The recent statement made by Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar that India would engage in terrorism to counter terrorism emanating from other countries is really shocking. This further raises the level of hostile rhetoric against Pakistan and provides an official cover to the support which the Indian government is presently providing to insurgents in Balochistan, FATA and Karachi. Moving from a covert to an overt position in support of insurgencies to Pakistan is an open declaration of low-intensity warfare against it. For a long time, Islamabad has been raising the issue of RAW’s involvement in the secessionist movement in Balochistan. PM Yousaf Raza Gilani had raised the matter with Manmohan Singh at Sharm-el-Sheikh in 2009, and despite his willingness to look into it, the Indian establishment’s frenzied reaction made him retract.
The Modi government’s proactive and offensive strategy implies that India is adopting a broad- spectrum military doctrine to confront Pakistan at the strategic (i.e. nuclear), conventional, asymmetric or sub-conventional level. In addition, New Delhi is using the media for whipping up hostile sentiments against Pakistan to gain support of its policies from the public. The Indian military realises that the Cold Start doctrine has largely become ineffective after Pakistan’s development of tactical nuclear weapons and quick response force. Conventional war is not a feasible option and hence, there is now greater emphasis on the use of asymmetric forces.
India’s blatant belligerence also stems from the reality that it is confident that the international community will not be responsive to Pakistan’s concerns. This is based on the belief that the West, and Russia, have strong economic and strategic interests in India that will always be an overriding factor. Secondly, the Pakistani state is associated with harbouring jihadi elements as a force multiplier against India. And when remnants of LeT in form of Jamat-ud-Dawa openly parade on the streets of Lahore and Islamabad, it only reinforces the Indian position in the eyes of the world. Indians have been building their argument that the strong links of these jihadi groups to Pakistan’s military intelligence trumps any effort on their part toward reconciliation. This is unfortunate, considering that the Pakistan military has abandoned using asymmetric forces. But New Delhi takes advantage of the appearance of jihadi leaders on streets and on television to make its point to the world that they have links with the establishment. The release of the alleged Mumbai mastermind Lakhvi on bail by the courts further strengthens this perception. After all, optics is an important element of diplomacy. Moreover, what further complicates matters is that there is no accountability of jihadi elements, as if they are above the law.
There is also a strong belief in the Pakistani establishment that India is very unhappy with China-Pakistan economic corridor and wants to scuttle it by enhancing support to Baloch dissidents. Modi’s arrogance stems from India’s present international standing and exploits Pakistan’s skewed internal balance of power between the civil and military to define and dictate the relationship. Probably in Modi’s calculus keeping the relationship on the freeze does no harm to India but places pressure on Pakistan that may eventually compel it to change policy. Although he may subsequently realise that the advantages in economic and political terms by developing an equitable relationship with Pakistan far outweigh confrontation. Clearly, peaceful coexistence will open up expanded opportunities of trade and commerce not only in Pakistan but also across Afghanistan and Central Asian states. There are large segments of population in both India and Pakistan that exist below the poverty line. Any plans to ameliorate their condition should be given high priority by both governments.
There are also dangers inherent in the pursuit of zero-sum relations that the leadership in both countries has not learnt from the past. With no formal engagement any terrorist attack by forces outside the control of the states could lead to a dangerous escalation. Another factor that is overlooked in the context of India-Pakistan relations is emergence of new actors like Islamic State that could exploit the rivalry to expand their influence in South Asia.
Last year, the Line of Control and international boundary remained volatile with potential for serious escalation. In order to avoid a worst-case scenario, the two countries should engage in activating the agreedCBMs and unfreeze talks on nuclear issues at a formal level. Irrespective of the false sense of security that our nuclear capability gives us, the fact remains that an unstable security environment can lead to an existential nuclear threat. It would be prudent to have a formal agreement on de-mating and implementation of agreed CBMs. The current stalemate adversely affects political relations, security and economic potential of the region. It makes eminent sense that Pakistan and India should talk about Afghanistan. Pakistan has strategic, political and economic interests in Afghanistan and India’s interests are primarily commercial and political. More importantly, peace in Afghanistan would be difficult to achieve unless relations between India and Pakistan do not move toward normalisation.
It is regrettable that trade between the two countries is miniscule in comparison to the potential that exists. We also have to accept the reality that the advantages to Pakistan are relatively more than India if relations improve. Conversely, by pursuing an expensive, unwinnable, low-intensity insurgency against each other, Pakistan and India can suffer disastrous consequences. Both countries have cornered themselves in such a way that there is no political space left for them to maneuver. Continuation of the status quo could lead to a further deterioration of relations. Islamabad should continue to protest India’s belligerence with the international community and at all multilateral forums. It should also become as transparent and forthright in taking action against jihadi groups as it has been with the militants operating on the western front. India should realise that its present aggressive policy would inevitably lead to a dangerous conflict in the end. Both need to be more sophisticated the way they look and deal with each other.