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Sunday, 25 October 2015

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Daggers drawn

Indo-Pak relations are taking a dip as tensions increase:

When Narendra Modi took over as Prime Minister of India in May 2014 and invited his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, to the swearing-in ceremony, it seemed as if India and Pakistan were turning over a new leaf and the peoples of the two countries could expect an era of peace and fruitful interaction. It seemed as if Hindutva hardliner Modi, carrying the baggage of the 2002 massacre of Muslims in Gujarat, could turn out to be a dove of peace.


Pakistani Rangers (in black) goosestep at the Wagah border with India in front of Indian military border guards. Its part of a 30 minute ritual show of force and bluster that happens every evening of the year. In the background are hundreds of Indians and tourists who have come to watch the show. There are hundreds more on the Pakistani side as well.

But this was not to be. In a little more than a year after Modi assumed office, India and Pakistan are at daggers drawn once again, with the prospect of a complete break in ties.

With veiled encouragement from the Modi government, anti-Pakistan/anti-Muslim activists in India are brazenly indulging in an intemperate and violent campaign against visiting Pakistani artists and writers, including former Foreign Minister Kurshid M.Kasuri.

They have revived the issue of beef eating to lynch a Muslim and beat up Muslims who dared to eat beef openly. Hindutva gangs spear-headed by the Mumbai-based Shiv Sena, have forced cancellation of talks between the Indian and Pakistani Boards of Cricket. The Pakistan Board has now said that the 2016 T20 series cannot be played in India because of security concerns. Pakistan is also likely to cancel a proposal to buy power from India.

Political analysts attribute these troubles to the bid by the Shiv Sena to oust the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from the position of being the pre-eminent Hindutva group in India. They also say that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is using the Hindutva plank to tell the BJP and Modi that it cannot be overlooked while governing the country and conducting relations with Pakistan. The Hindutva outfits find the BJP and Modi to be wanting in commitment to Hindutva.

Hindutva call

The BJP and Modi are caught in a cleft stick. On the one hand, they have the responsibility of ruling a diverse multi-religious and multi-cultural country, of ensuring its economic development and interacting with the comity of nations in acceptable ways. On the other, they cannot afford to defy the Hindutva ginger groups because they know that the Hindus are their core constituency and that they will have to have Hindutva as their Unique Selling Proposition (USP) in the electoral market.

Modi and the BJP have come to realize that in the absence other credible claims, they cannot remain in power without Hindutva. Since assuming charge in May 2014, the Modi government has slid in popularity. It was swept to power on a wave of promises to deliver on all fronts especially on the economic front, but none of the promises has been kept. The BJP lost the Delhi State elections and is now believed to be facing defeat in the Bihar State elections. The BJP-led central Indian government is blamed for the country-wide rise in the price of 'dhal' - the poor man's protein. Pulled in different directions by competing considerations, the BJP and Modi have chosen to maintain silence, and allow matters to drift. But the drift has caused dismay among the Muslims, other religious minorities and the liberals in India, and generated fears in Pakistan about New Delhi becoming belligerent to cover up its domestic failures.

Meanwhile, Islamabad has also been pushing it to the brink by backing out of the Accord between Modi and Nawaz Sharif at the Russian city of Ufa in early July 2015. India says that according to the Ufa accord, the two sides should talk primarily about curbing Pakistan-sponsored cross border terrorism and not the Kashmir dispute. But Pakistan says that talks on Kashmir were implied in the accord when it said that "all outstanding issues" would be discussed.

Pakistan's domestic compulsions

Facing flak at home and criticism from Army Chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, for entering into the accord in Ufa in which Kashmir was not even mentioned, Nawaz Sharif had to take a tough posture, vis--vis India.

He knew that if the people and the army felt that he was being soft on Kashmir and India, he would lose power. In tune with the new stance, Pakistan stepped up cross border terrorist acts by July end. The border town of Gurdaspur was attacked resulting in the death of seven civilians.

In August, Security Forces' convoy was attacked in Udhampur in Jammu district. However, despite these, the National Security Advisors (NSAs) of the countries decided to hold talks in New Delhi in August as per the Ufa accord. But when Pakistan insisted on talking to the Indian Kashmiri separatists ahead of the talks, India called off the talks. India said that as per the Ufa accord, the subject of discussion should be cross border terrorism and not Kashmir. And, as per the Shimla Accord of 1972, there was no place for a third party (including Kashmiri separatists) in any India-Pakistan talks on Kashmir. But Pakistan argued that the Ufa accord did not preclude discussion of Kashmir though it did not specifically say so.

It also argued that Kashmiris are not a third or foreign party but an indigenous stakeholder. It also said that the separatists are the genuine representatives of the Kashmir not the elected representatives who were dubbed Indian collaborators. Pakistan has also been refusing to hand over the alleged masterminds behind the 2008 Mumbai serial blasts. This has been a major Indian grouse against Pakistan and a reason for trying to get it designated as a "terrorist state."

Nawaz Sharif made Kashmir the burden of his recent speech at the UN General Assembly and took up the issue with the US Government too. Islamabad accused India of fomenting separatist terrorism in Baluchistan, and the Pakistani media quoted intelligence sources to say that India is planning to assassinate Sharif. An equally belligerent India publicly declared that it supports the Baluch liberation movement.

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