India Under Modi Gave Pakistan More Chances To Redeem Itself Than It Deserves

It was the Pulwama terrorist attack of February 2019 which changed Modi’s position finally.

5 min read
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi assertively defended his government’s record and performance during his Lok Sabha speech on the No-Confidence motion moved by the Opposition parties. In the course of his address, he attacked the Congress party for believing foreigners instead of relying on the capabilities of India.

In this context, Modi also accused the Congress of going to the extent of accepting Pakistan’s denials about its involvement in terrorism. He said that India carried out surgical and air strikes against terrorism but the Congress did not have faith in India’s Armed Forces but put its faith in the claims of the enemy.


India’s Approach to Pakistan's Terror Excesses

Ultimately, the Parliament is a political forum and necessarily reflects the political approaches of the government and the opposition parties on all issues under this supreme legislative body’s consideration.

This is even more so during a debate on no-confidence in the government. It, therefore, follows that Modi’s comments on India’s approaches to Pakistan were more from a political standpoint rather than strategic and diplomatic positions.

Nevertheless, his remarks provide an opportunity to consider how successive governments, including that of Modi, have dealt with Pakistan, including its sponsorship of terrorism against India.

Pakistan has resorted to proxy armed aggression since 1947 when it sent raiders into the then princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. That led to J&K’s accession to India which is final and irrevocable. Later, in 1965, it again sought to send proxies to J&K but India not only crushed them but opened a front outside the state leading to the 1965 war. Pakistan’s aim of wresting the state from India failed.

This continuing round of proxy, terrorist aggression through Islamic groups under its control began in 1990 and has continued since then. Its intensity though has been calibrated by Pakistan. All governments since then have had to find ways and means of dealing with Pakistan and Pakistani-sponsored terrorism.

How Have Different Governments Tackled the Pak Issue

These have been Congress-led governments, those of the Third-Front, the NDA government headed by the BJP with Atal Bihari Vajpayee as Prime Minister, and since May 2014, effectively BJP governments led by Modi.

The approach of all governments, till the end of 2015, was two-fold. The first was to combat Pakistani terrorism through hardening Indian defences against infiltration and seeking to effectively combat terrorists on Indian territory largely in J&K but elsewhere in India too. The second was to engage Pakistan in dialogue so that it realised that its quest for gaining J&K through violence and terror was futile but also to show it the advantages which will accrue to it if it agrees to putting in place a framework of cooperative ties with India.

In 1998, India and Pakistan agreed on a structure of Composite dialogue on eight subjects which covered the full spectrum of ties – humanitarian concerns, the resolution of outstanding issues, and cooperation in different areas.

The Pakistan Army did not really have any interest in normalising ties. It was, therefore, not only indifferent but hostile to dialogue mechanisms.

This was because it is convinced that India is an eternal enemy which has to be thwarted at each step. The use of terrorist proxies was also integrated by the Army as part of its security doctrine.


Dialogues Did Not Sit Well With Pakistan

From 1990 till 2015 whenever the Pakistan Army thought that a dialogue process may gain momentum, it acted to undermine it. The Kargil operation, the Parliament attack, the Mumbai train attacks, and the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks demonstrate the veracity of this contention.

The cyclical process which occurred in these decades was: dialogue, followed by a violent terrorist attack (Kargil operations were an exception because they were undertaken by regular Pakistani forces), the rupture of dialogue, a period of cooling off, and then, once again the beginning of the dialogue.

The fact is that Modi did not deviate from this pattern after becoming Prime Minister in 2014. He invited the then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for his swearing-in and the two agreed that the Foreign Secretaries would meet to work out modalities for a dialogue process because it had become moribund after the 2008 Mumbai attack.

This process could not take place because it got enmeshed in Pakistan’s insistence that its visiting representatives would have the right to meet the Hurriyat. India could not agree.

Times When Pak Tested India’s Patience

In July 2015, