In an interview to ANI news agency that was broadcast live by almost the entire Indian media, the Indian prime minister made a statement that “it would be a huge mistake to believe that Pakistan would mend its ways anytime soon.” The reference was being made to ‘cross-border terrorism’ and beyond anything else clearly indicated that as expected there is no change in the Indian ‘anti-Pakistan’ narrative. Reading Thomas J Wright’s book All measures short of war — the contest of 21st century and the future of American power, I was reminded that in a post-9/11 political and military environment how Pakistan missed out on so many opportunities that the others cashed in. But for Pakistan, Stein’s law (Herbert Stein was the economic adviser to president Nixon) which states “What cannot go on forever will stop” will soon take the shape of reality. While Pakistan suffered considerably fighting the war on terror, countries like India benefited a lot from the ‘opportunities of convergence’ that fighting war on terror and the changed international environment brought. India got a free ticket to escalate ‘unchecked state terrorism’ in Kashmir and developed and created a world opinion that it’s Pakistan that was fuelling the fire in Kashmir. India’s most powerful foreign policy instruments have not been weapons, military build-up or forging of alliances but the selling of the idea that ‘Pakistan is a rouge State’ — India did everything possible to project a negative image of Pakistan. India itself benefited from the liberal international order and worked together with the major world and regional powers — it offered them the opportunities to compete in its economy only if they stayed quiet with India’s projection of Pakistan as a trouble-making state.
The story of past many years of Indo-Pak relations is a story of how a regional hegemon ‘pushed back’ a smaller neighbouring country by arming its rivals and enemies on the western front, by executing military build-ups on its eastern borders and threatening and setting red lines to execute surgical strikes or initiate limited wars. The carrot of economic participation that it offered to the rest of the world — whether it was the access to its markets or investment in giant sports leagues like Indian Premier League was all at the cost of all of them making a choice — of not looking at Pakistan as a country that was suffering and was being victimised but as a country that ‘harboured terrorist’ and provided them safe havens and exported terrorism internationally. The rest of the world looked at India as a huge vehicle that provided them with indisputable opportunities for making wealth.
Why would they care to listen to Pakistan? While we suffered and fought a war for our existence the world turned a blind eye on how the Indians carried out state terrorism in Kashmir — not that the world didn’t know about ‘Indian atrocities in Kashmir’ but only because they had willingly agreed to participate in the Indian offered ‘strategic — economic reset’ in which the rest of the world could only benefit from the Indian economy and the opportunities its huge market offered if it did not point political fingers at the ‘premises of the India’s Kashmir and Pakistan policies’. To the world what mattered was being faithful only to the ‘economic interests’ and never the merits and demerits of the issues at hand.
Most of the Indian (Modi government) premises based on which it built its anti-Pakistan policies have now turned out wrong. Pakistan is playing an active role in negotiating a peace process in Afghanistan. The Indian sponsored terrorism in the country is fast disappearing and the sphere of Indian influence in Afghanistan as well as in Iran is also contracting and shrinking which means the Indians may no longer have the undisputed leverage in executing its ‘war by other means’ through some of these countries. The Indian dream of becoming the ‘centre of authority’, the ‘centre of force and decision- making’ is now falling apart. The whole idea of India acting as a spoiler through Afghanistan despite India’s huge political and economic investment is falling apart and with the pullout of American forces from Afghanistan on the cards — the American commitment to the Indian interests in Afghanistan seems also no more guaranteed.
If Afghanistan descends into a forecasted political upheaval during or beyond the Afghan elections (May 2019), the repercussions for the Indian interests in Afghanistan would be severely damaging. Alliances are ‘power-multipliers’ and while India has benefited from its new found alliance with the Americans in the last decade or so — Pakistan lost its opportunities in the past, but now it is gradually repositioning itself to fight against the Indian-induced regional and international isolation by showcasing its ‘deployable power’ of an efficient and operationally trained force to fight the common enemy of terrorism. Russia, China, Iran and the Central Asian States all respect and admire Pakistan’s anti-terrorism fighting capabilities.
The first and the most important step for the Modi government should be a change of mindset. Its anti-Pakistan narrative has miserably flopped. There are multiple actors that have their changing interests that are competing for influence in the region and this region has dynamics of its own, the nature of which also keeps changing. India has tried its best to weaken Pakistan and exploit its vulnerabilities but the world is a witness of the resilience and perseverance of the Pakistani nation that despite its problems it has continued to fight and adapt and respond to all the Indian challenges that it has so far thrown at it. With most of the Indian premises about Pakistan going wrong it is still not late for the Indians to understand that if ‘Pakistan stagnates or is troubled, India will also not remain immune’. It is for India to decide whether to entrench against or engage with Pakistan.
For India, living with Pakistan as a friendly neighbour that engages in dialogue to reach political ends rather than bullying with threats of surgical strikes should be the right strategic option. Simply put, for PM Modi to continue to seek and to push Pakistan to a corner and proudly boast that “India has been able to isolate Pakistan internationally” is an Indian policy that in coming days will no more be sustainable.
India tried a full-scale ‘policy of isolation’ against Pakistan — this policy of isolation and non-engagement only increased unprecedented risks and uncertainty in the relations between the two countries. The year 2019 may finally prove to be the deathbed of flawed built-up Indian premises, policies and narrative against Pakistan.
Through hardships, tests and trials what Pakistan has managed to do is ‘find its way’. In the coming days not Pakistan but it’s India that would be under the ‘world’s spotlight’ to ‘mend its way’ in Kashmir. Even PM Modi and the whole India knows it.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 6th, 2019.