Pure intentions?


Breakfast at New Delhi, lunch at Kabul and dinner at Islamabad



Modi’s surprise visit to Lahore on Christmas Day has ignited a lot of discussion and debate. On both sides of the divide, peaceniks welcomed it while hawks—some of them dumbstruck by the sheer audacity of Modi’s exterior manoeuver or as BJP spokesperson M J Akbar called the meeting: an example of “imaginative diplomacy”—have attacked it tooth and nail.

The original phrase was coined by the former Congress Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh who dreamed of a time when “breakfast at New Delhi, lunch at Kabul and dinner at Islamabad” would be a distinct possibility. Unfortunately, Manmohan Singh, a weakling and too obsessed with the aftermath of the “Mumbai Attacks”, could never take the bold step to visit Pakistan. The Mumbai carnage was huge and India scuttled the “Composite Dialogue” process in its wake, blaming Pakistan’s establishment for sponsoring the terror attack and later demanding punitive action against the purported perpetrators of the crime. When the Pakistani judicial system, based on the evidence provided by India, failed to find the accused culpable of the heinous deed, India went ballistic.

Matters worsened with counter accusations by Pakistan that India was responsible for aiding and abetting terrorists both in Balochistan as well as the tribal region in Pakistan, where Pakistan has been battling the Tehreek-e-Taliban-Pakistan (TTP) since 2006. Former Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, during his meeting with his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh at Sharm-al-Sheikh in July 2009, had provided a dossier of evidence which the latter had promised to take up. Unfortunately, the beleaguered Manmohan Singh, because of his compromising coalition government, was heckled by Indian hawks on his return forcing him to dump the Pakistani evidence folder.

Ironically, the hardliner BJP leadership has shown pluck to extend the hand of friendship towards Pakistan with whom India has fought three wars and remains embattled owing to unresolved Kashmir and a number of other bilateral issues.

BJP statesman Atal Bihari Vajpayee had travelled to Lahore (February 19-20, 1999) on the inaugural Lahore-Delhi bus service and walked across the border to be received by his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif. Alas, the promise of Lahore Declaration was trampled first by Pakistani military’s Kargil misadventure and the coup d’état by General Musharraf. Yet Vajpayee went to the extent of inviting Musharraf for the Agra Summit, which could have changed the destiny of Pakistan and India since the Kashmir imbroglio was likely to be resolved. People blame Musharraf for the debacle but A S Dulat, former chief of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW)—India’s external intelligence agency—in his book Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years, reveals that L K Advani was an architect of the Agra Summit between India and Pakistan in July 2001 and he was its destroyer because Musharraf failed to massage Advani’s ego.

Undeterred, Vajpayee went on to visit Islamabad in January 2004 for the SAARC Summit and launched the “Composite Dialogue Process” with Pakistan for lasting peace.

Modi, despite his stigma of being labelled as the “Butcher of Gujarat”—since the 2002 massacre of over 2,000 Muslims had taken place under his watch — made a promising beginning when he invited all SAARC leaders to his oath-taking ceremony as Prime Minister in June 2014. Nawaz Sharif graced the occasion with other leaders of the South Asian forum. It was expected that both the Pakistani and Indian Prime Ministers would develop chemistry owing to their common penchant for trade, commerce and progress.

Unfortunately, Modi not only spurned Nawaz Sharif, but apparently playing out a prearranged agenda, tried to flog Pakistan with the “terrorism” whip. Pakistan was blamed for sponsoring terrorism while its own tribal region and Balochistan continued to face strife and turmoil supported by RAW. Incessant firing across the Line of Control took a heavy toll of lives on both sides with tit-for-tat actions, false flag terror operations by India were on the rise. Modi’s schema of jingoism against Pakistan and browbeating the minorities botched most of BJP’s planned goals. It failed to win a majority in polls in Indian Occupied Kashmir, New Delhi and Bihar. As a result of its fanaticism and maltreatment of minorities and low caste Hindu Dalits, sensitive Indian intelligentsia, academia and performing artists not only returned their national awards in droves but harshly criticised Modi’s Saffron extremism and support for fanatic Hindutva agenda.

Both Pakistan and India have been provisionally admitted to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). Their membership will be validated only if they appear to have shunned hostile behaviour towards their neighbours. Modi is desirous of playing a major role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. It has aspirations of achieving a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. India wants to maintain a steady growth rate of 7-8% annually. Its industry is starved for energy from Russia, Central Asia, Iran and the Gulf besides establishing trading routes with all these countries including Afghanistan.

Belatedly, but better late than never, realisation has stepped into Modi’s reckoning that Pakistan holds the key to most of these aspirations but Modi had heretofore snubbed Pakistan’s peace overtures with disdain. Herein lies the rub. The arrogant Modi of Ufa was willing to undergo a metamorphosis at Paris while greeting his Pakistani counterpart. A three-minute historic tête-à-tête paved the way for the covert meeting between the National Security Advisors at Bangkok, which in turn removed the impediments in Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s yatra to Islamabad for the Heart of Asia Conference.

Sushma had hinted at the “surprise” visit of Modi to Raiwind when she had casually remarked on her return to New Delhi from Islamabad that good neighbours should be able to visit each other unannounced.

One should not build too much hope from Modi’s sojourn into the Nawaz lair and expect much from the bonhomie, hugging and backslapping. One has to wait and see whether Modi is using Pakistan to build an image of a good neighbour to achieve his higher aspirations and later dump it or is serious in resolving the seven-decade old unresolved issues.