During the Bharatiya Janata Party’s election campaign earlier this year, Narendra Modi was particularly pugnacious about Pakistan. But South Asia observers widely viewed this as mere posturing. Indeed, a BJP delegation visited Islamabad ahead of the Indian polls to inform Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as much.
Billed as a new beginning for bilateral relations, Sharif attended Modi’s inauguration on May 26. But the bonhomie was brief. Despite his apparent personal warmth toward Sharif, Modi is living up to his campaign rhetoric: the ongoing clashes in Kashmir are a result of Modi’s resolve, according to a senior Indian Home Ministry official quoted by Reuters, that “Pakistan suffers deep and heavy losses,” and Pakistani journalists were blackballed from Modi events in the U.S. last month.
Islamabad has now appealed to the U.N. to defuse the violence along the Line of Control and Working Boundary that divide Kashmir between Pakistani and Indian charge. The clashes have claimed the lives of at least 20 civilians, mostly Pakistanis, and displaced thousands. On Oct. 11, Sartaj Aziz, Sharif’s national-security and foreign-affairs adviser, wrote to Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. secretary-general, about the “deliberate and unprovoked violations of the ceasefire agreement and cross-border firing by Indian forces over the past weeks.”
“Persistent shelling and firing by Indian forces has resulted in heavy civilian casualties on the Pakistan side,” says Aziz, adding that 174 ceasefire violations have taken place along the Line of Control and 60 along the Working Boundary so far this year. This month alone, he says, Indian shelling killed 12 civilians and injured 61, including nine military personnel. “While exercising its right to self-defense, Pakistan has exercised utmost restraint and responsibility in responding to these provocations,” says Aziz. “The Government of Pakistan sincerely hopes that better sense would prevail on the Indian side to prevent the situation from spiraling out of control … as I write, [U.N. Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan] personnel are being escorted to areas along the Line of Control to observe firsthand the ongoing ceasefire violations by the Indian side.”
The U.N. secretary-general had already expressed concern about the Kashmir situation. He “deplores the loss of lives and the displacement of civilians on both sides,” said his spokesperson on Oct. 9, and “encourages the governments of India and Pakistan to resolve all differences through dialogue and to engage constructively to find a long-term solution for peace and stability in Kashmir.”
Two developments the following day had briefly heralded hope. On Oct. 10, Sharif’s national-security committee declared war with India was “not an option” and spoke of “the shared responsibility of the leadership of both countries to immediately defuse the situation.” The same day, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the 2014 Peace Prize jointly to Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai noting that it was “an important point for a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, to join in a common struggle for education and against extremism.”
Meanwhile, New Delhi put the responsibility for a resolution on Islamabad (“It is for Pakistan to either escalate or deescalate. We will respond as appropriate to what will be their efforts in this regard”) even as Modi took ownership of the unprecedented Indian aggression: “The enemy has realized that times have changed and their old habits will not be tolerated … It is the enemy that is [now] screaming.”
During his rock-star tour of the U.S., Modi emphasized a “neighbors first” foreign policy that altogether ignores its most problematic neighbor, Pakistan. Modi met the leaders of Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh, but pointedly not Sharif, who had irked Modi by raising the Kashmir issue in his U.N. General Assembly speech. “Dialogue with the country cannot be conducted in the shadow of terrorism. Our prime minister has made his decision very clear,” M. J. Akbar, BJP spokesman, told Newsweek.
Speaking recently at a small gathering in Washington, D.C., Akbar said New Delhi had no interest or reason to focus on Pakistan. He said relations between Pakistan and India cannot be modeled after Sino-India ties since the Chinese “don’t let [border disputes] interfere with bilateral trade. That is not the case with Pakistan.” (Chinese and Indian security forces faced off on the Tibetan plateau during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent visit to New Delhi.) Akbar also highlighted energy and security agreements with the U.S. as “most important,” because of Pakistan: “America is now formally recognizing that there is a partnership required to uproot the sanctuaries of evil on Pakistani soil … the U.S. president has implicitly stated, and the word implicitly is important here, that you can’t have a nation become the haven of the worst terrorist elements in the world and expect the world to look away.”
A U.S. official told Newsweek on condition of anonymity that the Obama administration seeks “to have a robust relationship on counterterrorism with India and Pakistan.” Another U.S. official said Pakistan barely figured in the Modi-Obama talks and was “100 percent sure” that Kashmir was not discussed at all.
In August, as ceasefire violations continued, Islamabad’s high commissioner in New Delhi met with Kashmiri separatist leaders, prompting the cancellation—“unilaterally and without any plausible justification,” according to Aziz—of secretary-level talks scheduled for Aug. 25. Islamabad’s seeming defense of Hafiz Saeed, a Pakistani jihadist accused by India of involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, didn’t help.
“The high commissioner is casually remarking that Saeed is a free man, he is a citizen. No, he is a man with a $10-million bounty on his head,” said Akbar. When asked what steps Pakistan could take to help restart talks with India, the BJP spokesman said that while there were “no full stops” in the relationship, Pakistan “will have to prove its credibility.”
Sharif and Modi next cross paths in November at the 18th SAARC Summit in Nepal and possibly in December at the Nobel ceremony for Satyarthi and Malala. If Modi agrees to talk, they will have plenty to discuss.
From our Oct. 18-25, 2014, issue.