Consulting Editor (Strategic Affairs)
In reality, what irks Pakistan the most is to be ignored by India – as was the case following the attack on the IAF’s Pathankot airbase.
References to Pakistan and how to deal with it seems to be as much a part of the campaign pitch of Prime Minister Modi and his election team, as other more pressing political challenges for India, and sometimes even more. And in all this, two major statements from Pakistan’s side, one by its Prime Minister Imran Khan, in which he reportedly said that there was a better chance for peace with India if Mr Modi’s current government won the elections.
This, like so many earlier moves of Pakistan, has taken many by surprise, especially the anti-BJP alliance. And now in a recent interview, the outgoing Pakistani high commissioner to Delhi – Sohail Mahmood – apparently slated to be Pakistan’s next foreign secretary, has said Pakistan hopes for “re-engagement” with India with an objective narrative, after these elections. But he could be perhaps working to a plot.
Strange as it may sound, but it was the hard-line approach of Mr Modi – after his efforts to engage Pakistan led to nowhere – the post Uri attack surgical strikes and now the Balakot air strikes – even though both were denied by Pakistan – seems to have led Pakistan to seek talks, instead of expressing a desire to fulfil their long-stated aim of ‘liberating’ Kashmir.
An informed and astute Western observer of Pakistan believes, that one reason Pakistan wants a tough leadership in India, is to allow its army to retain their long-standing narrative of an India threat, which will, in turn, allow the military establishment to draw the lion’s share of Pakistan’s budget to maintain its politico-economic hold over Pakistan.
At the same time the repeated offer of talks with India – without doing much about the anti-India terror groups that thrive in Pakistan – may make Imran Khan appear as the new face of Pakistan, but it is hard to believe that he can easily alter Pakistan deep-seated desire to contest India.
Such twists in our strained bi-lateral ties will continue to attract the attention of South Block and the media in India. But in reality, what irks Pakistan the most is to be ignored by India – as was the case following the attack on the IAF’s Pathankot airbase – as it has always, since independence, aspired to be seen as India’s equal, never mind their past drubbings in military conflicts and now with India’s economy galloping ahead, to at least five times the size of Pakistan.
But also by seeking to engage India, Pakistan’s politico-military leadership wishes to push the past aside, and appear willing to make a fresh start. This would also make Pakistan look like a responsible nuclear weapon state, and address the fears in the West – and its many well-wishers – and show India as the belligerent neighbour ! It’s a strategy that could have worked in the past, but now there are few takers for Pakistan’s narrative, thanks to India’s recent diplomatic efforts.
While our armed forces suffer no illusions on how to deal with this troublesome neighbour, India’s diplomats have often assumed that eventually, India would need to engage with Pakistan, and the sooner the better! Hence, even as the new Imran Khan government came to power, New Delhi had responded with flip – flops, as India’s foreign ministry said that Ms Swaraj would meet Mr Quereshi – her Pakistani counterpart, on the sidelines of the UNGA in New York, only to see our MEA backed off a day later!
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s offer for talks after he took the oath, came out of Pakistan’s desire to re-invent its standing in eyes of the world, as it stands to be blacklisted by the FATF for not doing enough to battle terrorism. A meeting in New York would’ve given Pakistan some respite from global economic pressures it was likely to face if blacklisted. Moreover, if the Swaraj-Qureshi meeting had taken place in the shadow of the UNGA, nothing would have stopped them from adding a spin to its outcome, to say that India and Pakistan have now resumed diplomatic engagement, and the past is the past.
This would have, more importantly, led the world to ask New Delhi a simple question: “Are you now ready to engage with Pakistan, in a comprehensive manner?” With no serious evidence of Pakistan’s desire to counter the scourge of terrorism, it would have left India, to say the least, embarrassed. Wonder why our foreign office couldn’t see through this Pakistani plot?
Moreover, talking with Pakistan’s PM or its foreign minister makes for good photo opportunities, but the real deliverables on Indo-Pak ties will only come when Pakistan’s generals are engaged publicly by India’s leadership. But that India’s leaders have always been shy to do, assuming that India must help Pakistan’s democratic process and thus engage preferably with its civilian leaders!
This only shows how naive our policymakers are. For one, the true levers of power in Pakistan have for much of its existence been with the Pakistan army. And thus, only agreements signed by their Generals, have been respected by the Pakistan army, such as agreements over the Ceasefire Line and the Line of Control, or the Indus waters treaty.
All other agreements, like the Lahore declaration or the Ufa joint statement, have been dumped by the Pakistani army. More importantly, keeping up hostilities with India is essential for the role of the Pakistan army within Pakistan. Hostility with India allows them to garner a large part of the nation’s budget, and more importantly, allows the Pakistani army in particular to run a range of unaudited economic entities, (which as Ayesha Siddiqua’s ‘Military Inc.’ shows), gives them an income more than twice their defence budget.
And in Pakistan, no one can question how the army runs its businesses since it is all a matter of national security! Thus hostility with India is important for the Pakistan army’s socio-economic agenda. But to show the world that it means well, it gets its civilian politicians to ask for dialogue with India; and peaceniks – in India and abroad – repeatedly fall for this trap.
Therefore, India’s policymakers must first identify what are the leverages of influence it can exercise with Pakistan – like the Indus waters and the Baloch issue – and then when we engage with Pakistan next, India’s delegation should not just meet with Pakistan’s civilian leaders, but also insist on engaging its army brass hats (with a similar dispensation from the Indian side); and engage in a dialogue with a harsh message that if Pakistan continues to sponsor cross border terror in Kashmir, India would be willing to hit back again, in its own way.
Only then will the world be willing to stand up and support India’s stand. At present, the world has little time for the ongoing tension between the two countries, as long as it doesn’t lead to full-scale war.