If anyone had thought that the adage about diplomacy being war by other means had lost its edge, India and Pakistan have just given a stellar demonstration of its continuing relevance. Reports late on Friday night said that India might call off its NSA-level talks with Islamabad over the ‘issue’ of Sartaj Aziz meeting leaders of the Kashmiri pro-freedom camp. That wouldn’t be surprising, given the brinksmanship witnessed over the past few days. But, were it a ‘who blinks first’ game, Pakistan would have then emerged the clear victor, winning this diplomatic bout. It can then walk away accusing the Modi regime of being obstructionist in its arbitrary ‘red lines’ over a by-now familiar practice, and reiterate its argument about India’s insincerity on talks on Kashmir. If the Kashmiri leaders meet Mr Aziz, before or after the latter’s meeting with Ajit Doval, India will face an embarrassing climb-down after taking the issue to fever pitch – probably the main reason for the ‘rumours’ of the cancellation, given Pakistan’s resolute stand on its invitation to the pro-freedom leaders. Even if India pulls out one of its old ‘measures’ from the dirty tricks bag, and detains the pro-freedom camp, the latter would still have garnered the relevance denying which is the whole point behind New Delhi’s handling of the situation.
To say that Narendra Modi’s advisors on the issue have messed it up for themselves would be an understatement. They have handed on a platter, at least to the Kashmiri pro-freedom camp, what India has long sought to deny by various means: the importance of the ‘principal party’ in the Kashmir dispute. And that is what the entire drama is about – India’s obstinate refusal to acknowledge political realities and the larger aspirations of the Kashmiri people. But, on the contrary, by trying to exclude them, New Delhi has further cemented the positioning of the pro-freedom leaders as representatives of the larger Kashmiri aspiration.
The problem with New Delhi’s approach is that it seeks to ‘solve’ the Kashmir ‘issue’ primarily within the military paradigm (and the ‘democratic apparatus’ in Kashmir, like much else, falls within that paradigm). For some time now, New Delhi has felt that it has ‘won’ the battle in Kashmir and can thus dictate terms. But cancelling or deferring talks would only avoid the obvious; and contribute much towards continuing the conflict.