WHILE speaking to a media outlet on Sunday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent a number of mixed messages where relations with Pakistan are concerned.
The Indian leader said that his country’s foreign policy does not revolve around Pakistan and that New Delhi was not working to isolate any nation.
He added that both South Asian nations should join hands to fight poverty and disease, stating that “if we fight together, we will win faster”.
Mr Modi’s call for joining forces in a seemingly worthy effort to improve the lives of over a billion people who live in the subcontinent is a welcome change in tone compared to the bellicose statements that have been emanating from New Delhi of late.
For example, the Indian army chief’s recent hawkish comments with regard to calling Pakistan’s “nuclear bluff” were uncalled for and vitiated the already tense atmosphere in the region.
Additionally, India’s actions under Mr Modi’s watch — such as torpedoing the 2016 Saarc summit in Islamabad — have not exactly aided the smooth conduct of bilateral relations.
And despite the Indian leader’s denial, it very much appears that New Delhi is making efforts to isolate Pakistan, especially considering the increased bonhomie between India and the US.
Indeed, the way forward could well be through ‘soft’ issues such as poverty alleviation and common healthcare initiatives.
Theoretically, cooperation in these areas could lead to bridging the trust deficit between Pakistan and India and pave the way for resolution of the seemingly intractable ‘hard’ issues such as Kashmir, militancy etc. But Mr Modi must realise that ‘hoping’ for better relations with Pakistan yet doing nothing practical to improve ties will not lead to positive results.
For example, as mentioned in these columns, India issued a little over 34,000 visas to Pakistanis last year, 18,000 fewer than it issued in 2016.
Clearly, people-to-people contact is essential for improved ties between both states, but if the powers that be across the border are being so miserly in issuing visas to Pakistanis, it is difficult to see how contacts between common citizens in the two countries can flourish. Additionally, the visa application process has been made incredibly difficult, dissuading many from applying.
If Mr Modi is earnest in his desire to work with Pakistan, he must back up his rhetoric with practical steps. There are major obstacles that stand in the way of normalisation, and these can only be removed through dialogue and confidence-building measures.
Published in Dawn, January 23rd, 2018