The muscular foreign policy that the Narendra Modi government promised when it took over in 2014 is in disarray. The bungled Uighur visa issue had barely faded when the Hurriyat has exploded under this government’s watch. Again.
If scrapping not one, but two India-Pakistan bilaterals was short-sighted, with the Modi government citing the Pakistan high commissioner’s interactions with the Kashmiri separatists as unacceptable, to declare now that the Hurriyat Conference can meet with the Pakistanis as the state of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India, and the separatists as Indian as anyone else, is equally myopic.
Union minister of state for external affairs Gen. V.K. Singh (Retd) has all but admitted that the Narendra Modi government has understood the error of making a diplomatic molehill where none existed. But here’s the catch: it gives the largely politically irrelevant Hurriyat what the Vajpayee and Manmohan governments in Delhi, as well as Pakistan’s Nawaz Sharif and Gen. Pervez Musharraf, have long denied it — legitimacy.
The genesis of the move needs to be explained. Does it come at the behest of their new partners in J&K, the PDP-led Mehbooba Mufti government? Is Ms Mufti being allowed to strengthen her party’s position by ensuring that in treating the Hurriyat with kid gloves the PDP’s own inherently contradictory position in keeping its line to Delhi open, without cutting ties to the separatists in the Valley, is not jeopardised? Prime Minister Modi’s predecessor, Dr Manmohan Singh, may have been vilified for not getting moving on Pakistan, but the BJP’s Pakistan policy is clearly unsustainable. The constraints of region and state politics cannot take precedence over the national imperative.
It’s believed this is a move to secure peace in the Valley, amid fears over the ascendancy of the virulently anti-Indian Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s possible successor, Masarat Alam. Even so, a softer line on the Hurriyat, Pakistan’s stooges in the Valley, does not sit well with Mr Modi’s hitherto tough line on terror.
The fundamental problem in making dramatic policy shifts on issues as challenging as Pakistan, committed to the break-up of the Indian state, is that peace must not be an imposition at the behest of an outside force. However well-meaning the Obama administration is, and even if it offers the ultimate prize — an address to the joint Houses of Congress — Prime Minister Modi must play his Pakistan cards with caution. Washington may preach peace from the pulpit but it is also raining F-16s on the Pakistan military.