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Monday, August 20, 2018

#Sidhu in hot water - If Modi can engage with a hostile China, why can’t Sidhu go to Pakistan?

If Sidhu’s presence at Imran Khan’s swearing-in was ‘anti-national’, the MEA would not have allowed him to travel to Pakistan.

A senior journalist criticised Punjab minister and former cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu on Twitter for allowing himself to be seated next to Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir ‘president’ Masood Khan during Imran Khan’s oath-taking ceremony.

The journalist used the word “laanat” for Sidhu.

What if Prime Minister Narendra Modi returns to power in 2019, and decides to change the direction of his plane once again – like he did in December 2015 – to visit Lahore and wish his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan on his birthday? Will our news channels, who think being anti-Pakistan and anti-minorities will get them the TRPs, hail it as a wonderful gesture or pan the leader for bowing down to the enemy?

Is India in a permanent state of enmity with Pakistan and should there be no effort to engage with it – overtly or covertly?

How would the anti-Pakistan voices on Twitter and other social media platforms react if Atal Bihari Vajpayee and not Narendra Modi was still our Prime Minister and took one more bus to Lahore? Would he have been feted or showered with the vilest of abuse?

Will senior journalists on Twitter also label any such move from the government of India next time as “laanat”?

If India can engage with China despite Doklam, why can’t it talk to Pakistan? The Doklam crisis isn’t over. Read this report by my colleague Col Vinayak Bhat (retd) about China continuing to amass troops at Doklam, something that the Government of India officially denies. It is no secret that Pakistan’s army and the infamous ISI continue to foment trouble in Jammu and Kashmir. But, weren’t they doing the same when Modi visited then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to wish him on his birthday? It was hailed as a masterstroke and a game-changing move at that time. The Pathankot air base attack by Pakistani terrorists took place within days of that visit.

But, times are changing fast and the trolls may not even spare Modi if such a (mis?)adventure is carried out again.

This brings me back to my original question: Is Pakistan a permanent enemy?

If yes, then let all kinds of engagement with the Pakistani establishment end. If playing a cricket series is wrong, so is the hush-hush backchannel between Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and his Pakistani counterpart Lt General (retd) Nasser Khan Janjua in Bangkok in December last year. Why then should the Indian high commissioner to Pakistan present Imran Khan with a cricket bat autographed by the Indian team?

But breaking all engagement with Pakistan may be easier said than done.

Sidhu had earlier announced at the Chandigarh Press Club that he would attend Khan’s swearing-in only if the Centre permitted him to do so. It appears that the government has decided to not let anything come in the way of a possible re-opening of talks with the nuclear-armed neighbour.

Allowing Sidhu to attend the swearing-in was a good move, as was sending India’s High Commissioner to Pakistan Ajay Bisaria to meet Khan on 10 August and gift him a cricket bat.

Had it been an anti-national move, the ministry of external affairs would certainly have refused permission to Sidhu to travel to Pakistan.

Diplomacy is a fine art, one that can’t be played out in the front of, or for the benefit of, TV cameras. But if Saturday’s big news on most TV channels was the anti-national move by Sidhu, the BJP must carry some responsibility for it. The party’s spokespersons have been constantly trying to whip up mass hysteria against Pakistan.

They possibly forget that their own government may eventually want to sit down and re-start negotiations with the government of Pakistan.

The Vajpayee formula:

How would Vajpayee have reacted to this clamour against Sidhu? Would he have joined the Sidhu-is-anti-national diatribe or used him to re-open the stalled talks with Pakistan? Would he have told his party spokespersons to go on the offensive against Sidhu or told them to concentrate on the floods in Kerala instead?

He may have done the smart thing and used Sidhu to break the ice with the Pakistani leadership. He was a leader who could not be swayed by the reductive voices on most TV channels. He could decide to take a bus to Lahore but also mobilise half of the armed forces along the borders during Operation Parakram following the attack on Parliament in December 2001. Or, he could give Pakistan’s plan to take our territory a bloody nose during the Kargil conflict.

He wasn’t the kind of leader who would constantly monitor what warmongers sitting in air-conditioned TV studios, masquerading as news anchors, say about Pakistan.

I hope Indians will finally be told whether we should treat Pakistan as friend or foe. But that answer should come from the Narendra Modi government, not a BJP spokesperson or a journalist.

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