Show brains before brawn
The earlier Prime Minister Narendra Modi realises the bitter truths of international diplomacy the better, especially with regards to India’s relations with Pakistan. The recent spate of cross-border violence has been the worst in over a decade. Pakistani forces targeted 12 Indian posts on the dawn of 2015 along the international border in Jammu and Kashmir. October witnessed the deaths of several civilians in villages on the Indian side of the border. Last month the Kashmir Valley witnessed the worst sequence of cross-border violence, when terrorists killed 11 Indian soldiers in the midst of assembly polls in the state.
Relations between India and Pakistan have deteriorated sharply in recent weeks and it has caused serious concerns within the corridors of power in New Delhi. Cross-border shelling has resulted in dozens of deaths and terrorised hundreds of villagers living across the Line of Control. Indian government and military officials are issuing warnings to Pakistan every day. Although our government has pledged to give Pakistan a befitting reply, cross-border firing has not ceased yet. Flag meetings between Indian and Pakistani military officers at LoC checkpoints have lost their utility. Constant violations of a 2003 ceasefire agreement by the Pakistani establishment have been deemed to be extremely serious and provocative by India.
When in opposition, the BJP used to criticise the Congress-led UPA government in strongest words possible for ‘appeasing’ Pakistan. However, in an unprecedented gesture that took most observers by surprise, Modi invited Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to his oath taking ceremony last May. Narendra Modi and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif agreed that foreign secretaries of both the countries would meet soon. There was much media hype surrounding the dialogue process, and how “Prime Minister Modi has engineered an historic rapprochement with Pakistan”.
Prime Minister Modi himself expressed high hopes for an improvement in Indo-Pak relations from the ramparts of Red Fort on August 15. However, only after three days, he had to cancel Foreign Secretary-level talks with Islamabad planned for the following week because its High Commissioner in India preferred to meet separatist leaders. New Delhi deemed that act to be a gross interference in our internal affairs.
It has now become obvious that the Pakistani defense establishment and its terrorist proxies begin derailing the peace process, whenever they feel insecure. These elements feel that cooperation between India and Pakistan will pose a serious threat to their existence in the long run. A substantial portion of its population perceives that India poses a threat to the very existence of Pakistan. The Pakistani military and its terror proxies know that closer relations with India would undermine its perception.
India has been pursuing a ‘tit-for-tat’ policy in dealing with Pakistan. The Modi-led government has also made it clear that if Pakistan shows the willingness, India will also cooperate. Aggression, however, will be responded with a firm reply. The Pakistan army is now using political means to stymie cooperative arrangements. Sharif promised to extend ‘Most Favoured Nation’ trading status to India without preconditions. However, the Pakistani government has now taken a position that unless India restarts a comprehensive dialogue process, which includes the Kashmir issue, Islamabad will not consider ratifying the agreement. We must understand that certain external factors will also not allow India and Pakistan to go towards the aim of achieving cooperative equilibrium. The NATO drawdown in Afghanistan is bound to result in an influx of militants into Kashmir. Pakistan’s defence establishment will encourage such an influx to prevent them from coming back to its home base, since Islamabad realises the dangers these elements pose to its internal security after the recent terrorist attack in Peshawar. India must carefully monitor the repercussions of the recent incursion by the Pakistani military into North Waziristan, Al-Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent and the looming presence of the Islamic State. Both groups are recruiting in Kashmir and AQIS has threatened to launch attacks in India.
Has the hope for an improvement in India-Pakistan relations dissipated? Pakistan and India have managed to cooperate on non-securitized issues like disaster response, energy and sharing information about the level of rivers that run between the two countries to form an early warning system for floods. Pakistan’s water supply is expected to shrink by 30 per cent over the next 20 years, while its population is projected to nearly double by 2050. This will have a severe effect on the Indus Water Treaty, which governs the water sharing between India and Pakistan. Climate change threatens to wipe out 8.7 per cent of India’s GDP through an increase in floods and droughts. India could become more resilient to floods by sharing river level information with Pakistan and form an early warning system. India and Pakistan have also signed a gas sharing agreement. It encourages efforts to bind South and Central Asia together through the proposed TAPI pipeline. The pipeline would run through Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan. Chronic gas shortages in Pakistan, which cost the country 6 per cent of its GDP every year, could be solved by commissioning this project.
Prime Minister Modi must use his good offices with the United States President Barack Obama to help create an environment that is more conducive to cooperation by maintaining its largest possible military presence in Afghanistan until 2016. Small wins in Track II diplomacy could push India and Pakistan towards greater cooperation.
The roller-coaster of India’s relations with Pakistan cannot be handled by a shawl for Sharif’s mother. Modi and the BJP have always accused previous government of being soft on the issues of national security. But one must remember that it is necessary use one’s brains, when it comes to handling the areas diplomacy. Unfortunately, a constant show of muscle provides no guarantees.
The author is editor and CEO of News Views India