Modi’s Pakistan doctrine

Modi’s latest remarks triggered immediate debate both in Pakistan and India

Kamran Yousaf May 13, 2024
The writer is a senior foreign affairs correspondent at The Express Tribune


Pakistan continues to resurface in the Indian election debate one way or the other. In several public rallies, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made repeated references to Pakistan in his speeches. Ironically, in his latest interview Modi said India should not bother much about its neighbour and focus on its own goal.

“We shouldn’t bother much about Pakistan and whether it changes its approach or not. For the last 10 years, I have put a lock on Pakistan being a factor in running India,” Modi told a television channel on being asked if there have been any apparent changes in Pakistan’s approach in the last decade.

“Let Pakistan manage two square meals. We don’t need to waste our time,” the Prime Minister said, adding that India has moved far ahead and cannot plan its development with Pakistan as a reference. He called upon Indians to think and take care of the new generations instead of other things.

Modi’s latest remarks triggered immediate debate both in Pakistan and India. Many Indian commentators, who support a hardline approach towards Pakistan, and BJP supporters endorsed Modi’s statement. They insist that finally India has a leader who has clarity on Pakistan and is not bothered about leaving a legacy of a peacemaker. In Pakistan observers took a shot at those within the country who have been seeking peace with India. They say that Modi’s message is loud and clear that there is no room for aman ki asha.

Pakistan and India have a history of troubled relations. Both have fought wars besides regular bouts of border tensions, but in between there had been phases of peace talks that rekindled hopes for a permanent thaw between the two nuclear-armed neighbours. The two sides perhaps were close to achieving that elusive goal from 2004 to 2007 when they had a sustained dialogue both formal and behind the scenes. Even non-papers were exchanged to find an out-of-the-box solution to the long running dispute over Jammu and Kashmir. But it was a classic case of too close yet too far. The lawyers’ long march against military ruler General Pervez Musharraf in 2007 dealt a blow to the peace efforts while the irreversible damage was done as a result of the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. Pakistan-India relations followed a certain pattern — phase of intense tension have often led to a promising dialogue process. But that template no longer exists. Since Modi’s rise to the throne in 2014, he changed the rules of engagements with Pakistan, though he did invite Nawaz Sharif to his swearing-in and made a surprise stopover in Lahore. With India’s rise as an economic power and its ever-burgeoning ties with the US because of China, New Delhi feels it has no compulsion to make peace with Pakistan. That was the reason that there has been no structured dialogue between the two countries since 2011. There had been some efforts through backchannels during the second term of Modi but those could not break the logjam. What furthered compounded the challenge was Modi’s unilateral move to annex Jammu and Kashmir through revoking the special status of the disputed territory.

The question is: does Pakistan really no longer matter for India? In the present circumstances, Pakistan may have more reasons to seek peace with India because of so many challenges the country is confronting, particularly on the economic front. But, Pakistan cannot beg for peace. One of the major factors that India is emboldened to follow the hardline stance is because of its growing international clout thanks to a rising economy. Pakistan, on the other hand, is negotiating a record 24th IMF bailout programme. With political instability looming large amid a plethora of challenges, the country cannot adopt a forceful and impactful foreign policy. India is taking full advantage of our vulnerabilities. In this situation, Pakistan must show strategic patience and perhaps can take the leaf out of India’s playbook —focus on its own goals.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 13th, 2024.

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