Slowing momentum

It is unfortunate that the government has called off the foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan which were scheduled to take place next week. The reason given by the government is weak and unconvincing.

It has said that Pakistan high commissioner to India Abdul Basit’s invitation to the separatist Hurriyat leaders of Kashmir and his talks with them amounted to interference in India’s internal affairs and as long as Pakistan continued with that policy no useful purpose would be served by the talks. But there have been precedents of such meetings between Pakistani officials or visiting Pakistani ministers and leaders from Kashmir, including during the time of the NDA government in the past. They had taken place before former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s visit to Agra for talks with Atal Behari Vajpayee. Making an issue of them now appears to be odd. 

It seems there were other reasons behind the government’s decision. Prime minister Narendra Modi had raised the pitch of his rhetoric against Pakistan during his recent visit to Kashmir. The state is going to have Assembly elections soon. The BJP had emerged as the party with the largest vote share in the state in the Lok Sabha elections. It might be hoping even to form a government there after the elections if it gets continued support from Jammu and Ladakh regions. A tough stand against Pakistan might appeal to voters in these regions. Another reason might be New Delhi’s reading that Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif has become politically weak now. There may be a view that talks may not achieve much in that situation. Or the decision may have been meant to put pressure on him as he has made a political investment in improving relations with India. In any case, the issue need not have been pressed to the extent of undermining the talks even though the engagement between Pakistani officials and separatists were unacceptable.

The decision has hurt the momentum which Modi had himself imparted to India-Pakistan relations with his invitation to Nawaz Sharif to his swearing-in ceremony. The expected meeting between the two leaders in September at the UN is also unlikely to take place now. It was after a lapse of two years that secretary-level talks were scheduled to be held. Now it might take some time to regain the lost momentum. The government has created an impression that it is not serious about improving relations with Pakistan. 

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