Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh will be visiting Islamabad later this week to attend the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Home/Interior Ministers Meet from August 3-4. Predictably, his visit has come in for criticism from many quarters in India, especially after tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad have escalated in the aftermath of the recent violence in Kashmir. Singh’s visit is seen as yet another befuddling aspect of Prime Minister Modi’s Pakistan policy. However, it is unfair to categorize it as such.
At the 13th SAARC Summit in Dhaka in 2006, it was decided that Home/Interior Ministers of SAARC countries would meet annually, followed by meetings between Interior/Home Secretaries, for giving a push to cooperation in the sphere of counterterrorism. However, due to recent tensions between India and Pakistan, many have opposed the home minister’s visit, including the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s ally Shiv Sena, which has spoken in favor of breaking all ties with Pakistan. A number of commentators have also argued that Islamabad will end up having the last laugh while India’s concerns with regard to terrorism will be conveniently ignored by Pakistan. They have argued that it would have made more sense for the home secretary, Rajiv Mehrishi, to attend instead.
There is no doubt that relations between the two countries seem to be at a particularly low ebb, and not much can be expected in the context of the bilateral relationship. The Modi government has in fact categorically stated that there will be no bilateral meeting between Rajnath Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Chaudhry Nisar Ali. To make matters worse, JUD Chief Hafiz Saeed threatened to hold a countrywide protest against the visit saying, “I want to ask the Pakistani government will it add insult to injury to the wounds of Kashmiris by welcoming Rajnath who is responsible for the killings of innocent Kashmiris.”
While there is no doubt that the Modi government’s Pakistan policy has at times been found wanting, in this case, it is unfair to link Singh’s decision to attend the SAARC meet to its Pakistan policy. Not attending the SAARC meet would be counterproductive. It would not send any message to Pakistan, but would send the wrong message to other countries such as Bangladesh and Afghanistan with whom India’s ties have consistently strengthened. For long, India has been trying to build close economic ties and enhance integration with the countries in its neighborhood. New Delhi has also been keen to shed the notion that India’s SAARC policy is Pakistan-centric, and not going would have reinforced that notion. This is what India’s official spokesperson was trying to convey when he said: “The Home Minister is not travelling for a bilateral engagement with Pakistan, he is going for a SAARC related event. You know the importance that we attach to SAARC, to regional cooperation, to regional prosperity.”
While Singh will not have any bilateral meeting, he is likely to raise the issue of terrorism emanating from Pakistan, during the SAARC meeting, and flag the issue of lack of progress in the Pathankot investigation and the Mumbai terror attack case. It remains to be seen what the outcome of the Indian home minister’s visit is, but it should certainly not be viewed as a favor to Pakistan, or capitulation of any sort.
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