Admiral (R) Iftikhar Ahmed Sirohey, the former Chief of Pakistan’s Navy and Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, reads and reviews my columns in The Nation regularly and, from time to time, gives me useful and critical feedback on them. On my last week’s article, “Ab ki Baar, Modi Sarkar,” the Admiral wrote the following comments: “Rather excessive praise. Let him display his intentions and actions…I would like to prepare for difficult times.”
Indeed, I have heaped extraordinary praise on Narendra Modi as a person and as a political maverick who has stunned the entire political world with his superb success at the recent polls in India. Come to think about it, Modi’s accomplishments as a person and as a political activist are not a small matter: In fact, without a doubt, it is history in the making in the context of its present dimensions and future possibilities of major developments, not only in India’s socio-economic domestic sectors, but in Indo-Pak inter-state relations, India’s engagement with China, and in the greater sphere of Southeast Asia’s political alignments and the overall impact of Modi’s foreign policy on global politics.
Obviously, the question is: Does Narendra Modi not deserve the kind of accolades that I have attributed to his personal determination, political skills and political management expertise, not to mention Modi’s par excellence competence at public perception management? Suddenly, the world at large, and Pakistan specifically, is going to deal with an Indian political leader who has practically grown larger than life in a relatively small time period of 2 decades.
The challenge for Pakistan will be engaging strategically, contemplatively, and intricately at all levels of diplomatic affairs; it will be most problematic if Islamabad approaches Modi’s political and foreign policy establishment with misperceived views and actions. Let us not remain in self-denial: Modi’s India, by its sheer size of population and vast viable commercial markets as well as global-political clout (it’s in an emerging strong love-tangle with the US) is a formidable power now in global politics. India’s regional importance has increased in recent years and Modi’s phenomenal success at the polls has further strengthened its democratic credentials. Pakistan, on engaging with Modi, will have to figure in all these factors in its strategic approach, may that be in trade relations, foreign policy discourse, or political-military engagements including the Kashmir issue.
Admiral Sirohey’s caution to “prepare for difficult times” is a point well taken given the history of inter-state relations between the two countries since independence and India’s belligerent stance on Kashmir and other important issues confronting the two nations. And of course, India’s role in the East Pakistan debacle cannot be ignored. It is understandable why the recent poll taken by the daily Nawai-i-Waqt indicated that 64% of Pakistanis opposed Nawaz Sharif’s attendance at Modi’s swearing in ceremony as Prime Minister in New Delhi last Monday. On top, the reality is that Modi has won this massive public mandate by skillfully and tactfully playing the Hindu nationalism card. Consequently, the Modi-phobia in Pakistan is expected. These are all facts, but we in Pakistan need to go forward from here, not backwards – given that our apprehensions are quite valid.
My personal considered opinion on the matter is that Pakistan should not engage with Modi within the confines of traditional phobic pessimism – it is because Modi is not that kind of political actor. Modi is pragmatic, alert and inclined towards realistic analysis of crucial issues, always looking for practical and reliable solutions that are at hand. Modi, as a subject for my political analysis, appears to be a political actor who does not postpone decision-making to the uncertainties of fluid circumstances; he makes decisions to make things happen the way he likes them by perceptive perspicacity. Modi is a bold, straightforward, determined, skillfully organized and competent political manager. Modi cannot be pushed around, but in my view, he can be persuaded by reason and by meticulously organized political perceptual management.
It is obvious that Pakistan is not Modi’s most urgent problem, neither does there exist a conflict situation between the two countries that needs to be addressed on war-footing. Traditional status quo persists between the two nations, and that ought to suit New Delhi as much as it suits Islamabad. Both India and Pakistan should take advantage of this political détente and do what is urgently required to improve the masses’ lives and develop welfare states.
“Modi has won because millions…voted for jobs and growth, which he has promised to deliver,” wrote Gurcharan Das in a recent article. Each year Modi has to make provisions for about 9 million job seekers entering the market. That is his top, most urgent, most pressing priority and I assume that ought to be occupying Modi’s mind for a long foreseeable future – more than a deliberate solo, tense and hostile engagement with Pakistan anytime soon. That will come only if Modi fails in delivering the promises of his mandate.
