The despicable desecration of a Hindu temple in Seattle and attacks on Gujaratis in the United States, particularly the gunning down of 28-year-old Amit Patel in New Jersey, had an unexpectedly positive fallout in faraway India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi promptly broke his ominous silence on recurring attacks on Christian churches and publicly announced a crackdown on religious violence against minorities living in the shadow of fear.
Clearly, Modi saw the anti-Hindu violence as reprisal for attacks on six Christian institutions in New Delhi in two months and decided to condemn bigotry at home, chiefly to placate whoever he suspected of targeting his overseas co-religionists. It was like waving a white flag. If Modi was really concerned about Christians in India - rather than Hindus in America - he would have spoken out long ago. Indian bishops were desperate to meet the PM since June. Finally granted an audience on Christmas Eve, they begged him to publicly condemn spiralling anti-Christian violence but he flatly refused, which the priests found very disturbing. Viewed from this prism, Modi's January 17 volte-face was induced by nothing else but anti-Hindu vandalism in America.
America seems to have really cast a spell on Modi. Its imprint is conspicuous in Modi's Pakistan outreach, too. During US President Barack Obama's visit, Modi filled his guest's ear with gory details of how Pakistan's terror machine was targeting peace-loving India; apparently Modi even branded Pakistan 'Terroristan' to sway Obama! But one of Obama's first acts on his return to Washington was to announce over $1 billion (Dh3.67 billion) in additional aid to Pakistan, while in New Delhi US ambassador Richard Verma insisted that the nuclear neighbours restart a dialogue. He also stipulated that the onus of making the first move was on India as it had cancelled the last scheduled foreign secretary-level talks in August.
Modi was left with no option but to telephone Nawaz Sharif to inform him that he was sending Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar to Islamabad in March. But India's top diplomat will have a torrid time in Pakistan, which recently shared with world powers what it calls 'evidence' of 'Indian links to terror acts, including the horrific massacre of over 130 children at a Peshawar army school in December'. This is in addition to the long-standing charge of Indian meddling in Balochistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) - recently summed up by Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan's National Security Advisor as 'India launching attacks on Pakistan from Afghanistan'.
India's new Pakistan game-plan, if it has one, is still a tightly-held secret. But Modi's so-called muscular approach has been a big flop - all it has produced is tit-for-tat response. I have written before that Pakistan is no push-over, which led some to question my patriotism. But a true nationalist must also be a realist. And realistically speaking, the time is ripe for both nations - who are like two sides of a coin - to stop accusing one another and simply hold hands.
It is Modi's good fortune that his predecessor, Manmohan Singh, has left behind the key to normalising relations with a country India has fought three full-fledged wars with, besides skirmishes, which were nipped before they turned into raging battles. The key is a bulging file containing hundreds of pages without names or signatures, which someone who has glanced through them, says 'can serve as a deniable but detailed basis for a deal'. The text, mysteriously called a 'Non-Paper' by those in the know, is the outcome of ten years of secret and sensitive 'back channel' negotiations during Dr Manmohan Singh's prime-ministership by representatives of India and Pakistan who met in London, Bangkok and Dubai besides the occasional tryst in Islamabad or New Delhi.
The back channel was activated in 2004 with Singh nominating his National Security Adviser JN Dixit to hold clandestine talks with former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf's nominee - his college-mate Tariq Aziz. After Dixit's death, Singh chose Satinder Lambah for the sensitive mission, while Riaz Ahmad Khan represented Pakistan after Musharraf's exit and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif nominated Shahryar Khan. Before demitting office, Singh scrupulously put together all the texts for his successor. One presumes that Modi has gone through the secret file.
My sources tell me that the special envoys, particularly Aziz and Lambah, achieved the impossible with Pakistan agreeing not to insist on a plebiscite in Kashmir or raise Kashmir in the United Nations in return for hefty strategic and economic concessions by India. An analyst summed up the four-point deal as 'the transformation of the Line of Control into a border, though with adjustments to rationalise access to both countries' forward positions; free movement across the LoC; greater federal autonomy for both sides of Jammu and Kashmir; and phased cutbacks of troops as militant [extremist] violence declined'.
Such an agreement serves the national interests of both nations without loss of face for either. The back channel talks, according to an international relations expert, yielded more results than all bilateral negotiations preceding them since 1947. But the negotiations suffered a huge setback in November 2008 when non-state Pakistani actors targeted Mumbai turning public opinion in India against Pakistan. Both countries managed the fall-out of the Mumbai attacks quite well but it became impossible to take the back channel talks to their logical conclusion by cutting a historic deal.
The ball is now in Modi's and Sharif's court. Can they finish the incomplete task and win the Nobel Peace Prize?
SNM Abdi is a noted Indian journalist and commentator. This article first appeared in Gulf News