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  • Saleem Shahab
  • Sep, 2018
  • 336
  • Cover Story

Modi will be keen to have Trump over on what might be his last Republic Day. Therefore he may even make a peace initiative towards Pakistan, even though he is now in election mode.

It is on the air that a fresh round of talks is on the cards between Pakistan and India. Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said he will seek talks with neighboring India and Afghanistan as part of a regional peace initiative and claimed that foreign policy would be determined by the civilian government.  Shah Mahmood Qureshi called for an “uninterrupted dialogue” with India and said he would visit the Afghan capital Kabul to bridge trust in a tense bilateral relationship. He said India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi had sent a letter to Khan that also stated a desire to restart talks between the two nuclear-armed rivals. A government official in New Delhi said Modi had sent a general congratulatory letter and declined to comment further. Pakistan and India “have no other option but to engage,” Qureshi told reporters in Islamabad, “I want to go to Afghanistan with the message of a new beginning.”

Aditya Sinha is a senior journalist based in India writes that on July 12, New Delhi let it slip to a mass-circulating newspaper that US President Donald Trump was invited as the Republic Day guest on January 26, 2019. At the time, a spokesperson for the US National Security Council said he had nothing to say. This was interpreted to mean that officials on both sides were working out the dates and logistics.

On August 2, however, when White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about the possible visit, she acknowledged that President Trump had been invited, but added: "I don't believe a final decision has been made". This was not a good sign, from India's point of view.

The uncertainty over a Republic Day visit is unusual. When former president Barack Obama visited in 2015, the news only emerged after his confirmation. The 2016 visit by French President Francois Hollande came after Prime Minister Narendra Modi suddenly and single-handedly decided to buy Rafale fighter aircraft at revised prices, with the involvement of industrialist Anil Ambani. This year, in an inspired move, India invited the ten leaders of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) as the guests. For Modi, hosting the Republic Day parade is a big deal.

Sanders need not have said anything. Why she did is linked to Trump's transactional manner of conducting diplomacy. He was belligerent before becoming chummy with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. He has been belligerent with Iran and pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal; the US sanctions take effect in November, and Trump expects India to follow suit. India is the world's third largest oil importer and it conducts substantial trade with Iran in rupee terms. Trump is expected, however, to sooner or later talk to the Iranian leadership. His unpredictability has become predictable.

Sanders statement is to be seen in the backdrop of events in the last week of July, when Pakistan held a general election and Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) emerged the largest party. Imran, as prime minister elect, went on TV on July 27 and said that if India took one step towards Pakistan, his country would take two steps.

There was talk that Imran Khan would invite Modi along with other leaders from the nieghbourhood to his swearing-in. He himself invited former cricketers Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and Navjot Singh Sidhu, a minister in the Congress-run Punjab government. Then suddenly it was announced that the oath-taking would be a low-key affair. It is suspected that Modi let it quietly be known that he would not attend.

Then came the White House announcement, dousing Modi's Republic Day plans with icy water.

Trump's interest in the region is singular - to get his troops out of Afghanistan. That is the sole objective given to the US commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson.

To that end, the US has been talking to the Taliban, and one of the meetings in Qatar, where the Taliban maintains an office, was recently made public. The Taliban and the Afghan government observed a three-day ceasefire during Eid in June, and Kabul had announced another ceasefire, this time lasting three months, from Eid Al Adha which began this week. The US supports the ceasefire.

A key element in any lasting peace or negotiated settlement is the Pakistan army. It is willing to play ball so long as the US brings India to the talks table, with Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) as the core issue. India, which has followed a "muscular" policy towards Pakistan is not keen to talk. Modi did not attend the swearing-in last S...

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