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Modi bins Vajpayee’s Pakistan policy

New Delhi, Aug. 20: The Narendra Modi regime has officially junked former BJP Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Pakistan policy, suggesting that the party’s only previous national government misread Islamabad’s intentions towards New Delhi.

By calling off foreign secretary talks scheduled for next Monday, the Modi government had signalled a deviation from its predecessor regimes of the Congress and Vajpayee in defining India’s approach to Pakistan.

But today, the foreign office for the first time spelt out why it was deviating from India’s practice of allowing Pakistan envoys and leaders to meet Kashmiri separatists ahead of key bilateral meetings.

The Simla Agreement of 1972 and the Lahore Declaration of 1999 — the two post-war documents that India and Pakistan hold sacrosanct in defining their relationship — formally refer to only India and Pakistan as stakeholders in the dispute over Jammu and Kashmir.

Successive Indian governments since 1996 have, however, allowed Pakistan and separatists to communicate without calling off bilateral talks to appear accommodative of Kashmiri sentiments. The “leniency” — as one Indian official termed it — was rooted in the knowledge that Islamabad’s occasional chats with separatists had little impact on India-Pakistan talks.

But it was also built on Pakistan’s assurances that it would not allow its territory to be used for terror against India and that it was sincere in building peaceful ties with New Delhi, officials said today. In Vajpayee’s case, it was a part of his message that “insaniyat (humanitarianism)” would drive his Kashmir policy.

“We know now,” foreign ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said, “that this assurance had no meaning and that an approach that is different to the one laid down by the Simla Agreement and Lahore Declaration does not yield results.”

The decision to break officially with the approach followed by Manmohan Singh and Vajpayee will be interpreted by many as a deviation from Modi’s statements on Kashmir. He has more than once said he plans to follow in the footsteps of the former BJP Prime Minister.

“I want to give a message to the people of Jammu and Kashmir that the journey started by Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the state will be taken to its logical conclusion,” Modi said on July 4, during his first visit to Srinagar after becoming Prime Minister.

Earlier, in a March 26 pre-election rally also in Srinagar, Modi said: “Vajpayee restored trust and confidence of the Kashmiri people. We will carry forward his legacy and policies on Kashmir.”

The tough talk came on a day Pakistan appeared to extend an olive branch to Modi, saying it was only following a long-standing practice when its high commissioner, Abdul Basit, met Hurriyat leaders on Monday and Tuesday.

“I must commend Prime Minister Modi’s speech on your Independence Day where he spoke of Saarc countries working together to eradicate poverty,” Basit told journalists. “Yes, the cancellation of talks is a setback, but we are confident that we can find a way forward because of the commitment of both Prime Ministers.”

Basit iterated Pakistan’s position on his meetings with the Kashmiri leaders, articulated by Islamabad on Monday after the talks were cancelled. “As our foreign office explained on Monday, these meetings are a long-standing practice,” Basit said.

That practice — and Vajpayee’s approach — is buried, India today confirmed.

“Those days are over. There’s going to be simply no deviation from the Simla and Lahore agreements allowed any more,” an official said. “They’ve got to follow these by the letter, and so will we.”