Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s guest list for his second term inauguration tells a lot about the foreign policy direction he is likely to pursue during his next five years in office. The message for Islamabad is very clear that Modi’s government will persist with its policy of not engaging with Pakistan.
Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) achieved a landslide victory in the Lok Sabha elections. The political narrative through which Modi motivated his hard line, conservative and ultra-nationalist voter base was essentially anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan. He convinced the extremist Hindus that he was their best choice for keeping 190 million Indian Muslims at bay and standing up to Pakistan, which had been consistently presented to Indian people as an existential threat.
Performance of Modi, who had won the 2014 elections on the basis of perceptions that he was a deliverer on governance and economy, in his 2014-19 tenure was below average and not strong enough to have earned him another term. This is not some armchair analysis. It was rather proven by the state elections held in December, in which BJP lost key states. But, then Pulwama happened, handing Modi an opportunity to change the odds that were stacked against him. The India-Pakistan stand-off that followed was then successfully used by Modi to his political advantage.
It does not require rocket science to predict how a person, who got an overwhelming support for his anti-Pakistan rhetoric and spewing hate against Indian Muslims, would conduct himself in his second term. Getting a second term, by the way, is no small feat in Indian politics. Modi, by winning another tenure, has joined the illustrious league of Congress leaders Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, the other Indian leaders to have been re-elected.
Nonetheless, as a courtesy Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted felicitations for Modi on his party’s electoral success to which he responded saying he had always “given primacy to peace and development in our region.” Later Khan called Modi to greet him.
Modi during the tele-conversation stressed on “creating trust and an environment free of violence and terrorism.” That is sort of the standard line on Pakistan that Indian government has followed.
If someone, based on these exchanges and an interaction between Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on the margins of Shanghai Cooperation Organization ministerial, built hopes about relations turning for better, then it would be too naïve of him. It should be recalled that PM Khan had, couple of months ago, hoped that Modi’s win would pave way for better ties. His assumption was theoretical. He believed that Modi with stronger nationalist credentials stood better chance of normalizing with Pakistan than any other Indian politician. The ground situation is, however, very different from that rather simplistic view. Modi’s mandate is anti-Pakistan.
The guest list for Modi’s second term inauguration includes leaders from the ‘Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC)’— Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal and Bhutan – President of the Kyrgyz Republic Sooronbay Jeenbekov, as the current Chair of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and the Prime Minister of Mauritius Pravind Kumar Jugnauth.
Indian External Affairs Ministry said that the guest list was “in line with government’s focus on its ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy.”
The statement here is crystal clear. India has defined its neighbourhood and it is no more SAARC. SAARC’s sin is none other than that it has Pakistan as one of its member. India’s priority is now BIMSTEC. The shift towards BIMSTEC is India’s new regional multilateralism minus Pakistan.
India has been blocking the convening of SAARC summit since 2016 effectively putting the already dysfunctional regional grouping in a moribund state. The 2016 Summit was to be hosted by Pakistan.
Islamabad Policy Institute, which undertook a study on Indian elections, in its analysis noted: “As things stand, an immediate breakthrough in relations with Pakistan appears highly unlikely. It is anticipated that BJP government in its second tenure would adopt a more aggressive posture towards Pakistan, because of its belief that it was ultimately its anti-Pakistan credentials that earned it another term despite poor performance over the past five years.”
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi concurs with this assessment. In a media talk, he believed that it would be difficult for Modi to row back after taking a hard line on Pakistan during his last tenure and more particularly during the election campaign. He was explaining why PM Khan did not get an invite from Delhi.
How can this logjam be overcome?
The prospects of any progress are quite dim. Even if PM Khan and PM Modi meet on the side lines of SCO Summit next month, the interaction would not be enough to melt the ice or mark a major shift in the direction the relationship has taken.
One must not forget participation of former PM Nawaz Sharif in Modi’s swearing-in ceremony in 2014, Ufa meeting, and Modi’s Lahore stopover. None of that progressed into sustained improvement in ties. Undoubtedly, attacks by non-state actors prevented progress. But at the same time we cannot ignore that Pakistan kept asking India to insulate the engagement process from terrorism and it was India that wasn’t ready for it.
