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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 29 New Delhi July 11, 2015

India-Pakistan: No Communication Is No Policy

Saturday 11 July 2015

by Vinay Kaura

“God has placed us in a position in which we are prevented by our neighbours from slipping into dullness and inertia.” Had these words not been spoken by the German Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, in the Reichstag in 1888, they could well have been spoken by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2015. Having spent one year in office, Modi may have realised that his government’s Pakistan policy has not been a success story: it has failed to achieve anything substantial in terms of either ending the enduring Indo-Pak rivalry or cutting Pakistan to its real size.

Modi must be given credit where it is due. Pakistan’s revisionist provocations have met with a strong and fitting Indian response. Contrary to the Pakistani strategy of increasing the costs to India of maintaining the political status quo in Kashmir, the PDP-BJP alliance in the State has been Modi’s masterstroke to ensure the same. Securing talks with India about Kashmir’s future has been sold domestically by the Pakistani leaders. Unable to force India into talks “from a position of strength”, Pakistan’s civilian leadership is clearly in a defensive position. After being politically cut to size, the Nawaz Sharif Government has been forced to surrender its India policy to the military establishment in Rawalpindi. Modi is not wrong in his belief that the Pakistani Generals have little interest in peace with India, as revealed by the CoAS, Raheel Sharif’s statement that “Kashmir is the unfinished agenda of partition”. Modi’s question is valid: with whom to engage in Pakistan?

 As long as the status quo seems safe, why should Modi agree to change his seemingly cost-effective, hard-line Pakistan policy? Building on this foundation but subject to much critique, India, at the tactical level, can rejoice at Pakistan’s discomfiture at being denied the luxury of talks. But international isolation of Pakistan and provocative declarations of covert operations inside its territory cannot be the bedrock of a smart neighbourhood strategy for India. No constructive transformation in Indo-Pak relations is possible amidst the hopeless atmospherics of zero-communication. Political, economic and cultural aloofness from Pakistan may seem tempting in the short run but undesirable in the long run.

 Despite its unrelenting and irreversible institutional deterioration, Pakistan is not on the verge of imminent disintegration as a sovereign nation-state. Despite its official cultivation of radical Islamic terrorists, the international community has not been able to punish Pakistan. Despite having full knowledge of Pakistan’s clandestine acquisition of a nuclear-weapon-producing capability, the US could do virtually nothing to stop its “major non-NATO ally”. This takes us beyond the rhetoric toward the real nerve of India’s strategic headache: Pakistan has literally got away with anything, just anything. Does it mean that India should continue to be stereotyped as a ‘soft state’ with no stomach for war? Before we proceed to answer this question, we should not forget that today even the US does not have the stomach for war. Witness its exit from Afghanistan.

 No doubt, India’s policies towards Pakistan over the last six decades have not proved successful. By demonstrating a remarkable capacity for balancing India either by external or internal balancing, the Pakistani behaviour has conformed to the basic tenets of realism. Access to American economic-military aid and generous Chinese support has been Pakistan’s external instruments of balancing India. Reckless resort to Jihadist Islam has been used for internal balancing. India’s search for a strategic space in tackling Pakistan’s external and internal balancing has proved to be problematic. Indian reliance upon international support for its compellence strategy against Pakistan has not yielded the desirable outcome.

The Pakistan Army has historically adopted asymmetric strategies, including terrorism, to try to nullify India’s conventional military, economic, and political edge. Modi’s strategy of ‘no talks with terrorism’, clarified by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj that “talks cannot be held in the shadow of violence and terrorism”, has thus far not forced Islamabad to give up the use of asymmetric strategy and tactics. According to Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, India must contemplate “to neutralise terrorist through terrorist only”. This argument represents a manifestation of unilateralist impulses ignoring the ground realities.

 Albert Sorel excellently explains the dilemma: “It is the eternal dispute between those who imagine the world to suit their policy, and those who arrange their policy to suit the realities of the world.” The admirable success of anti-terrorist ‘surgical strikes’ carried out by the Indian Army along the Indo-Myanmar border has also raised the political temperature by sending out a “message for all countries, including Pakistan” that India will “strike at a place and at a time of our choosing”. It is not clear how the Myanmar strike can serve as a template for India’s western border. Pakistan’s reactions were predictable as it is India’s only neighbour that harbours anti-India terrorists. Pakistan’s Interior Minister did not waste time in cautioning that “Pakistan is not Myanmar”—a fact all too obvious to most Indians. Diplomatically inappropriate pronouncements often invite reactions laced with concern and amusement.

