the heart of the larger Indian Establishment, not least the media and NGOs.
The military-Jehadi veto is at the heart of the reason why the document signed in Ufa may end up relegated to the archives. Yet, the mere fact that Sharif agreed to it may possibly tell us something about Pakistan’s polity that Indian analysts – particularly the tribe of retired diplomats who helped the erstwhile UPA Government forge a ‘nuanced’ and ‘calibrated’ policy based on nothing in particular – seem unwilling to explore.
The belief that the single-minded obsession with the ‘azadi’ of Kashmir is becoming a drag on the larger growth story of Pakistan may still be at an embryonic stage, but the mere fact that a politically-savvy Prime Minister could actually risk floating this trial balloon suggests that there may be developments in Pakistan that even our Track-II interlocutors may be unaware of. In policy terms, India’s diplomats and other strategists will have to determine the extent to which future initiatives (and other related activities) should aim at nurturing the post-Kashmir strands in Pakistan’s thinking.
Secondly, a strange feature of the Ufa incident was the relative disinterest of the West in this guarded resumption of dialogue. Earlier, and particular after structured bilateral dialogue was interrupted following the fuss over Pakistan’s interference in India’s internal affairs, itinerant global strategists had warned that lack of continuous engagement made a nuclear war more likely. Was Sharif pressured by these western powers in Ufa, as some conspiracy theorists in Pakistan are undoubtedly saying? Alternatively, did the West take a dim view of any direct engagement between the two countries that was centred on non-traditional channels? We don’t as yet know the answers and nor will the full truth ever emerge, but it is important to flag the concern.
Finally, the Ufa joint statement and its domestic fallout in India tells us another interesting story. It is now becoming increasingly apparent that the Congress, nominally the largest Opposition party, has decided that it will approach the Modi Government in the spirit of rigid and unwavering Opposition. Judging from the intellectualised sneers of Salman Khurshid and the ponderous rage of Anand Sharma (not to mention the more basic asides of Rahul Gandhi), it would seem that the Government can expect absolutely no cooperation from the Congress on any subject, including foreign policy. Regrettably, by implication, it may also suggest that the Government will have to learn to live with (or bypass) the scepticism of a section of the MEA that continues to live in the past. How the Government approached this issue will be interesting to watch.
When he assumed power last year, Modi believed that a large-scale bureaucratic overhaul was unnecessary since it was the Constitutional obligation of all public servants to serve elected Governments. To some this spirit of generosity has been reciprocated but in many cases the politicisation of babudom has gone far too deep. The decision-making process in Ufa suggested a trend that may become a signature tune of the Modi Government. However, a definitite judgement at this juncture would be rash and premature.
Ufa has thrown up a large number of questions that could shed new light on both the processes and substance of India’s foreign policy.
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