The philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.” In the realm of international affairs, these words reflect the very nature of intelligent diplomacy – an exercise that requires constant recalibration to face a dynamic world, where even a single tweet can spark an international incident. Charges of ‘flip flops’ and ‘inconsistencies’ may be good soundbites for political attacks, yet they form part of any competent nation’s diplomatic strategy.
Prime Minister Modi’s stop-over in Pakistan to meet Nawaz Sharif did nothing less than stump the Opposition in India, which scrambled to formulate a line of attack against the NDA government instead of supporting the effort. For months, the Congress party had criticised the Centre for not talking to Pakistan. After the NSA talks in Bangkok and Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s attendance at the Heart of Asia summit in Islamabad, the same party is now calling the NDA government’s new found engagement “unstructured”, adding that the ground realities in the region have not changed.
It is clear that this is churlish criticism levelled purely for political leverage. Major political parties in Pakistan welcomed PM Modi’s visit to Lahore. Even the international media was full of praise, but the majority of Opposition parties in India remained united against the PM’s move, citing issues such as the progress of the 26/11 trial, Hafiz Saeed, cross-border terror and the Kashmir dispute to counter the praise. Even Indian news channels, which lauded the Prime Minister, were accused by the Congress of being BJP mouthpieces.
PM Modi’s Lahore visit indicates his attempt to re-evaluate India’s engagement with Pakistan. It is a two-pronged approach, with Indian officials dealing with the military wing via the NSA level talks in
Bangkok and Modi engaging the civilian leadership. The Prime Minister is conscious of the fact that the Indian government cannot appear stubborn when it comes to India-Pakistan ties. There is diplomatic capital in engagement, especially atmospherics, when the Indian government also enforces red lines. The Indian government has previously cancelled talks over Pakistan’s engagement with the Hurriyat as third party stakeholders in the bilateral process. Enhancing atmospherics in such a scenario is essential to facilitate favourable international opinion.
In the book ‘New Regionalism and the European Union’, political scientists Stelios Stavridis and Panagiota Manoli reflect on the establishment of the European coalition of nations, stressing the
importance of atmospherics to establish and strengthen regional ties, especially to achieve new paradigms. They say, “It is not always the immediate impact that matters, but rather the
wider question of socialization that needs to be acknowledged, which refers to a learning process and the diffusion of norms and behaviours. The potential bridge-making role of parliamentary
diplomacy, coupled with its overall socialization effect, should not be underestimated.”
India-Pakistan ties have always faced a political push and pull, but all challenging diplomatic ties need to be regularly boosted with acts of goodwill and rapprochement. It is an important pre-cursor to achieve any breakthroughs, no matter how unlikely they may seem. Narendra Modi’s visit to Lahore was unconventional, but so are India’s ties with Pakistan, which continuously face the fleeting promise of resolution.
The main charge against Modi is that he didn’t follow conventional procedure; that he thought ‘out of the box’. However, no one with their sights set on a big objective should hesitate to think out of the box or fear criticism for breaking with convention. While achieving tangible results is a different challenge altogether, Modi’s recent move has been one of a statesman, not a politician.
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