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Elections 2014: Narendra Modi likely to follow a more muscular policy towards Pakistan if he becomes PM

The BJP’s prime ministerial candidate has given rather confusing signals on his likely approach towards India’s hostile neighbour.

Updated: May 03, 2014, 08.34 AM IST
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The BJP’s prime ministerial candidate has given rather confusing signals on his likely approach towards India’s hostile neighbour.
The BJP’s prime ministerial candidate has given rather confusing signals on his likely approach towards India’s hostile neighbour.
NEW DELHI/SRINAGAR: Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi is widely expected to follow a more muscular policy towards Pakistan if he takes charge as prime minister. Given his tough image and no-nonsense stand on cross-border terrorism, though, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate has given rather confusing signals on his likely approach towards India’s hostile neighbour.

In a recent interview with ET, Modi suggested that he would follow in conciliatory BJP leader and former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’ footsteps in matters of foreign policy. He even reportedly went the extra mile by sending emissaries to meet hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani in Kashmir for seeking his help to address the protracted issue. This was denied by the BJP, but during an earlier rally in Haryana, where former Army Chief VK Singh was by his side, Modi appeared surprisingly soft and cautious on Pakistan.

More recently, however, posters have appeared at the Wagah border in Attari showing Modi issuing a symbolic warning apparently to those who spread cross-border terrorism. This is perhaps the first time that a senior leader has issued such a warning to a neighbouring country during Lok Sabha elections.

To be sure, Modi has also referred to Chinese expansionism and illegal Bangladeshi immigrants while campaigning in Arunachal Pradesh, and Assam and West Bengal respectively. Moreover, his stance on Pakistan is of a piece with his image and consistent statements. He had earlier slammed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for having a soft corner for Pakistan and spoke of his intentions to give a fitting reply to Pakistan-sponsored cross-border terrorism. Modi also visited Mumbai in 2008 when the city was under siege for three days by terrorists from across the border.

Although foreign policy has never dominated or decided electoral battles in the country – even the Mumbai attacks did not become the dominant theme in 2009 polls – Pakistan remains among the biggest foreign policy challenges for any Indian Prime Minister. Pakistan has steadfastly refused to act on the perpetrators of attacks launched on India from its soil and attempts by successive Indian Prime Ministers including Vajpayee and Singh have not proved successful in normalising ties.

Modi’s statement that he would bring back underworld don Dawood Ibrahim from Pakistan if he became prime minister drew a sharp retort from Pakistan’s Interior Minister Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan, who said Modi could become a great threat to regional policy.

Pakistan Army chief General Raheel Sharif repeated his country’s stand by stating that “Kashmir is the lifeline of Pakistan…it is an international dispute”. The new Pakistani High Commissioner to India, Abdul Basit, also told ET recently that his government could offer no assurance to India on the issue of terrorism.

An advisor to Modi, who spoke strictly on the condition of anonymity, told ET that there was no ambiguity in the Gujarat chief minister’s stance on Pakistan. Modi will not shy away from a broad engagement with Pakistan, but Modi will also ensure a befitting reply without any fanfare to any terrorist attack from across the border, the advisor said. But Modi has not given a detailed thought to India’s external affairs yet and will do so only when he becomes Prime Minister, the advisor added.

Former High Commissioner to Pakistan, G Parthasarathy expressed a similar view, saying, “If Modi is elected as the PM he would like to engage with Pakistan but there will not be unwarranted and unnecessary bonhomie. If India is targeted from Pakistani territory he will respond and this will be done without making any noise. He will just do it. After all, Modi has cultivated a tough image over the years and he will not compromise on that.”

Parthasarathy sought to delink posters at Wagah from cross-border terrorism, describing them as response to drug smuggling in Punjab from across the border.

Former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal also sought to underplay the posters. “When Modi talks about pursuing Vajpayee’s line, he implies that he will be tougher than Manmohan Singh in dealing with Pakistani designs. Vajpayee, after all, was assertive with Pakistan compared to his successor. Modi will not be unnecessarily aggressive,” Sibal said.

The majority view in Srinagar appears to be that the BJP has the right credentials to engage Pakistan as well as Kashmir. Vajpayee and Modi are the two main leaders who have been frequently mentioned during the campaigning by both National Conference and PDP. Unlike NC, which sees Modi as a complete antithesis of Vajpayee (in whose government the current chief minister Omar Abdullah was a minister), PDP has been praising Vajpayee’s Kashmir doctrine and criticising the Congress for killing his initiatives. The moderate separatists have also indicated that they expect better Kashmir management under a government led by the BJP at the Centre than the Congress.

Vajpayee’s biggest contribution to bilateral ties is considered to be the November 26, 2003 ceasefire along the Line of Control or LoC. For addressing the internal dimension of the Kashmir crisis, Vajpayee initiated non-initiation of combat operations in December 2000. His other major initiative was engaging separatists in direct talks in January 2004. “The path shown by Vajpayee – humanity, democracy and Kashmiriyat – we will carry forward,” Modi told a huge gathering at Hira Nagar on March 26.

AS Dulat, former chief of Research & Analysis Wing, who handled back-room diplomacy on Kashmir during Vajpayee’s regime, said Mirwaiz Umar Farooq wishes to see Modi as PM. “Whatever Mirwaiz has said should be seen in the context of Kashmir issue. I also believe that NDA has the potential and ability to bring all the separatist leaders including Mirwaiz to the table and if that happens in near future, it will certainly yield positive results,” Daulat has been quoted as saying.

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