India responds with guarded optimism to Pakistan’s dubious generosity

by Abhinav Pandya

If Germany and France who fought several wars, can live in peace, why can’t India and Pakistan?,” well batted, Imran Khan. To begin with, the occasion that has led to the eastward flow of fresh breeze from Pakistan is the inauguration of Kartarpur Sahib Corridor. This must be celebrated without any political hesitations. It is indeed an occasion that deserves to be celebrated with child-like joy and innocence that results from the deep spiritual moorings of the sub-continent.

Indeed, PM Imran appeared sincere, hopeful and emotional in his speech. However, the world of geopolitics is not all about emotional proclamations and wishful thinking. The world of geopolitics is instead ruled by intelligence agencies, vote-seeking populist politicians, Geo-Strategic designs of world powers, profit- hungry corporations and hawkish generals.

There is nothing new in India’s response. It has followed its old line that 'terror' and 'talks' cannot go together. India’s official position has mostly been this for almost the last two decades, albeit interspersed with brief spells of over-generosity and wishful thinking. However, since 2014, with Modi’s arrival on the scene, one can witness an element of consistency, clarity, and steadfastness in the approach. Also, it is explicitly clear in the official statements of Sushma Swaraj and India’s army chief that the Kartarpur corridor episode should be seen separately from the dialogue process between the two nations. While India’s response to Imran Khan’s emotionally charged speech does appear a little harsh, however to this author, the response is not a surprise and is wholly expected.

Before deconstructing India’s response further, the question that needs an answer is whether Pakistan’s peace proposal is honest and sincere? A reasonable and fair analysis from an Indian perspective will reveal that there is a long history of Pakistan supporting proxy terror groups in India. In the Indian security establishment, there is deep sense of scepticism about Pakistan’s peace overtures. In the Indian public opinion and media circles, the cross-border support for militancy in Kashmir since 1989 has been a dominant narrative, in addition to the belief that Pakistan supported separatist movement in Punjab in the 1980s.

The episode of Kargil, especially after Vajpayee’s peace initiatives, further made it difficult for India to go ahead with peace. However, both nations could move forward with peace under Vajpayee and Musharraf, with the credit going to the extraordinary political leadership that both countries had. However, this did not impact the common man until the terrorist attacks began outside Kashmir. The series of terror attacks outside Kashmir began with the Parliament attack and peaked in its intensity and impact in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.

The 26/11 Mumbai attacks left a deep trauma on the psyche of the ordinary Indian citizen. There emerged a strong psychological barrier and a deep sense of pessimism about any peace overture from Pakistan. Hence, cutting across the political and ideological lines, there arose a robust and serious consensus that 'terror' and 'talks' cannot go together. However, that did not mean that the peaceniks had become extinct. One did see an initial episode of dialogue and bonhomie between Nawaz Sharif and PM Modi.

Unfortunately, the incidents of Fidayeen attacks in Pathankot and Uri happened and militancy spiked in Kashmir with alleged cross-border support. Further, the recent upsurge in the Khalistan activities by Sikh diaspora across the world has given more fodder to India’s suspicions. Therefore one witnesses caution with which India is proceeding in the matter of Kartarpur corridor.

India’s refusal to accept the SAARC invitation reflects a deep sense of mistrust and pessimism. However, that does not mean that India is making war-cries or has closed its mind to peace proposals. India’s response strongly indicates that it would like to see concrete and substantial action on terror.

Secondly, India’s response needs to be seen in the context of the overall cultural and political milieu of the current times. The country is witnessing the rapid growth of Ayodhya movement which seeks to build a temple over the controversial structure of a demolished mosque. Since 2014, India is also going through an intense phase of struggle between the forces of Hindu nationalism and the distorted legacy of Nehruvian secularism.

India has emerged as a vibrant economic and military power and under Modi’s leadership, made great strides in claiming its rightful diplomatic place among global powers. This has led to an increased sense of confidence. It has also led to a revivalist trend in the intellectual, religious and cultural aspects of India’s internal politics and foreign policy.

India’s response can not be categorised as an abject denial to the idea of peace. In spite of some initial hiccups and hesitations, India finally embraced the idea of developing Kartarpur corridor. Though MEA Sushma Swaraj did not attend the event in a personal capacity, India did send two central ministers to participate in the event. To this author, the overall attitude of India appears to be more of cautious optimism, i.e. India wants to convey that it is willing to cooperate in cultural and religious matters, where more substantial interests of the citizens of both the nations are involved. However, it appears that India finds it difficult to trust Pakistan and will reciprocate only in the event of achieving a substantial breakthrough on the terror front. Nevertheless, PM Imran Khan’s peace proposal has that emotional strength to appeal to the ordinary Indian citizen. His fan-following as a cricketer in India might supply some more steam to that appeal as well.