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DC Debate: Narendra Modi’s sudden visit to Lahore won’t lead to anything substantial

Published Dec 31, 2015, 8:10 am IST
Updated Mar 26, 2019, 1:18 pm IST
A calculated risk?
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, shakes hands with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in Lahore, Pakistan. (Photo: AP)
 India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, shakes hands with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in Lahore, Pakistan. (Photo: AP)

What is India’s Plan B?

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Christmas visit to Lahore was indeed a “surprise” and can be commended for its radical symbolism, it is unlikely to lead to a substantial change in the bilateral Indo-Pak template in the near future — particularly in relation to the hard security issues that have bedeviled the relationship for  three decades. This is not due to lack of earnestness or personal resolve on the part of Mr Modi, or for  that matter Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in relation to South Asian cooperation, but due to deeply accreted structural realities in Pakistan.

The main issues that cause disquiet and anger in India in relation to the “deep-state” in Pakistan are cross-border firing, state support to terrorism and nuclear sabre-rattling. The current socio-political eco-system in Pakistan, whose origins go back to the Zia-ul-Haq years, have oriented state and society in such a manner that India is seen as the eternal “dushman-desh” (enemy country) and the Hindu the permanent kafir (infidel). This slant is instilled in textbooks at the primary stage when children learn the alphabet.

The military coup by Pervez Musharraf in late 1999, which ironically saw Mr Sharif being imprisoned and then forced into exile, and the tumultuous events that followed, including 9/11, have allowed the Pakistan military to accord unto themselves a primacy in the power grid of that country and exclusive control of  hard security issues including investment in non-state entities that are rationalised as “strategic-depth” against neighbours India and Afghanistan.

The politics of Islam that enabled oil-rich Saudi Arabia to export its religious ideology has scarred Pakistan indelibly. It introduced a deeply entrenched certitude about an inflexible interpretation of Islam that privileges the Sunni school in its Wahhabi-Salafi variant. Lal Masjid, in the heart of Islamabad ,(whose siege in 2007 led to the end of the Musharraf era ) embodies this intolerant religious discourse and the hundreds of madrasas (seminaries) in Pakistan that are under this umbrella continue to indoctrinate thousands of children about the validity of adhering to this form of Islam and its terror compulsion unquestioningly.

Thus Pakistan has nurtured an eco-system where there are innumerable mujahids who are defenders of the faith — some in uniform and many who would be deemed civilian. Thus while it is encouraging that there has been no major cross-border firing in the last seven weeks — suggesting thereby that Rawalpindi, the military headquarters in Pakistan, is keeping the peace, to my mind this is nascent.

Terror groups such as the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) that have been nurtured by Pakistani intelligence agencies and is represented by Hafiz Saeed and his constituency, are yet to be quarantined. The reluctance cum inability of the Pakistani government to pursue the Mumbai 26/11 investigation is part of the constraints posed by the eco-system spawned by a religious ideology that encourages terror. Even if the General Headquarters (Pakistan Army) in Rawalpindi support the Modi-Sharif Lahore initiative, at the end of the day the Lal Masjid certitude about what constitutes “true” Islam will be the core challenge to Pakistan’s internal stability and, by extension, bilateral ties with India.

What is India’s Plan B in the event of another Mumbai?

C. Uday Bhaskar is director, Society for Policy Studies


It is a win-win situation

There are essentially two types of people questioning the Prime Minister’s Lahore visit. The first are the conspiracy theorists who believe that it was pressure from the United States that led to the meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Lahore. The second are the cynics who say that they have seen it all before and that nothing is going to change. I am no cynic but I do believe in being realistic.

The Indo-Pak relationship cannot be transformed by a single stopover. However, at a time when the impasse had stretched so long, with no one blinking, the Lahore break is typical of Narendra Modi’s diplomatic style.

Mr Modi seems to have concluded that the composite dialogue, started during the tenure of I.K. Gujral has crossed its expiry date. Hence, the move to create a new Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue process, the modalities of which will be announced after the foreign secretaries meet in Islamabad in mid-January.

The new element in this dialogue is the focus on terrorism and this will be handled by the national security advisers. India has, therefore, succeeded in making its point — that terrorism remains its top priority.

The unexpected Lahore visit will make it that much easier for Mr Modi to visit Pakistan for the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) summit in Islamabad that will be held there towards the end of 2016. The decision to go may not be easy for Mr Modi, considering the huge media attention and incidents of tension between the two countries that may crop up from time to time.

One must remember that Manmohan Singh did not visit Pakistan during his decade-long stint as Prime Minister despite the fact that he wanted to improve the ties between the two nations. Mr Modi’s Lahore visit will definitely take the pressure off next year’s visit to Pakistan.

The Lahore visit could significantly contribute towards the development of trade between the two countries and, more importantly, transit facilities through Pakistan, Afghanistan, Central Asia and Iran. There is the envisaged TAPI pipeline from Turkmenistan to India via Afghanistan and Pakistan. India is also in discussion with Iran for the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline.

Transit agreements with Pakistan will definitely increase energy security, which is vital for India and it appears that Pakistan is sending out positive signals in this regard. Finally, by undertaking the unannounced visit, it looks as if Prime Minister Modi may be creating a favourable atmosphere for an eventual resolution of the Kashmir issue.

Dr Singh, during his tenure as Prime Minister, had almost wrapped up an agreement based on back-channel negotiations, but it could not be realised. Mr Modi is taking a calculated risk. If he is successful, he will accomplish what none of his predecessors could. If not, then he can always go back to the hard line that his party has advocated on Pakistan. It is a win-win situation for him. Atal Behari Vajpayee’s 1999 visit to Lahore, was a long awaited break-through in bilateral ties. It was meticulously scrip-ted and preceded by inten-se negotiations. In compa-rison, Mr Modi’s visit, though symbolic, is a significant move towards Mr Vajpayee’s vision of peace with Pakistan.

Lalit Mansingh is a former foreign secretary