Indian FS arrives, finally


What not to expect

The run-up to the foreign secretary meeting has become interesting, at least. There was understandable concern, especially in the Pakistani media, whether the visit carried any intrinsic value – since the phone call from Delhi to Islamabad had come at Washington’s behest. And it’s not as if Modi has been eager to talk. He postured quite clearly when he called off the talks last fall. In fact, the only novelty about Pakistan’s ambassador meeting Hurriyet was the Indian government’s reaction. In the past, even in Vajpayee’s days, Delhi had in fact facilitated such interaction. In hindsight, by not meeting with Hurriyet in Delhi, Nawaz clearly overextended to make peace with the BJP government.

But the Kashmir election has changed things quite dramatically, even left some egg on Modi’s face. The prime minister made two personal appearances during the campaign, and not just BJP but also popular Indian media was quite confident about the party’s dream run snowballing all the way to the Himalayas. Post election coalition talks with PDP, however, have been sobering. Article 370 is no longer in danger, despite Modi’s obsession with removing it. And talks with Hurriyet are back on the table. Chief Minister Mufti Muhammad Saeed, who heads the new coalition government in Srinagar, obviously understood Modi’s long-term plan, and hence his desire to get a foot in the door, and extracted far more than expected in the two months of negotiations. That is why he credited Hurriyet, militants, and friends across the border with ensuring smooth elections, not – as BJP would have wanted – the army or the government, which speaks volumes.

As FS talks take off, a lot will depend, of course, on how empowered Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar really is, especially considering the recent chink in BJP’s foreign policy armour. Already, Modi’s aggressive outlook has suffered a couple of reality checks in Kashmir. But since Delhi played down the talks before they began – lumping them with the usual Saarc outreach – and LoC and Working Boundary provocation continues, how much can really be expected from the visit? Islamabad has done well to rule out expectations till Kashmir is on the agenda. And Delhi, having already toned down its position, will now be expected to budge more, and include contentious issues. A good start would be reaching agreement on the softer, but perhaps more important, issues like trade, commerce, etc. Granted, such measures have had limited success in the past. But if they are pushed with the intention of extending any success to more serious issues, there could be light at the end of this particular tunnel as well. Expecting an immediate thaw, though, would be unrealistic.