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Foreign Desk

Is Modi’s Pak stopover part of a bigger strategy?

JK Verma, New Delhi, January 2016 

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The surprise visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Pakistan and a meeting with his counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, on December 25, 2015 amazed all and sundry. Analysts feel that the sudden stopover was the result of a few minutes meeting of both the leaders in Paris where they decided that Indo-Pak talks must resume. In the 90-minute talks it was decided to strengthen the bilateral relations and recommence the suspended dialogue between the two countries. 


The Indian Foreign Secretary will be visiting Islamabad in January 2016 to revive the     much-awaited negotiations. Nonetheless the resumption of talks may be easier than sorting out long-pending issues like Kashmir, Sir Creek, Siachen and river waters sharing. Observers say that leaders of both the countries have aroused false aspirations in the masses and now no Government can survive if one grants concessions to the other party. 
 
According to analysts, India wants to put the Kashmir issue on hold and desires that first of all trade and economic problems should be sorted out. The businessman-turned-politician Sharif may agree to improve Pakistan’s relations with India and enhance bilateral trade but the     all-powerful Pakistani Army will never allow the civilian government to put the Kashmir issue and India’s alleged assistance to different secessionist movements in Pakistan on the backburner. Here it will not be out of context to mention that Sharif told an Indian journalist just after winning National Assembly elections that his “top priority is to improve relations with India”. 
 
The criticism of Indian Opposition parties that Modi’s visit to Pakistan was fruitless and it was only a self-promotion attempt by the Prime Minister may not be true. However, that may be the reason why all details of his meeting at Raiwind (Lahore) were not disclosed. 
Modi’s short stopover in Lahore was appreciated in India and Pakistan and by many world leaders, including United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.  
 
The analysts opine that although the stopover was preplanned, it was kept secret to avoid adverse publicity before breaking the ice. Before his stopover in Lahore Modi had visited more than 50 countries. Hence his visit to Pakistan was overdue.
 
MODI’S  REMARK
Modi’s Pakistan visit overshadowed the significance of his tours of Russia and Afghanistan which were also very vital. Modi’s remark that Afghanistan’s success would depend on its neighbours as well as all other countries of the region is noteworthy. India also fulfilled the long-standing demand of Afghanistan by giving it three Russia-made Mi-35 helicopters.     
Another important reason for Modi’s visit to Russia, Afghanistan and Pakistan was that lately the relations between Pakistan, Russia and China have been improving. Needless to say that a combination of Russia, China and Pakistan can be catastrophic for India. Hence Modi’s visit to Russia and Pakistan was essential. In Russia, Modi signed 16 agreements, including the $ 7 billion defence deal. The Russian President also agreed to the manufacturing of Kamov 226 helicopters in India and enhancement of nuclear cooperation between the two countries. 
Analyst say that India must have a stronghold in Afghanistan but Pakistan which follows the policy of strategic depth with regard to Afghanistan does not want Indian influence in the country. Hence cordial relations with Pakistan are essential so that Indian projects in Afghanistan may face less resistance from Pakistan and terrorist groups supported by its nefarious Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).    
Indian policy makers, it is said, also realized that no tangible purpose was achieved by cancelling peace negotiations with Pakistan; in fact it strengthened the grip of Pakistani defence forces and weakened the civilian Government.

SOLUTION ONLY THROUGH TALKS
No peace and tranquillity in the region is feasible unless there are cordial relations between India and Pakistan. Although it is tricky to sort out their long-standing contentious issues, the solution is viable only through negotiations. 
The meeting between National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Pakistan’s NSA, Lieutenant General Nasir Khan Janjua, who retired in October 2015, was held in Bangkok on December 6 while External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj visited Pakistan and met Nawaz Sharif  before Modi’s stopover in Pakistan. 
 
Observers feel that it is important to negotiate with Janjua as in Pakistan real power lies with the Army which will never allow any civilian Government to give any concession to India, especially on the Kashmir issue. Hence if Janjua reaches some agreement with India it will be honoured since it will have the tactical consent of the Pakistani Army.
 
It is expected that the Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan will discuss multifarious issues and Janjua will play a significant role in the negotiations. Although it is not envisioned that something very tangible will emerge from the meeting of the Foreign Secretaries, analysts feel that the meeting will be in an amiable atmosphere as both the Prime Ministers desire to have cordial relations between India and Pakistan so that they may achieve economic progress. Although hardliners in both the countries are opposing any agreement, it is estimated that some bilateral agreement may happen on trade, tourism, culture and sports. 
 
The analysts also opine that India has to abandon its Pakistan-centric foreign policy if it has to become a regional power and wants to enhance its clout. Pakistan is playing China’s card and keeping Indian policy makers engaged so that New Delhi is not able to play a bigger role.  
 
Fortunately the present Indian policy makers have understood the strategy of China and PM Modi is making a determined effort to broaden India’s foreign policy and have cordial relations with neighbours, including Pakistan. Terrorism cannot be eradicated from the region without the active cooperation of Islamabad. Pakistan policy makers are also watching the growing influence of India in the international arena and they would also like to inculcate close relationship with their eastern neighbour. 
 

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