Kashmir dispute and Indian ‘terrorism concerns’ notwithstanding, it is India’s hegemonic mindset that is the biggest obstacle to Pak-India normalisation.
Even today it is India that has to rethink its position, because Pakistan has all along been pro-engagement. On the Pakistani side, the situation is even better because it is first time over the past 11 years that a civilian government, which is in lockstep with the army, is in office.
You continue to support state actors but say they are non state but India should talk to you?
When it comes to India’s politics, Pakistani commentator equate anti-Pakistani sentiment with Anti-muslim. They forget that the BJP can not win with this margin if 150+ million Muslims against it.
Second, Who created Pulwama incident? Pakistani commentator described them as Non-state actors, but whole world recognized that they are extension of ISI. Why Pakistan is not willing to take any real action against few (very few) bad apple that will be real goodwill gesture.
The analysis is mistaken. SAARC has died because Pakistan’s insistence that unless and until the Kashmir dispute is resolved no decision will be allowed to proceed. While Kashmir may be an issue for Pakistan it is of little concern to other SAARC members – thus the birth of BIMSTECH. Pakistan has to accept that countries in the region have pressing needs which must be addressed. These issues cannot be held hostage to Pakistan’s demands. Pakistan is not the victim as is made out to be. Hosting and nurturing terrorists for a generation for the sole purpose of attacking neighboring countries has consequences. The issue has come to a head even in the recent IMF deliberations. Pakistan’s parliament has to demand accountability from its military for the chaos it has brought in the region.
It’s military rule in Pakistan under the mask of Democracy!
First, when you are talking about a standard response, it only shows that the Indian side is consistent. Second, Pakistan cannot brush aside the fact that state or non-state, terrorist acts emanate out of its soil. Third, it is not just India that has concerns about terror emanating out of Pakistan, otherwise why would the country be in FATF grey list? Fourth, the naya Pakistan would do well to understand that it cannot bulldoze India or for that matter, any other country into dialogue maintaining that there is no other way forward, even while, looking the other way when terror acts are perpetrated against India by its citizens, if not actively promoting them. The time for taking the moral high ground in spite of all the intransigence is long past. If Pakistan truly wants neighborly relations, it knows exactly what it needs to do.
Perhaps the Pakistani State and the military establishment did not get the memo.
It is not Modi or other politicians in India.
It is the Indian people. They are tired of getting jerked around by everybody- including mullahs, military and terrorists.
If the politicians in India do not deliver, they are more than willing to change the wagon’s horses.
It is interesting that Pakistan wants India to delink mutual talks from terrorism, while it insist on keeping Kashmir as part of the agenda.
There is one factual mistake in assuming only Pulwama was responsible for Modi’s win. Analysts have drawn wrong conclusions that people were unhappy with Modi government based on state elections. For example – in Rajasthan there was a popular slogan that ‘Vasundhara teri khair nahi, Modi tuzse bair nahi!” It was vote against state leader Vasundhara Raje and people voted for Congress locally. But in the national elections when it was almost Presidential between Modi and Rahul, Modi got thumping majority – better than in 2014. Also, for good reasons rivals did not give publicity but voters in India know – Out of 346 promises given by Modi (not a single connected with religion, he has delivered on 307 promises and only 39 promises remained to be fulfilled. Not bad
performance by any standards! If Pakistanis think Indian voters elected Modi only because of anti-Pakistan rhetoric, they are over blowing their importance for Indians. It was only one of the reasons and not the major one at that.
The sore point is the issue of Kashmir and India’s perception is that Pakistan is responsible for stoking violence in Kashmir. Unless Pakistan leaders make hard effort to dispel this belief, there won’t be peace between India and Pakistan. It is sad.
The question is not who is pro or against engagement. What is the incentive for India to engage with Pakistan if cross border terrorism doesn’t stop ? That is the question. It’s a pity you people resort to emotional arguments and don’t think logically .
Sushma ji very sick due to change of both her Kidneys .
Shankar the new Indian FM is very experienced and tough negotiator .
Indo – Pak can surely put on proper course but per past experience Indians feel some major Terror act on innocent people in India will be done and things will be back to square one.