India’s intransigent approach

Updated 29 Nov 2018

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THE inauguration of the Kartarpur corridor had many of the ingredients for what a normalised relationship between Pakistan and India could look like: the governments of Pakistan and India working together to facilitate people-to-people contact and religious tourism; Indian officials visiting Pakistan in a relaxed, even joyful manner; and a speech by Prime Minister Imran Khan that hit all the right notes of amity and regional peace and prosperity.

Mr Khan made no mention of the unfortunate diplomatic flap in September, when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi rejected in extraordinarily harsh language Mr Khan’s offer to restart bilateral dialogue, and chose, instead, to focus on the theme of common responsibility.

“There have been mistakes on both sides ... We should not live in the past. It should be used to learn lessons,” Mr Khan said yesterday.

Unhappily, the Indian government rushed to smother the goodwill generated by the inauguration of the corridor, and once again doused hopes that bilateral dialogue may be restarted soon.

Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj’s extraordinary comments yesterday leave no doubt that the hawks in the Indian ruling party and establishment continue to control Indian policy towards Pakistan.

What is less clear is what Ms Swaraj is hoping to achieve with her fierce rhetoric against Pakistan.

Perhaps the Indian foreign minister wanted to counter the joyous scenes from Narowal district yesterday that would otherwise have dominated the news cycle in both countries.

It was surely a muddled approach to achieving a small, though highly symbolic, breakthrough.

Ms Swaraj has stated that there will be no bilateral dialogue while there are “terrorist activities” inside India, allegedly sponsored or organised by Pakistan, but that is a roundabout way of saying there will be no dialogue at all in any circumstances.

While India may have some legitimate complaints, as does Pakistan against India, there is no plausible scenario in which not talking to Pakistan at all will address the issues on both sides.

For Pakistan, the challenge will remain to keep open the offer of dialogue to India, while doing whatever can be done to reduce regional tensions.

The Kartarpur corridor is an example of how Pakistan may be able to slowly win hearts and minds in India, something that could eventually put pressure on the Indian state to restart dialogue with Pakistan.

However, Indian intransigence and bloody-mindedness risks the possibility of hawks in Pakistan demanding a response to India.

The earlier brash rejection of dialogue by India eventually elicited a strong and undiplomatic response from Mr Khan.

The PTI government is still finding its feet and has already suffered domestic blows to its mandate and authority.

Prime Minister Modi and his government should pause and reflect on what it is they hope to achieve by repeatedly slapping back a hand offered in peace.

Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2018