Carrying out ‘hot pursuit’ operations against the Pakistan-based terrorists has always attracted us. What costs are we willing to pay? What risks are we willing to take? A very peculiar reluctance—indeed refusal—to answer the above questions exposes the inherent mismatch between policy and real-world conditions. It is important to understand that no surgical strike against a terror group’s safe haven can be carried out without the support of any sovereign state including Bangladesh and Myanmar. Myanmar had reportedly approved the Indian plan to send in Special Forces. For all the nationalist bluster and chest-thumping bravado, the fact cannot be ignored that India is not the US. There can be no justification for muscular insularity.

 Having the intention to improve relations between the ‘intimate enemies’ and actually accomplishing it are two different things. Between intention and achievement lies a protracted, exasperating road of negotiations. As the Indian frustration mounts, the strategic discourse steadily veers away from a search for political solutions through negotiations to a quest for the appropriate means of punishing an intransigent and malevolent Pakistan. Therein lies the challenge. Of course, there may be good, if not convincing, arguments for India to strive for self-protection and strategic independence. But in circumstances of military adventurism, conventional force deployments, the shadow of nuclear crisis and other limiting factors will be essential background concerns. In Indo-Pak relations, political dynamics of coercive diplomacy do not always move in desired directions. The Rightward drift reinforces precisely the tendencies that escalate the possibility of unnecessary conflict.

Modi’s compellence strategy demands diplomatic skills of labyrinthine complexity. Pakistan’s external balancing through China continues to be very promising. With the growing economic and diplomatic influence of China in the subcontinent, and Beijing’s facilitation of Pakistan’s policy in Afghanistan, India is left facing a grimmer reality in the region. Delhi has as much reason to worry about China’s great power pretentions, which are growing more restive every day. With a rising, aggressive and unrestrained China, India might well have to face a challenge of unprecedented dimen-sions.

 In case of a face-off with Pakistan, Chinese assistance to Pakistan could be a great equaliser, counterbalancing or even outweighing India’s bilateral advantages vis-à-vis Pakistan. The centrality of Pakistan in China’s ‘one belt one road’ strategy has ensured that Beijing might not be averse to adopt the cause of its flamboyantly reckless protégé. Pakistan’s capacity and motivation to trigger a crisis that could menace India is likely to be permitted by China to remain an essential part of Islamabad’s strategic arsenal. This will further embolden Pakistan to resist every attempt to normalise relations with India. Such a state of relations is potentially unstable.

 The chances of reversing that reality are vanishingly slim. There must not be any illusions about fixing the problem with a magic wand. On any plausible interpretation, the only alternative left for Delhi to circumvent any encirclement that Pakistan in concert with China may undertake to harm Indian interests is to actively gain American support, in the same manner that it acquired from the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Unflinching military-diplomatic support from the US can lead to the empowerment of an assertive Indian behaviour. But given the dimensions of strategic complexity in overt American embrace, Modi has been trying to avoid giving this impression. One more issue merits attention. Even if Modi is reluctant to admit this, India’s relationship with Pakistan is as much a domestic as a foreign policy issue due to Pakistan’s raison d’être.

 All these issues place demands on Indian diplomacy, and Modi must determine priorities consistent with India’s national interests. Modi will have to gear the nation’s capabilities towards maximising opportunities and minimising risks in the neighbourhood. India’s security will greatly depend on how the broader regional situation evolves, particularly in respect of Pakistani behaviour and Chinese actions. India will have to find innovative solutions to balance the negative fallout of China’s continuing support to Pakistan. All this requires constant communication with the adversary, without the expectation of immediate success.

Dr Vinay Kaura is an Assistant Professor, Department of International Affairs and Security Studies, and Coordinator, Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, Sardar Patel University of Police, Security and Criminal Justice, Jodhpur (Rajasthan).