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ALI AHMED | 19 MARCH, 2016

Another India-Pakistan Upswing In The Offing?


The meeting on 17 March in Pokhara between Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and foreign policy advisor to Pakistan’s prime minister, Sartaj Aziz, filling in as Pakistan’s foreign minister, heralds yet another prospective upswing in the relations between the two states. Swaraj accepted the Aziz conveyed invite for Mr. Modi to visit Islamabad for the SAARC summit in the later part of this year. The two prime ministers could meet even earlier, at the Nuclear Security summit in Washington D.C. The joint investigation team into the Pathankot airfield terror attack is set to begin work by month end.

Relations appear to be back on track after being derailed by the terror attack in Pathankot. However, in light of the earlier flip-flops in India’s Pakistan policy - characterized by one perceptive observer as ‘manic pirouetting’ - Mr. Modi’s trip to Islamabad is not a done deal yet.

As at previous junctures, this one too shall attract speculation as to whether this is a sustainable upswing or yet another mirage. Influence of internal politics with elections looming in Assam and Bengal is a candidate line of inquiry. Deeper still is whether Hindutva philosophy contaminating strategy today can at all countenance equable ties with Pakistan. However, a robust answer will likely prove elusive.

For a better understanding of India’s Pakistan policy, there is one almost forgotten vantage point: the 9 August ‘Press Statement on India-Pakistan Relations by Members of India’s Strategic Community’. Forty one denizens of Delhi’s seminar rooms signed up to a statement brokered by the Vivekananda International Foundation, headed then by current day National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval.

The statement had put paid to Manmohan Singh’s dream nurtured since his UPA I stint of making a path-breaking trip to Pakistan. UPA II, already in doldrums by then, preferred not to chance the forthcoming elections on the altar of India-Pakistan relations.

The statement if not quite Mr. Doval’s brain child, had him signing off on it. As India’s national security minder and old Pakistan hand, India’s current Pakistan policy therefore can be credited to him. What he endorsed then therefore affords being dusted up for review to see if it might have clues as to his mind. His policy advice then was:

“India should show no anxiety to hold a dialogue with Pakistan, keep a steady focus on the issue of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in any conversation that takes place, abjure language that equates our problems with terrorism with those of Pakistan, and take Siachen out of the basket of issues … “

The logic given was that Pakistan’s military held the reins, even if there was a new placatory civilian government in place headed by Nawaz Sharif. India consequently was better advised to – in the words of the signatories – ‘impose a cost on Pakistan for its export of terror to India, and thus change the cost-benefit calculus of these policies and actions.’ Towards this end, a ‘proactive approach’ was thought as able to ‘yield us much better results than those garnered by policies of appeasement which have regrettably been pursued by us for years.’

This amounts to a blue print for the still-young Modi era. India has indeed been ‘proactive’. Diplomatically, it has reached out to Nawaz Sharif, best exemplified by the invite to Mr. Modi’s swearing in and Mr. Modi’s dropping in at Sharif’s Lahore farm house last December. The National Security Advisers have met twice over. Pakistan has been kept off balance with foreign secretaries meetings also having been either cancelled or postponed twice over too. The sole agenda in the stillborn dialogue is terrorism, as anticipated in the statement.

Militarily, India upped the temperature on the Line of Control since October year before last. With the message hitting home, it has wound down the pressure lately, though the heads of military operations have yet to meet as thought up in the Ufa meeting between the two prime ministers. On the intelligence front, the ‘game’ is clearly on, with India – if Pakistanis are to be believed - giving as good as it receives both in Pakistan and in Afghanistan.

The idea appears to be to soften up Pakistan’s military, expose it to its own underside and the age old dictum: those who live in glass houses must not throw stones at others. Alongside, the line of strategy directed towards Nawaz Sharif is at best to incentivize Pakistan and at worst to divide its national security elite.

Since this dual pronged strategy is in play with the hard and soft lines alternating, it is confounding to Indian observers, predicating their analysis on the values of predictability and consistency. For its part, Pakistan’s decision making elite at the receiving end appears unfazed. It is making gains in its counter terror operations. Its proxies the Taliban have reemerged in Afghanistan. It is able to launch pin prick terror attacks against India at will. Its nuclear trump card is well into three digits in terms of warheads. It is heartened by India’s foreign minister - sensibly - ruling out war as an option. The military is not averse to using Sharif as foil.

It is unlikely that India’s hyper-nationalism inspired strategic community would find these comfort levels of Pakistan at all enthusing. It spells that Pakistan’s military has not been sufficiently battened down nor a division created within Pakistan into pro- and anti-India camps. Consequently, Mr. Modi’s pirouetting can be expected to continue under direction of Chanakya II, Mr. Doval himself.

The problem – nay, danger – with the strategy is that it has not thought through what it considers sufficient punishment of Pakistan. Hindutva infected, it would unlikely settle only for appeasement by Pakistan, when only Pakistan’s capitulation or going under will do. Clearly, the strategic ‘community’ needs to once again get together to draft a fresh statement to help bail Mr. Doval out.

( Ali Ahmed (@aliahd66) blogs at www.ali-writings.blogspot.in).

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