By Minahil K.
Riding on a wave of international popularity and charisma, the Modi Sarkaar has allowed political kitsch to dictate foreign policy options. Noticeably flippant on matters on matters within the realm of external affairs, a far departure from the calculated, cautious approach of its predecessor, the government has allowed popular rhetoric used at the domestic level to capture the imagination of the electorate—the very rhetoric that has been blamed for eroding India’s secular fabric, define its conduct in the international arena as well.
What might resonate with the masses, be popular and in demand might not always be a thing of great value, brilliance or utility in the clinical sense. Chants and slogans, manifestos and movements—by way of totalizing, can tap into a nation’s sentimentality. While virtually inescapable in all spheres of life, popular but commonplace, populist, nationalistic rhetoric is something that cannot be allowed to creep its way into the diplomatic theatre.
It must be admitted however, that there was little hope of anything concrete coming out of the misadventure at Ufah. A joint statement under US pressure predictably did not establish trust among the two states. Media reportage of the entire episode in both countries was disheartening. It fanned nationalist sentiments in both Pakistan and India and has contributed to trivializing issues of grave concern in wake of diplomatic failure.
“…In the case of Indo-Pak talks, electorates appoint, their governments disappoint. The fulcrum of any serious negotiations, especially between states, is the ability of each side to understand the viewpoint of the other. Unilateral ultimatums are akin to mules, condemned to sterility. A bray of demands and midnight deadlines on television channels cannot replace conventional, confidential channels of communication between mature governments…” wrote Pakistani author and columnist F.S.Aijazuddin.
Recently, the world has seen novel partnerships and alliances take shape in wake of the very real threat of terrorism and extremism—Iran and the US being a case in point. At this particular point in time, looking inwards and coming to the negotiation table with ethnocentric deafness instead of engaging each other in meaningful dialogue makes a mockery of the sentiments of the millions of voters in both countries who want peace between the two countries.
But with relations improving now – at least from the looks of it as Modi and Sharif ‘casually bumped’ into each other and had a chat in Paris that was long enough for the media and Twitter to work up a frenzy, there is a bit of optimism in the air. If India and Pakistan are to come together to talk outstanding issues, it cannot be done without using good old fashioned diplomacy; but first, they must decide the scope of the talks and articulate it with clarity. It is encouraging that this time around, steps are being taken to do just that – a comprehensive bilateral dialogue process is in the offing. Issues such as matters related to peace and security, Jammu and Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek, Wullar Barrage, Tulbul Navigation Project, economic and commercial cooperation, counter-terrorism, narcotics control and humanitarian issues, people to people exchanges and religious tourism will be discussed.
“Instead of composite dialogues, now comprehensive dialogues will be held in which all outstanding issues will be discussed,” Sushma Swaraj recently announced. This should be taken as a good omen.
It seems as if the much-desired ‘return to the basics’ is taking place – one that has been long overdue – talks can only bear fruit in an environment where there is the resolve to pave way for cordial relationships between Pakistan and India. At present, both parties have demonstrated a firm commitment to improve their relations. Both have a stake in a peaceful and prosperous South Asia and the realization of such is paramount to any efforts of betterment in the relationship between the two. For peaceful coexistence, there is a need to look beyond the rhetoric and come together for regional stability and prosperity. The leadership, on either side of the border must continue to be sensitive to the complexities of the regional security conundrum and at the same time, stay in touch with the sentiments of the electorates. In the desire to remain politically relevant and popular at home, however, given the ideological and security challenges posed by terrorism, extremism, intolerance and the proliferation of violence and chaos – neither side can afford to lose sight of larger goals of regional stability.