In the volatile world of Pakistan-India relations, often seemingly harmless incidents can be blown out of proportion, leaving any chances of dialogue and forward movement towards peace looking increasingly distant. And as it has been witnessed in the recent past, more often than not the right-wing BJP-led government in Delhi has torpedoed chances of peace with Pakistan thanks to its unreasonable attitude and rigidity.
On Thursday, it emerged that a phone call between Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and All Parties Hurriyat Conference leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq had been taken as an affront by India. Pakistan’s high commissioner in Delhi was summoned by the Indian government and told that the phone call amounted to “interference in [India’s] internal affairs”.
Pakistan, in response, called up India’s high commissioner to receive a protest over the reaction to the phone call.
It is difficult to understand how Delhi considers the conversation between Mr Qureshi and the Mirwaiz as an “attempt to undermine India’s unity”. Moreover, the Indian foreign secretary’s language, alleging that this country “abets ... individuals associated with terrorism” is highly unacceptable and contrary to the facts, as the Mirwaiz is a moderate Kashmiri leader spearheading a peaceful political movement for the region’s rights, and those involved in the armed struggle are indigenous fighters.
Unfortunately, there seems to be a negative pattern the Hindu nationalist BJP government is following. Previously, too, India has raised a hue and cry over meetings between Pakistani diplomats and Kashmiri leaders, going as far as to cancel scheduled bilateral talks, even though Pakistan’s moral and political support for India-occupied Kashmir is unambiguous, and the issue is an internationally acknowledged dispute.
India under Mr Modi has made it clear that peace with Pakistan is not part of its priorities; meetings of Saarc have been scuttled due to Indian intransigence, while the bilateral talks process is in deep freeze. And while there seemed to be some potential in Pakistan’s offer to open the Kartarpur corridor, India’s politicisation of the issue is dampening hopes of a breakthrough.
Considering the BJP’s roots in the fanatical RSS — which has no love lost for Pakistan or Muslims — it is understandable that Mr Modi and his party would find excuses to avoid talking to Pakistan. And with national elections only a couple of months away, the BJP will not want to be seen as going ‘soft’ on Pakistan in order to please the saffron brigade and scoop up more votes.
However, this narrow, communal approach will do little to further peace in South Asia. Whatever issues Delhi has must be communicated to Pakistan through diplomatic channels, and only through sustained bilateral dialogue can mistrust give way to a constructive relationship.
It is hoped that after the Indian elections, whichever party takes power in Delhi will take a progressive approach towards Pakistan and restart the dialogue process in earnest so that peace can be achieved in this region.
Published in Dawn, February 2nd, 2019