India Has to Stop Obsessing Over Pakistan & Keep Its Eye on China

Not only is there a much more urgent problem in China, but the excessive focus on Pakistan is actually not helping. 

3 min read

Video Editor: Mohd Irshad Alam

Indian journalists could not contain their concern and outrage about Pakistan at a joint press conference by PM Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump at the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly summit this week.

Out of five questions, three were breathless requests for Trump to repudiate Pakistan in some way (which he didn’t)... instead of a strong statement condemning Pakistan as was hoped, Trump instead denied that Pakistan was the biggest terror exporter in the world, saying that that honour went to Iran.


And that’s only a small indication of how this hate-hype about Pakistan is going badly.

It’s not entirely journalists’ fault. For the past five years, the ruling party and its supporters have found that the Pakistan issue works for them – it animates their Hindu base, it helps the cause of Hindutva, and it rallies all citizens behind the government (as always, in the face of an external threat). From declaring dissenters ‘Pakistanis’ to telling others to go to Pakistan, our neighbouring country has loomed large in the national conversation.

Why should it? It has a population about six times smaller, an economy nine times weaker, and an army a third the size of ours. Make no mistake, there is a legitimate threat from cross-border terrorism... but it is not our only, or our worst, threat.

Yet, every time our prime minister speaks to the world, he gets in a jibe or two at Pakistan, and Indians go wild.

News channels scream in triumph, and it dominates headlines for days.

This hate obsession is hurting us diplomatically.

Indian foreign policy through successive governments had focused on de-hyphenating India and Pakistan, and had succeeded.

I know, you’ll say “But surely we can’t just take such abuse from a neighbour country lying down!”, and you’re right... but there’s a reason Pakistan goads India into doing exactly what we’re doing now.

See, when Pakistan obsesses over India, it makes sense, and I'll tell you why.

  • It helps the Pakistan Army stay relevant domestically. If common Pakistanis are constantly afraid of their giant neighbour who once cleaved their nation in two, they will be more likely to let their muscular army control their affairs.
  • It helps their PR by elevating Pakistan to the same league as India. We then become two squabbling countries instead of one major global power dealing with a failing terror-sponsor state on its border. This 'two squabbling countries' narrative also helps Pakistan when it asks for international mediation on Kashmir AND helps China by keeping India distracted.

So then why is India playing Pakistan's game?

  • It's an easy win for any government: Use our diplomatic weight to lay the smackdown on Pakistan in public – it's satisfying for the people. But it's the satisfaction you get from eating an entire pizza by yourself – it tastes great, but it's going to make you sick.

After decades of Indian foreign policy that tried and succeeded in de-hyphenating India from Pakistan, let’s go back to why hyphenation is bad:

  • India is not comparable to Pakistan on any metric except nuclear arsenal. To hyphenate with Pakistan is to sell India short. India's true competitor is, or should be, China. But this national obsession with Pakistan could become a self-fulfilling prophecy – we will lose sight of China as it outstrips us even further, and remain focussed on Pakistan, getting cheap thrills every time we snark at them at global events. In fact, this has already happened... what we're talking about now is changing course to contain the damage.

  • We have fewer resources – both mental and military – to spend on out-manoeuvring China. As it stands India is forced to prepare for a two-front war on its borders with two neighbours. That means less money to spend on another area that is increasingly important – maritime security. China has already made inroads into India's spheres of influence at sea, and is now focussed on pushing the US out.

Does India need to get bogged down by Pakistan when the Chinese behemoth – Pakistan's benefactor & our main rival – is moving full-steam ahead?

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