Ufa and After

I have said this time and again, but the governments seem to be happy hurling accusations and asking their forces to respond in kind: how do they care?
Ufa and After
File Photo

The Ufa optimism was short-lived, and I am not surprised. After the meeting between the two Prime Ministers in Russia on the sidelines of the The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meeting a few weeks ago, India and Pakistan are back to what they are most comfortable doing: shelling each other's territory, accusing each other of engaging in destabilising activities, like (allegedly) sending across spy-toy-planes and what not.

And I get this terrible feeling of Déjà vu at all this simply because New Delhi and Islamabad will never be able to stop this firing and shelling across the Line of Control (LoC) and International Border (IB) without putting in place a properly worked out ceasefire agreement.

I have said this time and again, but the governments seem to be happy hurling accusations and asking their forces to respond in kind: how do they care?

After all a few dead would serve the patriotic purpose of being the martyrs of enemy fire!

The problem, and this is with both Islamabad and New Delhi, is that they are impatient about bilateral conflict resolution, unwilling to engage in sustained, long-drawn out negotiations. They happily give in to the temptation for "firing back" and "giving back in kind", without, of course, first verifying facts on the ground: who needs facts in times of hyper nationalism! This is clearly what is happening on the LOC and the IB: as soon as there is a violation of the ceasefire, the media goes berserk, forcing the governments to ask their armed forces, through the media again, to respond with more force and the forces carry out the orders leading to more violations.

Ufa achievements

Ufa was nothing more than a head-line grabber: since both the PMs were in Russia in the same forum, they had to meet, and when they meet why not have a joint statement something that makes everyone happy and contended, till of course the next crisis erupts. Moreover, while any improvement in the relations between India and Pakistan is welcome, I do not think that the Ufa meeting was a well-thought-out one given that there seems to be no clear planning behind it nor any clarity regarding its sustainability. Moreover, the frequently interrupted relationship with Pakistan that New Delhi has under Modi's watch shows that the BJP is either confused how to handle Pakistan or is simply not interested in having a sustained dialogue with Islamabad. On its part, the Congress party is turning out to be silly and myopic in its view of what should be India's Pakistan policy. Every time Modi reaches out to Pakistan, the Congress party cries foul and argues that it is against the national interest: how stupid! Didn't the Congress–led government do exactly this and more? If you don't know what to say, keep quiet!

While there seem to be no domestic compulsions on Modi to reach out to Pakistan (as is the case with Sharif in Pakistan), New Delhi may have realised that refusing to talk with Islamabad does not yield any strategic benefits. If anything, New Delhi stands to lose out in the larger regional strategic competition if it continues to ignore Islamabad. This is a positive realisation, but something that does not last too long given the utter incompetence in both the capitals in managing a complicated partnership.

Of the many Ufa proposals, the proposed "meeting in New Delhi between the two NSAs to discuss all issues connected to terrorism" is clearly the most important one for a number of reasons: the NSAs who have direct access to their respective Prime Ministers would be able to discuss complex security issues (be it terrorism or J&K) threadbare before finalising the modus vivendi of a future Indo-Pak dialogue process; two, given that there are no back-channel negotiations that are currently on between the two sides, it is important that the discussion between the two sides is handled by politically-appointed NSAs; thirdly, unlike Foreign Secretaries, NSAs would be able to have their discussions with relative secrecy in a productive manner. But again, can the two NSAs navigate the layers and layers of suspension and complexity in getting the partnership back on track? I am not so positive. Indeed, reinstating the now-defunct back-channel negotiations would have been a better option than, I would say, even the NSA meetings.

What next?

Going by what one has witnessed so far between Modi and Sharif, I don't think anything substantial will happen between the two countries over the next few years, and in a meantime lets get prepared to witness occasional fireworks on the LoC and IB, often to mark the crossing over of harmless cattle. Modi will now focus on the great powers as well as upcoming elections besides being busy with increasing internal rumblings within the party about the promised achey din. By the time he will have dealt with (or not) all of these, it will be time for the next election. Modi is neither a peace-builder not a world statesman and he will have absolutely nothing to gain from resolving anything with Pakistan: in fact, reaching out to Pakistan will only get him more criticism from his own bhakts in the country! We will of course have the good fortune of witnessing Ufa-like get togethers, a by-product of feel-good diplomacy, translating into nothing significant.

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