New Delhi: The “hyphenation” of India and Pakistan by the United States is back in vogue. The US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, is due to visit India and Pakistan in the course of a single foreign tour. Tillerson is on his way out and his visit cannot have substantial significance for India. Nevertheless, hyphenation sends a message that India and Pakistan are level players in the eyes of President Donald Trump. Privately, India is bound to protest at such devaluation and the United States may tweak Tillerson’s programme a little. But the damage is done.

Who is to blame?

Squarely, the Narendra Modi government.

India’s dispute with Pakistan primarily is over Jammu and Kashmir. India has traditionally followed a two-pronged policy on Kashmir with one part focussed on the internal dimension of Kashmir and the second concentrated on India-Pakistan relations. The two parts have been kept separate. This balanced tradition was broken by the Modi government and its consequences are before us.

India has consistently taken the line that Jammu and Kashmir’s accession to India in the face of the Pakistani attack of 1947 is final. On the other hand, India has a minimum and maximum position on Pakistan-occupied Kashmir as all countries do on conflicted national territories. The maximum position is that PoK also belongs to India and Pakistan is obligated to return it. There is an Indian parliamentary resolution to this effect.

But there is also recognition that India cannot seize PoK. The military balance between the two states won’t permit this. Moreover, Pakistan is a nuclear power. Any attempt by India to take PoK by force will spiral upward to a nuclear war with no winners.

Therefore, India has a sensible minimum position on PoK. The Modi government may deny the existence of the minimum position but Bharatiya Janata Party stalwarts have long accepted it as the only sensible way to resolve the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan.

The minimum position is what Indira Gandhi advanced with Z. A. Bhutto in 1972 which he reneged on later. It sought formalization of the Line of Control as an international border. This way, India and Pakistan would retain the portions of Kashmir they possessed while mechanisms would develop over time for people-to-people contact, trade, and so forth.

Quite separate from the India-Pakistan dialogue on Kashmir and other subjects, there was a distinct domestic process to engage Kashmiris with a view to emotionally integrating them with the rest of the country. Kashmiris harbour no illusions about Pakistan. It has lost its earlier attraction as an Islamic state. It is too hard line for essentially Sufi Kashmiris. India’s engagement process was designed to widen the psychological and emotional distance between Kashmiris and Pakistan.

All these carefully constructed processes have been abandoned by the Modi government. Dialogue with Pakistan on Kashmir has been suspended, and purely militaristic policies are being followed in Kashmir. The hard line has not worked. Cross-border and internal violence in Kashmir have both risen. The Kashmir dispute has cast its long shadow on Donald Trump’s plans to stabilize Afghanistan. And India and Pakistan have not endeared themselves to sensible world opinion by calling each other names in the United Nations.

Without realizing it, the Modi government has internationalized the Kashmir dispute. Since the Trump administration has begun to see the Kashmir dispute as an obstacle to peace in Afghanistan, it is keen for India and Pakistan to resume the dialogue process.

Indeed, the United States is ready to mediate between the nuclear rival states of South Asia. The hyphenation of India and Pakistan may not suggest imminence of American mediation but an acceptance of the two countries as nearly equal powers. It prepares the ground for mediation. This is a clear setback for India, and was widely anticipated.

If the Modi government desires to keep away the Americans, it must engage with Pakistan. The more India slanders Pakistan publicly, the greater attention is drawn to the Kashmir dispute. And by not having normal, everyday conversations with Kashmiris, the Modi government is alienating and compelling them towards armed struggle. This state of affairs cannot continue if India is to keep Kashmir.

Donald Trump is challenging the world order. If he takes upon himself to contest Kashmir’s accession to India in a bid for Afghan peace, it will take the equivalent of moving mountains to change his mind. In the intervening period, India will suffer strategic bust.

Geopolitics does not tolerate great deviations if not mediated by historicity and understanding. The Modi government has made a proper mess of relations with Pakistan and recklessly stirred up Kashmir. Hyphenation with Pakistan is the beginning. Expect more trouble in the days and weeks ahead.

Editor’s Note: Rohini Singh is a respected business journalist. Her expose on Amit Shah’s son’s businesses deserves a responsible and constructive response from the government. Since Narendra Modi sees himself as an anti-corruption crusader, he must urge Shah to quit from his post as BJP president and order an independent inquiry. Failure to do so would add to his growing burdens.