New Delhi’s subtle shift in Pak policy
A preliminary but subtle shift appears to have occurred in India’s handling of Pakistan with New Delhi seeking to couple a direct armed defence response with a ‘containment’ strategy. We may have noticed a manifestation of this subtle shift after the cancellation of National Security Adviser-level talks with Pakistan.
The strategy seems to have unfolded with the Ufa meeting in Russia between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif and culminated in a direct snub. The cancellation of Sartaj Aziz’s visit to New Delhi was only an indicator.
Islamabad saw itself lured onto a garden variety escalation ladder where it stepped on first by seeking to re-internationalise the Kashmir issue and then not knowing how to step down.
A veteran military general of the Indian Army pointed out that this kind of ‘containment’ requires the use of ‘comprehensive national power’ that adds on all the strengths of the country: military, diplomatic, political, economic and commercial into a funnel. All these elements are then utilised to box in the ‘enemy.’
It also <g data-gr-id="52">includes,</g> says retired director general of military operations Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia, that faster modernisation of the Indian armed forces should be undertaken, thus outspending Pakistan on this account.
Should the Prime Minister’s recent trips to Central Asia and United Arab Emirates (UAE) be viewed in light of this ‘containment’ strategy? The trip to Central Asian Republics (CARs) may have been motivated by an acknowledgement of Iran’s return to the comity of nations, the latter being India’s primary gateway to CARs. Plus, it has to be said that PM Modi needed to bolster his acceptability among the Muslim countries.
The UAE visit was clearly strategic, showing Pakistan that India’s economic and political agenda is more acceptable even to the Islamic nations. The joint declaration of the Emirates and India clearly stated, “The two nations reject extremism and any link between religion and terrorism. They condemn efforts, including by states, to use religion to justify, support and sponsor terrorism against other countries. They also deplore efforts by countries to give religious and sectarian colour to political issues and disputes, including in West and South Asia, and use terrorism to pursue their aims.”
Ambassador Talmiz Ahmad, a senior former diplomat and scholar, however, refuses to see it in this light, going against the basic grain of ‘realist’ policy formulations. Ahmad says, “[T]here is a tendency among Indian commentators to view Pakistan’s relations with the Arab Sheikhdoms through the communitarian prism, believing that it is primarily (if not wholly) religious affinity that has been and is the principal driver of the relationship. This is an incorrect view. The basis of their affinity is their strategic and defence partnership in the Cold War under the leadership of the US when India was on the other side.”
Retired Lieutenant General Syed Ata Hasnain, now a reputed strategic analyst with the Vivekananda Foundation notes: “[The] UAE expressed its unhappiness with Pakistan’s refusal to send troops to Yemen. This is not a schism but just a chink that we can widen.” On top of that, he says, “The UAE needs Indian support to keep the happy times going. Indians are the counter to the radical elements that have an eye on its territory and its money. It needs the Indian Government’s backing to ensure that messaging to its (latter’s) diaspora is constant.”
On the other hand, the USA sent its National Security Adviser, Susan Rice, to Islamabad to soothe the bruised egos of the Pakistani political leadership. According to sources, that required about an hour-long meeting with Nawaz Sharif. However, when she travelled a few more miles to Rawalpindi, she spent two solid hours ensconced with General Raheel Sharif. Clearly, that showed the priorities Washington follow in terms of the ‘real’ leadership hierarchy of the neighbouring country.
The Chinese, however, maintained a calculated silence on the issue, at least in public. But the fact that UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon regretted the cancellation of talks indicated a little pressure from some of the permanent five members of the UN Security Council. New Delhi can afford to ignore that.
Considering that the Indian government resorted to references of bilateralism as envisaged by the Shimla Accord and the Ufa declaration, the reactions of the major powers had to be muted. In the process, they had to endorse the Indian position on the cancellation of talks, at least by default.
(The author is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal)