India’s Modi accuses Pakistan of waging a proxy war. Will it deter peace talks?

Stern remarks from India’s prime minister could hurt efforts to restart peace talks over Kashmir, which are scheduled for later this month.

REUTERS/India's Press Information Bureau
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves after inaugurating the Nimoo-Bazgo hydropower station as Kashmir's Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, third from left, watches in Leh on August 12, 2014.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday accused Pakistan of waging a “proxy war” and vowed to strengthen his country’s armed forces in a speech during a rare visit to disputed Kashmir

But Mr. Modi also stressed the need for reconciliation with Pakistan. What does he really want? Unclear. But the tough side of his talk on Kashmir, disputed by India and Pakistan for over 60 years, indicates a breakthrough isn't imminent.

Modi said that Pakistan was using militants to attack India and foster unrest. Pakistan “has lost the strength to fight a conventional war but continues to engage in the proxy war of terrorism,” he told Indian soldiers in Kashmir's Leh District. 

The prime minister's comments come before meetings later this month in Islamabad between the foreign secretaries of both countries aimed at a renewed peace effort. Some analysts suggest that Modi is striking a tough pose before talks begin. 

"It is a message that for talks to succeed India needs a commitment that Pakistan" stop supporting terrorism, C. Uday Bhaskar, director at the Society for Policy Studies in New Delhi, told Bloomberg Businessweek. 

The strong warning was a departure for Modi, who invited Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to his inauguration in May, sparking hopes of an improved relationship between the two countries, which were partitioned in 1947. 

Pakistani officials declined to comment on Modi’s remarks Tuesday, according to Reuters. India has long accused the Pakistani government of training militants in Kashmir to carry out attacks in India, a charge Islamabad denies. 

Modi's visit to the area also comes before assembly elections later this year in which his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is seeking to extend its power and members of his party hope to further integrate Kashmir with the rest of the country, the Wall Street Journal reports:

In speeches Tuesday, [Modi] signaled that Jammu and Kashmir would be a top priority for his administration, a strategy designed to address the sense of neglect, alienation and distrust that many in the Muslim-majority state feel toward the federal government. Analysts say Mr. Modi hopes to use development to bring the people of the state closer to the rest of India.

Mr. Modi and his party are affiliated with Hindu nationalist groups that want to end the partial autonomy the state enjoys. Officials of his government have suggested they have begun work on renewing the debate on this contentious issue.

Mr. Modi stayed away from that topic and other sensitive questions surrounding Kashmir’s administration. Addressing a crowd in Leh, where he inaugurated an electricity transmission line, Mr. Modi said he was determined to link different parts of India, including Jammu and Kashmir, by air, rail, road, telecommunications and power grids. He said his government plans to spend 80 billion rupees on building roads to even the remotest parts of the state.

The trip was an “important first step towards bringing these areas back to the centre of national and strategic consciousness,” Ajai Sahni, executive director at the Institute of Conflict Management think tank in Delhi told Agence France-Presse

This trip marks Modi's second visit to the region since he became prime minister in May, and the first trip in 15 years for an Indian leader to Kargil since the conflict there in 1999, when Pakistani troops crossed into the area and over 1,000 people died.

The dispute over Kashmir has deep roots with India and Pakistan vying for control and some local groups pushing for independence. Since independence in 1947, India and Pakistan have fought three wars, two of which were over Kashmir. Fighting reached a high point in the region in the late 1980s and '90s. A ceasefire signed in 2003 calmed the situation, but both sides have accused the other of breaking it.

As the Monitor reported last year, flare-ups along the Line of Control (LoC) that separates Indian and Pakistani-controlled areas, have occurred for decades.

This has been the historical trend: that whenever India and Pakistan move toward peace, one small incident reverses all progress made by the dialogue process,” says Raza Rumi of the Pakistani think tank The Jinnah Institute. “The blame game by the two countries has been aggravated by the sensationalism of the Indian media, and the Pakistani media could now follow suit.” 

Both sides accused the other of cease-fire violations before Modi’s visit.

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