New Delhi: Mortal combat has broken out between Sushma Swaraj and the national security advisor, Ajit Doval. Each side is using its proxies in the media to throw mud at the other. The bone of contention is the peace dialogue with Pakistan after Imran Khan’s urgings to resume it after becoming prime minister. India was quick to announce a meeting of the foreign ministers of the two countries on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York. A day later and before the meeting could take place, India questionably cancelled the talks. While the incident of the BSF constable with a cut throat on the frontier with Pakistan was serious, it was absurd to blame Imran Khan for the barbarism. Other incidents that occurred before Imran Khan even took office were added to the charges and the New York meeting scrapped. It was clear even then that the excuses were thin. The cancellation was followed by colourful and pointless exchange of abuses by the Indian and Pakistani sides at the United Nations. Delegates from other countries could be excused for looking bored, breaking away perhaps to do some New York sightseeing until India and Pakistan had finished sloshing garbage on the streets, and returned to the UN to resume serious diplomacy.

Conceivably, Sushma Swaraj was smarting from the cancelled meeting and the less than positive press coverage of the India-Pakistan verbal joust because soon after media gossip threw light on India’s volte face on the New York event. Gossip suggested that the cancellation was the handiwork of Ajit Doval’s office and that the press note announcing and justifying the decision was so clumsily drafted that at least one seasoned diplomat protested. The source of the leak was fairly obvious. Gossip also insinuated that Narendra Modi informally had cleared the New York meeting and that the PMO had subsequently disowned the cancellation notice. The implication was that Doval was flying solo on the hard line against Pakistan. The coup de grace was administered by the tantalizing revelation that the Indian NSA would have no role in future talks with Pakistan because Imran Khan did not intend to appoint a national security advisor.

All this could be dismissed as petty infighting within a regime which has lost its way (witness, for example, the drama in the CBI) except that the matter has taken a serious turn with the new allegation that Sushma Swaraj consulted neither the prime minister nor took cabinet permission for the New York meeting with the Pakistan foreign minister. In the circumstances, the cancellation was compelled and that it originated in the prime minister’s office. It as good as accuses Sushma Swaraj of acting without authority and the objective appears to be to remove her from future India-Pakistan engagements. This begs the question that if the foreign minister is not to engage with the Major Powers (the exclusive turf of the prime minister) or Pakistan (this being Ajit Doval’s bailiwick), what good is it having Sushma Swaraj in a cabinet position? It would be simpler for Narendra Modi to end the farce and make Doval foreign minister notwithstanding the disaster it would prove.

As it is, India is in dreadful geopolitical drift. Not knowing how to engage with the America First policies of President Donald Trump, matters are being allowed to slide out of control. On Doval’s assurance that US secondary sanctions would be waived on the S-400 purchase, India went ahead. The United States has indicated sanctions could be waived if India placed bulk orders for the dud F-16. What has Doval to say? His doctrine of keeping India-Pakistan relations in deep freeze has also proved a nonstarter. Imran Khan is a creative politician and he comes with a clean slate. Engaging with him could have expanded the democratic spaces in Pakistan and put the Pakistan army on the defensive. This could have been attempted without compromising India’s core position on Kashmir. If you leave geopolitics to uninspiring policemen, beats will suffer and criminals thrive.