(A younger Imran Khan meeting with the then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi)
This evening the Indian High Commissioner in Islamabad, Ajay Bisaria, will be holding an Iftar party to end the fasting religiously mandated during the month of Ramzan. Pakistani guests — mostly members of the political and social elite, who will venture to attend can expect to be manhandled and harassed by the Pakistani police and intel agencies mounting guard at the gates of the Indian embassy located at Ramna 5, Diplomatic Enclave. They can expect to be questioned harshly, their car trunks to be searched, their identities ascertained, the invitation cards scrutinized, and the information recorded with much raising of eyebrows and officious expressions of displeasure. It will be in exact retaliation for Indian spooks and liveried constables examining invitations from the Pakistan High Commission on Shantipath in Delhi to Indian well-wishers as if they were live bombs, and generally acting silly, during the Pakistan Day celebrations on March 24 and to an Iftar party thrown earlier this week .
Add to it the news report that RAW and like agencies have raised some doubts about Moin ul Haque, the erstwhile Pak ambassador in France designated by prime minister Imran Khan as the High Commissioner-designate in Delhi to replace Sohail Mahmood who has taken over as Foreign Secretary. Now what could possibly have stirred the Indian intel types into action, considering Haque’s career record is fairly straightforward with nary a hint anywhere of any links to ISI, etc.? Such doubts, it is said, may lead to the second Modi government rejecting Haque as ambassador, though this is highly unlikely because if consorting with ISI becomes the standard than no senior Indian diplomat will be acceptable to Islamabad as all of them, during their careers will have interacted closely with RAW staffers in Indian embassies abroad and hence with RAW in the foreign postings they would have pulled. It is a dangerous path to go down because soon enough the High Commissions in Islamabad and Delhi will be operating without High Commissioners! So, no, that won’t happen and Haque will present his credentials to President Kovind.
Then again, all these things are part of the ongoing drama the Indian government is enacting to, in whatever ways, justify not inviting the Pakistan PM to partake of the ceremony installing Narendra Modi as prime minister the second time around by stressing Modi’s supposed eagerness for his ‘Look East’ policy pivoting on the Bay of Bengal concert of nations (BIMSTEC), which actually is going nowhere, fast. Imran’s situation is unlike his predecessor Nawaz Sharif whose presence at Modi’s swearing-in in 2014 was the high point of that event, not least because of the bonhomie and good cheer it generated all round, leading to Modi parachuting down on Lahore and Sharif’s daughter’s wedding at the Sharif family’s princely compound in Raiwind, while returning home from Kabul. Sure, Sharif disappointed, was unable to control the army and its covert warfare sword arm, Inter-Services Intelligence, from loosing terrorists on the IAF base, Pathankot, and otherwise quickly dissipating whatever goodwill he had managed to accrue with Modi. Wary of again being taken for a ride — as Modi, perhaps, sees it, he has chosen not to have Imran over or to have anything to do with the Pak PM beyond the congratulatory phone call he received from the ex-cricketer, despite Imran bidding for a meeting and a resumption of dialogue-ing even if through the back channel. During the Manmohan Singh era, this channel was ably manned by Ambassador Satinder Lambah.
Lambah, it may be recalled, had in 2007 negotiated with the military regime of General Parvez Mushharaf a final Kashmir deal — one that Imran not too long ago indirectly referred to as the solution he’d happily accept based on the principle that borders cannot be redrawn. The barebones of the deal were spelled out by Lambah in 2015. ( https://www.hindustantimes.com/india/almost-had-kashmir-deal-with-pakistan-ex-pm-s-envoy-lambah/story-7L6fUH2J9ngCEmTCZngoLJ.html )
In return for Pakistan giving up the option of plebiscite under UN aegis, India would reduce its army presence in tandem with the reduction in cross-border terrorist activity, with the Indian para-mils remaining in J&K. Crucially, he had got the Pakistan Army on board and supporting this deal “We had an assurance from the military government of that time (under President Musharraf)”, Lambah said. “The negotiators from Pakistan could not have been finalised it if the establishment had not been on board,” This solution was on even in the aftermath of the 26/11 seaborne terrorist strike on Mumbai in 2008. Lambah calls it a “win-win for Pakistan, India and the people of Jammu and Kashmir” and believes it can be the basis for all governments, including the present one led by Narendra Modi. “It was not negotiated keeping an individual or party in mind. Everyone has their own style. Pursuit of peace with Pakistan and a discussion on Kashmir has been undertaken by different prime ministers and I have no doubt that future governments will follow the same path” he added.
But, of course, by then the Congress party government had got cold feet. And there the solution for peace in Kashmir stands, in a state of petrified animation, awaiting only a breath of life from Modi which, alas, is not forthcoming. Modi is like the cat that having landed on a hot tin roof once thinks all tinny things are hot and traipses cagily on or around them. And, in any case, Pulwama was a god-sent, wasn’t it in terms of his Balakot decision and the general election result?
Then there’s Xi and China, and Modi seems all agog with hosting the Chinese supremo in his constituency. So we will all espy Modi and Xi boating down the Ganga past the Varanasi ghats. In preparation, the former is walking the extra mile to please Beijing, removing any and all traces of his government’s past camaraderie with the free Tibet cause and and an equally free, strong and resilient Taiwan. Neither Lobsang Sangay, head of the Tibetan government in exile, nor the ambassador of Taiwan in Delhi masquerading for China’s benefit as the Trade Representative, who were invited to Modi’s first swearing in, have been sent invitations for the event this evening. And Huawei remains free to sell its 5G telecom gear, etc in this country, affording Beijing a free path to penetrating India’s most secret communications networks, precisely the reason that the US and a host of European countries have stopped Huawei from selling its wares in their markets.
The Question is: How far will Modi go to be pally with Xi and subserve China’s national interest at the cost of India’s national interest? Will all the glad handing and hugs and embraces, and fawning in Varanasi fetch Modi and India anything? What has the “Wuhan spirit” got India so far — nothing other than Beijing removing its technical hold on the UN labelling Masood Azhar a “global terrorist” as if that means anything and will deter the ISI and Masood from carrying on with where they last left off. Will the promise of warm relations with China persuade Xi to dilute its military nexus with Pakistan? No. Will it convince Xi to hammer out a more equitable trade schemata? No. Will Xi decide to let India into the Nuclear Suppliers Group? No. Oh, but he may agree to import more mangoes and meat from India! And, Modi will no doubt go ga-ga over these small concessions, seeing in them signs of hi having tamed China. Xi will be licking his lips in anticipation of putting a lot over an eager to please and gullible Modi. These then are the sort of things Modi is banking on to make a success of his foreign policy which aims, he declared post-election victory, for India to be recognized as “Vishwa Guru” by 2020. How so? is anybody’s guess.
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Author: Bharat Karnad