India decided to postpone the upcoming April 2 Kartarpur meeting “jointly agreed by both sides” on March 14. The March 14 meeting between the governments of both countries was hailed for quite some time as a rapprochement between two nuclear-powers that were merely weeks ago at the brink of war. It is important however first to look at the context within which the March meeting took place.
With the Indian election right around the corner, the stakes are high for the BJP and any reconciliation efforts will be viewed negatively. The current development is framed largely by this reality. Peace efforts will not sit well with the BJP’s constituency and ultimately prove counter-intuitive especially after continuous posturing and aggressive tactics employed against Pakistan.
Everything up unto and including Abhinandan’s parachuting into Pakistani territory, the Indian leadership’s continued apathy towards his capture and finally the lingering ill-will post his release fit logically as parts of BJP’s political game plan to win the upcoming election. To this day, in India populist rhetoric is still anti-Pakistan and that translates into votes; in Pakistan, after the 1970s, anti-Indian rhetoric has ceased to figure into discourse that can be instrumentalised and eventually turned into votes.
It is against this backdrop that the current developments need to be realized. Engaging the Indian side diplomatically earlier this month, and for them to apparently show willingness at first is also a thought-out strategy. The Kartarpur corridor holds importance for the India’s Sikh community and the BJP is cognizant of that reality. After failing to make good on promises of economic growth and stability, the BJP knows that it will be hard to come in for a second term simply by talking about performance. The opposition will go all out to highlight the ways in which the BJP has jeopardized India’s future, diplomatic standing, and internal as well as regional peace. At such a time and to deal with this particular apprehension, the BJP will use the Kartarpur corridor to show that it wants to follow through and is thinking of the Sikh community. Beyond this, there is very little that the ruling party in India seeks to achieve from any engagement.
Turning down Pakistani efforts for de-escalation despite the fact that an Indian pilot was detained in Pakistan is far more representative of the Indian leadership’s thought process when it comes to engaging with their next-door neighbor. The decision to postpone the April meeting and any current diplomatic engagement thus must be taken with a pinch of salt. After all, the meeting over the Kartarpur corridor was held at the Wagah-Attari border — instead of Pakistan’s suggestion of a high-level meeting in a major Indian city. To date, Pakistan’s prudence and foresight when dealing with Indian hostility, has been admired by the international community. Pakistan should continue with maturity, restraint and a positive attitude not merely because the world is watching but also because peace and stability is important for the region. Possibly at some point, better sense can prevail and Indian counterparts may be able to appreciate the importance of the same. And for that, Pakistan will already have paved the way by showing its openness, patience, and continued commitment.