By Air Commodore (R) Khalid Iqbal

May 22, 2014

Pakistan-India relations follow a peculiar pattern. Comparatively hard-line political parties of both countries are better poised to take bold initiatives in terms of bilateral relations. BJP and PML(N) are better anchored to deconstruct and reconstruct Pakistan-India relations. Decisions taken by them have greater acceptance amongst the people of the two countries. Near simultaneous rise of these two parties to power has raised expectations of the peace lobby in both the countries. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif romanticizes the erstwhile Lahore declaration and espouses a foreign policy vision of ‘friendly neighbourhood. Immediately on assumption of power, he radiated an intent to stabilize the problematic bilateral. Despite embarrassing response from his Indian counterpart, Nawaz Sharif is anxiously waiting to engage the new leadership of India.

As Narendra Modi’s rise to prime ministerial slot is appearing increasingly certain, hawkish lobby in India is working in top gear and overtime to come out with all sorts of jingoistic ideas related to foreign policy—especially its Pakistan and China content. India’s external challenges are well known and policy responses have been examined time and again by numerous governments including those led by the BJP. While the pressure is building, Modi is struggling to shed his earlier impression of a hardliner demagogue and project his image as a pragmatic statesman.  So far, he has declined to carry forth his party’s intent to abandon ‘No first use’ option from Indian draft nuclear doctrine. Reportedly he has also sent an emissary to Pakistan to convey certain assurances like restoration of composite dialogue.

Hawks in India argue that Indian foreign policy is weak and accommodating, too risk-averse and lacking in self-confidence. Others argue that India is unsure of what it wants to achieve, and consequently its policy is reactive at operational levels, hence allowing others to take the initiative to define agenda and parameters. Both these assessments are overstatements.

Nevertheless, India’s Pakistan policy has flaws and ensuing weakness is not an outcome of a docile policy per se; rather, it is the upshot of paradoxes within Indian foreign policy—especially those emerging out of gaps between articulations and implementation. Ghandian non-violence and   Nehruvian realism; declaring China as principal enemy and doing over US$100 billion per annum trade with it; professing nuclear non-proliferation and considering massive retaliation in case a tactical nuclear weapon is used; projecting non-alignment while being part of strong military and non-military arrangements, alignments and treaties are some of the glaring policy contradictions that induce resident weaknesses in the Indian foreign policy. Over time, these limitations have led to capacity issues in the context of crisis management. During the time of crisis Indian policy echelons are overwhelmed by public opinion, political expediencies and options are dictated by mob-mentality rather than statesmanship.

Proposals are afloat in India that Modi-led government should reject any hurried dialogue with Pakistan and exclude Kashmir and Siachen from any future structured agenda. Demagogues also argue against any back-channel contacts unless Pakistan publicly speaks of its willingness to compromise with India.

Another suggestion by India’s policy analysts is that India should welcome and foster the thaw in relations between the US and Iran and a strategic alliance that supports peace in the Indian and Pacific Ocean. And that India must develop a strategic understanding with China, Russia, and the US concerning the jihadist explosion in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Central Asian countries. This is also an unrealistic stand point, given that Pakistan is combating terrorism and in this pursuit has suffered colossal losses.

In continuation to its pursuits of arrogance, India is now demanding NDMA as a pre-requisite to resume trade talks with Pakistan. Theoretically, India accorded MFN status to Pakistan in 1996. Practically, India neither has the will nor the intent to implement it. Non-traffic barriers, hidden costs embedded in its six-digit code bar, and issues related to the quality and standards make India an import hostile country—especially in the context of Pakistani goods. Moreover, in the international framework also, India bags the maximum number of violations of the WTO, and is the most notorious violator of WTO.  In its latest offer, India has promised a reduction in the 30-45% tariff on textiles to 5%; whereas Pakistan is pushing for duty free access for textiles, similar to what India had given to Bangladesh in 2011. Last week, Pakistan’s senate has recommended that the government should exclude agriculture while granting MFN status to India, and negotiate this sector under a special arrangement. This is due to heavy direct and indirect subsidies provided to its agriculture sector by India.

Modi in an interview published by Times of India on May 05 said that foreign policy cannot be conducted by having a confrontational approach with neighbouring countries. “We don’t want a confrontational approach with neighbours or for that matter with any other country”….relations cannot be improved as long as there is a trust deficit and to bridge the trust deficit, mere talk cannot place concrete action”. He said India “continues to face the onslaught of terrorism emanating out of the soil of Pakistan. The first step in building any meaningful relation with Pakistan has to be Pakistan taking effective and demonstrable action against the terror networks operating from its soil.” However, I think the people in Pakistan increasingly want to strengthen the democratic institutions in Pakistan”. If Modi thinks that Pakistan’s curbing of terrorism—as interpreted by India— is the starting point then he may have already reached the dead end.

In material terms, there is no on ongoing concession from India to Pakistan that Modi could withdraw. Composite dialogue is suspended, water distribution related matters are routinely ending up with third party for adjucation. Indian military force modernization and capacity enhancement programme is well under way, it is neither reversible nor expandable. The only area in which Modi could show his toughness is the nuclear doctrinal pitch. He may officially embrace the already well known fact that India no-longer wishes to abide by ‘No first use obligation’; this would invoke strong reaction from the international community. Knowing well that India never had intent to adhere to ‘no first use’, Pakistan has long ago factored this aspect in its strategic calculus.

Predictions about a radical change in India’s foreign policy are unrealistic. Especially, there isn’t much playing space in India’s policy towards Pakistan. Modi carries the baggage of a hardliner and being at least an ex-member of RRS cadres, by default, he is not likely to take softer (read realistic) stance on most of the issues between India and Pakistan. At the same time, there is not much he could add to make his talk about Pakistan still tougher. His past rhetoric has consumed all the space.

Hence, ascendance of Modi to prime ministerial slot will not make much of difference for Pakistan, however there is a cautionary note, his crisis management capability may not be as sound as of his predecessors; he may act first and think later. Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif while addressing the concluding session of ‘Envoys Conference’ at the Foreign Office has said that his government’s priorities were to safeguard national interest, and building a peaceful neighbourhood. On relations with India, Sharif said Pakistan remained committed to seeking peaceful resolutions to all disputes through sustained dialogue. He said the central emphasis had been on building a “peaceful neighbourhood,” and he had pursued a policy of constructive engagement with all neighbours. Pakistan remains ready to take two steps to greet a hand extended in friendship.”

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