On Indo-Pak relations, the Indian Prime Minister must be made to understand by Islamabad that defining a mutuality of political economic interests with Pakistan is to his advantage. Engagement with Modi’s India by Islamabad needs to be managed by two separate and yet integrated approaches: 1) A focused resistance to India’s possible political-military desire for regional hegemony and attempts at undermining Pakistan by covert and overt means. At the same time, Islamabad needs to maintain Pakistan’s military establishment’s “India-centric” foreign policy, and 2) A calculated accommodation on establishing strategic political policy to build confidence measures between the two nations. That would require state-of-the-art diplomatic capabilities on Pakistan’s part – that has been historically lacking so far.
On the most important issue between India and Pakistan, that is Kashmir, I wish to share a personal perspective with my readers that came about during an exchange of views with an Indian national.
While commenting on my article “Ab ki baar, Modi Sarkar,” Rajgopal wrote: “What really caught my attention was the continued and constant harping I see in the Pakistani media on giving the right of self determination to Kashmiri Muslims. While the idea is very laudable, I am sure you recognize that we on the other side of the equation are quite cognizant of what the words self determination really mean. If you truly want to implement the UN resolutions, I am sure you will abide by the conditions laid out in the original resolutions … that calls for all parties to immediately vacate the areas they occupy, give some period of normalcy before the actual vote. Do you really think the govt of Pakistan would be willing to do this? i.e. vacate the so called “azad kashmir” and the northern areas? So, unless and until you can provide reasonable assurances that this will happen, please do not keep putting the onus on India and the Indian govt (whoever that may be) to agree to a one-sided compromise.”
My response to Rajgopal is reproduced here: “Believe me, I am fully cognizant of your views on the Kashmiri issue… But from a purely realistic point of view, it also means that the Kashmir issue has no resolution now nor forever.
As a social and political scientist, I have altogether a different perspective on the human condition. I believe at this stage of civilization, we have to develop a new vision of social and political consciousness as well as enhanced political judgment, and above all, a sense of humane ethics —above and beyond legally crafted resolutions that constrain our political actions and make it difficult for us to resolve human issues on the basis of simple ethics as concerned human beings.
It is simple that Kashmir has always been a Muslim majority and this majority has been demanding self-determination. If this majority wants independence, so be it. If they wish to combine Indian-held Kashmir with Azad Kashmir, so what is the problem with that? If this majority is happy to be a part of greater India, then so be it. But they should be given the right to articulate their wishes without repression, manipulation or being under the guard of a massive military presence.
It is sad that the world has forgotten a valuable lesson from history. Lenin, during his imprisonment in Finland, promised Finnish political activists to grant full autonomy and independence to Finland if his party came into power in Russia. Immediately after the revolution, Lenin granted this to Finland with a stroke of a pen. It is obvious that he understood the human condition and was able to fulfill his promise without going into legal complexities. Lenin set a precedent for conflict resolution that the world has conveniently forgotten. Can’t we resolve the Kashmir issue in the same humane manner?”
I truly believe that Modi is an inspirational leader - I believe he has the opportunity to do inspirational things- and my question is, doesn’t Hinduism preach the kind of tolerance that I am speaking of at this moment? Modi can be the architect of this new political consciousness - that can give him political immortality and bring peace and stability to what has been an upheaval in Kashmir for a long time because we have been unable to give it a solution. It is time that we do so.
I believe the Kashmiri resolution can only be achieved by a fresh impetus on a humanitarian ethical doctrine of conflict resolution. Modi should be convinced of Hinduism’s self-professed and scriptural testament of tolerance for all.
The writer is UAE-based academic, policy analyst, conflict resolution expert and author of several books on Pakistan and foreign policy issues. He holds a doctorate and a masters degree from Columbia University in New York.