In 2014, when Narendra Modi was elected Prime Minister, the noted Indian historian, Pankaj Mishra, wrote that “India is entering its most sinister period since independence in 1947”. In less than three years since he took over, Modi has tried to transform some of the fundamental tenets of Indian polity and foreign policy.
For Pakistani policymakers who are in the process of formulating a comprehensive policy response to India’s aggressive posturing, there is need to focus on two areas: where is Modi coming from, since his political genealogy is different from his predecessors, and how should Pakistan’s India policy go beyond an ad hoc, reactive, moment-to-moment, tactical, approach?
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As Pankaj Mishra wrote, ‘Modi is a life-long member of the RSS, a para-military Hindu organisation inspired by the fascist movements of Europe’. Modi was propelled to power from his perch as Chief Minister of Gujrat, where over 1,000 Muslims were murdered under his watch during the ethnic cleansing of 2002. Gujrat is also home to the famed Hindu temple of Somnath, which was destroyed several times by the Muslim conqueror, Mahmud of Ghazni. Given his background and ideological training as an RSS activist for several decades, Modi, like most of his Hindutva comrades, suffers from what can be termed as a deep-seated ‘Mahmud of Ghazni Complex’: viewing Muslims as marauders, invaders and ‘foreigners’ alien to the soil of ‘Mother India’. Fear and loathing of Muslims are part of this worldview.
Three components of Modi’s India need to be understood. First, Modi’s Pakistan policy stems, in part, from an ideological approach, an extension of his domestic RSS base. Being ‘tough’ on Pakistan is also meant as a message of intimidation to the people of occupied Kashmir as well as the Muslims of India in this convoluted congruence between the Hindutva ideology and Indian foreign policy, even if it means cutting the nose to spite the face. For instance, scuttling the SAARC Summit damages Pakistan less as Modi ends up presiding over the slow-motion demise of SAARC.
Second, at home, Modi has bid goodbye to Nehruvian notions of secularism, with Hindutva ideology’s “ugly reality” in today’s India manifested in such acts as the burning of books to the killing of alleged beef eaters.
Third, in the signing of a landmark military pact with the US, Modi has allowed, publicly at least for the first time, the Pentagon access to land, air and naval bases in India.
Although, in the past too, India has “flirted” with the US — Nehru eagerly sought and received American arms against China in 1962, something he had long derided Pakistan for. In 1969, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi allowed a CIA communications base in India, close to Tibet, to spy on China after Pakistan closed the Badaber base.
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However, Modi’s foreign policy changes and aggressive anti-Pakistan approach has had adverse consequences for India itself. Some examples are as follows: Russia is already cosying up to Pakistan, even willing to sell arms, and Moscow even defied Delhi to go ahead with military exercises with the Pakistan Army at the height of Modi’s war-mongering. Modi’s irresponsible comments on Balochistan have evoked concern in Iran as well since that is a sensitive province which Iran shares with Pakistan. It is, therefore, no accident that President Rouhani during his recent New York meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that ‘security of Pakistan is the security of Iran’ and expressed his desire to team up with Pakistan on CPEC as well. Given Modi’s meddling on issues close to Chinese core interests ranging from CPEC to the South China Sea, China’s support and solidarity for Pakistan has intensified ranging from Kashmir to blocking Indian entry to the Nuclear Suppliers Group and a permanent seat at the UNSC.
While India is pursuing its Pakistan policy as part of a regional and global approach of containment and demonising, Pakistan’s India policy as part of a broader regional approach is found wanting. For example, Indian interference in Pakistan has a regional dimension, which Pakistan has failed to project. In June 2015, India carried out an incursion into Myanmar, allegedly in “hot pursuit”. Pakistan failed to condemn it although it was a violation of territorial integrity of a regional state by India, even when Delhi talked of Myanmar as an ‘example’ for Pakistan.
For seven long months in 2015, Nepal was subject to a damaging blockade by India with concurrent gross interference in its internal affairs, but Pakistan maintained a stony silence instead of expressing solidarity with a smaller neighbour in South Asia.Then, the RAW operative, Yadhav was captured in March 2016, but, six months later, the promised dossier on Yadhav and his deeds is ‘still under preparation’.
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For the future, Pakistan has to develop a clear policy towards India based on three key aspects. First, Pakistan remains steadfast on Kashmir, where the bottom-line of any policy should be to ensure change in the status quo that alleviates the sufferings of the people of the occupied Kashmir. Rajmohan Gandhi, the grandson of the Mahatma, has written that, after the martyrdom of Burhan Wani and the continuing uprising, “a de facto plebiscite has already taken place in Kashmir”. Pakistan should also avoid making the mistakes of the Afghan war (“strategic depth” or “playing favourites”). Kashmir is about its oppressed and brave people, not about territorial real estate, and any peaceful settlement must include the three parties to the dispute, namely, Pakistan, India and the Kashmiri people.
Second, Pakistan’s India policy should reflect the emerging reality of a Greater South Asia which is being woven together by a new regionalism driven by energy and economy, roads and railways, ports and pipelines of which CPEC is the major manifestation. This Greater South Asia now includes not just the original seven SAARC states, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and the Maldives but also China, Afghanistan, Iran, Myanmar and the Central Asian republics. Thanks to Indian short-sightedness, SAARC is being replaced by the SCO as the institutional future of this emerging Greater South Asia.
Third, India is not a Hindutva monolith. Indian society’s pluralism and diversity has large segments which would be receptive to an outreach from Pakistan. In April 1984, just six weeks before Operation Blue Star, The Muslim daily organised the first ever Track-II between Pakistan and India and other countries of South Asia in Islamabad. Indian journalists were invited to write in the Pakistan press for the first time which became the harbinger of a new channel of contact, cordiality and communication between the opinion leaders of Pakistan and India and other South Asian countries.
For all its other weaknesses, the Pakistani state and society has shown tremendous strength and resilience at a time when the Middle East has unraveled. Since 1979, Pakistan has been in the ‘eye of the storm’ , facing the fallout of 3 Afghan wars, 3 Gulf wars, 3 near wars with India and one proxy war in the Muslim world. In the process, Pakistan and Pakistanis have developed the ability to reverse wrongs as Operation Zarb-e-Azb has demonstrated. While fighting the biggest and longest inland war against terrorism, Pakistan remains the freest Muslim democracy.
The Quaid-e-Azam had talked of the relationship between Canada and the US as the model for Pakistan-India relations. That vision can still be realised if Modi undergoes a Nixonian transformation: building a better and peaceful tomorrow together with Pakistan rather than being hostage to a tried, tested and failed policy of bullying and browbeating a smaller neighbour.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 3rd, 2016.
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