HISTORY would be an ineffective yardstick against which to assess the decision of the Modi government to call off the foreign-secretary talks with Pakistan; or the reasoning behind it. Regardless of the political complexion of Raisina Hill, South Block has never been consistent about whether or not to talk with Pakistan and the pre-conditions for doing so. And so looking back will provide little clarity, or validate the consistent inconsistency of the puerile “I'm not talking to you now” policy. Not surprisingly is opinion divided over whether Pakistan's sustained flirting with separatist elements in Jammu and Kashmir remains the pinprick it was deemed over the years, or constitutes “live” evidence of Islamabad's rejection of the surprising initiative of Mr. Narendra Modi in inviting Mr. Nawaz Sharif -- and other regional leaders -- to his inauguration. A whole range of viewpoints are being advanced by both hawks and doves in the diplomatic community: the political “owls” would also point to the BJP extending its polarising tactics ahead of the upcoming elections to the state legislature. Talking tough with Pakistan, and appearing to cut the Hurriyat leaders to size, would boost the sentiments that Modi & Co hope will enhance the success registered in the Lok Sabha poll. Undoubtedly a sinister angle to a critical foreign policy complexity, but has there not been a strong dose of the sinister in the Amit Shah-choreographed electoral overture these past few months?
Inconclusive would be the argument over whether it has been sagacious, or a knee-jerk reaction, to make a major issue of the Pak-Hurriyat connect that is nothing new, and was accepted by New Delhi in the past. Or to wonder if the “re-discovery” of the proxy war, and highlighting cross-border assaults and terrorist activity are part of a larger exercise to sustain the belligerence of the BJP poll campaign. The key query is whether the NDA government has a considered game plan -- its predecessor did not, or it was an ill-conceived one. Will there be no negotiations till the Pak-Hurriyat link is snapped etc? That would be a step short of attempting to erase all that has happened -- three-and-a-half wars included -- since 1947. The Modi camp may think that its “mandate” authorises a re-scripting of Indo-Pak relations: that impression is not universal and pressure to resolve the Kashmir issue will not end in the wake of May 16. The jingoistic -- BJP-backers ever in the vanguard -- would hail the “forcefulness” the government is projecting in scrapping the official-level talks. Yet since little was expected from that interaction the cancellation could well prove bravado rather than bravery. Remember, that like ambition, good governance (internal or external) is made of “sterner stuff.”
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