Resorting to birthday diplomacy Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent his good wishes to Mian Nawaz Sharif on his 67th birthday via Twitter, praying “for his long and healthy life.” Last year also he had stopped by on his way back from Afghanistan to personally greet his Pakistani counterpart on the occasion.
But things then were different. He had come soon after the two countries had agreed, during Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Islamabad, to resume the stalled peace process under a new rubric, “Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue”, which ended before it could start.
Tensions between the two countries have since been running at an all-time high amid escalation in bloody violations of the Line of Control in Kashmir, Modi’s threat to divert Pakistan’s share of waters – in breach of the Indus Water Treaty – to Indian farmers, and his stated resolve to isolate this country. The present goodwill message therefore holds significance.
It could mean the Modi government is willing to change its belligerent stance as at least three underlying policy considerations call for change. First, its recent anti-Pakistan rants are believed to be a ploy to win the upcoming state elections in UP and Punjab; second, to divert international attention from the grave human rights violations in Occupied Kashmir; and third, to get Pakistan off its back by isolating the country.
Pakistan bashing has been a tried and tested tool of BJP to win votes in UP, while water is a serious issue of dispute between Indian Punjab and Haryana. The elections in these states are to be held next month. Hence Modi might have thought it won’t hurt to make a goodwill gesture at this point in time so as to keep the door a little open for the resumption of peace dialogue after the elections are over, given that his country’s strategic partner, the US, has consistently been urging restraint in the policy towards Pakistan.
As regards Kashmir, despite brutal repression, New Delhi has failed to quell the freedom movement. Even pro-India Kashmiris, like the disputed state’s former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah, have called for negotiations with the separatists as well as Pakistan.
Also, senior BJP leader and former external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha, who recently led a delegation that held extensive consultations with various Kashmiris, including leaders of the separatist groups, has said Kashmir is not an economic but a political problem that requires a permanent solution, which will come only through dialogue.
Equally if not more importantly, the efforts to isolate Pakistan have failed badly. The US did hold a trilateral meeting with the Indian Prime Minister and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Afghanistan, without inviting Pakistan, but it still needs this country to wrap up its longest war.
Meanwhile, Pakistan is placing itself wisely in the ongoing geopolitical realignments. It has participated, alongside China and Russia, in a meeting on Afghanistan in Moscow, and is busy building various connectively projects with China and Central Asia. Relations with Iran are also getting warmer. To take an optimistic view, all these developments may have urged a policy rethink in New Delhi.