The number of countries and diplomats complaining about India’s bad behavior in bilateral and multilateral talks is growing. We in Pakistan have been grumbling about it for half a century. But since the end of the Cold War, other countries have been getting a taste of what Pakistan has suffered at the hands of a neighbor that consistently fails to act big or show leadership. The latest countries to suffer Indian hubris are the United States in addition the states of the European Union and the United Nations.
Pakistan is smarting from the latest hand dealt by India. There is no joy when peace talks between two nuclear-armed nations are cancelled. But joy is exactly what was on display in the mainstream Indian media on September 23. In Pakistan, most of us know that majority of Indians want peace and resolution of Kashmir conflict and other issues, but apparently the Indian ruling elite in the extreme north of the country – New Delhi – does not share the same sentiments. Throughout that day, senior Indian officials who were in contact with representatives of the Indian media encouraged jubilation over the cancellation. There is an uncanny feeling that New Delhi will not sit and talk to Pakistan at any cost, no matter what Pakistan offers. It is a policy of keeping the pot boiling and the region destabilized, regardless of the excuses by the Government of India to justify avoiding talks and conflict resolution.
Better statesmanship was expected from a country the size of India than what was on display on September 23, when the official spokesperson of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs issued a terse statement cancelling a scheduled meeting between the Indian and Pakistani Foreign Ministers in New York.
It was a weak and absurd statement. New Delhi relied on two weak excuses. One, the attack on two Indian policemen in Indian-occupied Kashmir, and two, Pakistan postal service issuing stamps commemorating a Kashmiri social media activist months ago.
Having accepted the Pakistani offer, Indian officials combed through for any reason, any excuse they could find, to scuttle talks with Pakistan. Prime Minister Imran Khan grabbed international spotlight as a celebrity politician, and his first move of offering talks caught India off guard. Accepting the offer was the only option for Indian officials, which they did. But soon they were looking for ways to avoid the meeting. They dug three months deep, and found Pakistani postal stamps marking the second anniversary of the extrajudicial execution of Burhan Wani, the 22-year-old social media star whose murder on July 8, 2016 sparked a crisis in Kashmir that sunk India’s global reputation.
The other excuse, the policemen’s murder in Kashmir, is also a farce. Kashmir has seen gross killings of civilians at the hands of Indian forces, including what The New York Times has called an ‘epidemic of dead eyes’, which is a nice way of describing Indian soldiers shooting teenage boys and girls in the eyes at close range to cause blindness. Kashmiris often retaliate, and India blames Pakistan. For India to use this excuse to cancel peace talks with Pakistan is cynical, to say the least.
Bad Indian Record
This is not the first time India has gone about searching for reasons to cancel talks with Pakistan.
In February 2007, a ‘friendship train’ service launched between the two countries, called Samjhauta Express, was blown up near the Indian capital, burning more than fifty Pakistanis alive. India promptly blamed Pakistan of killing its own citizens to scuttle peace. However, Indian investigators later discovered that Indian Military Intelligence officers carried out the attack. Why? To scuttle peace talks with Pakistan that the then-President Musharraf was relentlessly pursuing with India, with American support. India successfully aborted a joint attempt by Pakistan and the United States to resolve conflict and bring peace.
What is India afraid of? Why do Indian officials keep finding excuses to avoid resolving issues with Pakistan?
Two reasons. One, India knows there is only one issue with Pakistan, and that is Kashmir conflict, which is a pending agenda item on the UN Security Council. Any talks with Pakistan on Kashmir will involve stepping back from India’s illegal annexation of Kashmir, which was an independent state under British rule that India invaded and occupied in 1947 to preempt Kashmiri people’s intention to join Pakistan. This was a non-issue that India created. In subsequent years, India reneged on its promise to the UN to resolve the conflict.
The second reason for avoiding talks with Pakistan is buying time. Indian officials believe Pakistan will collapse as a state, or will go economically bankrupt, thus precluding the need to negotiate with Pakistan over Kashmir and on other lesser disputes.
A Bad-Faith Negotiator
India’s bad record as a negotiating partner is now being recognized internationally.
India is threatening to impose tariff hikes “on 29 American products – including almonds, apples, walnuts and certain stainless-steel products,” according to CNBC. President Trump is already unhappy with Indian behavior in trade talks that have been ongoing for nearly two decades.
American trade negotiators are frustrated with Indian behavior. So are their European counterparts who have a similar experience of Indian bad-faith negotiating style.
And the latest party to be angry at India’s negotiating style is the United Nations. Both the Secretary-General António Guterres and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights strongly responded to a smear campaign by Indian media targeting a UN investigation into Indian human rights abuses in Kashmir.
This type of Indian behavior is not new. It goes all the way back to 1970 and 1971, when President Nixon called the then-Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi “a bitch” and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said, “Indians are bastards anyway,” according to U.S. government records declassified in 2005. Both were angry at Indian officials’ negotiating style.
If Pakistan was the only country that complained about India’s behavior during talks, now we have the United States, the EU and the UN making similar complaints. This is enough for New Delhi to understand something is wrong.
The Indian ruling elite’s obsession about weakening Pakistan from within to secure a better deal at the negotiating table is the cause of endless instability in the region and in Afghanistan. India needs to end this obsession, sit with Pakistan, and resolve Kashmir issue.
India should show maturity and statesmanship to match its size.
The writer is the Executive Director of YFK-International Kashmir Lobby Group, a senior journalist and host of a current affairs TV show at a private TV channel.
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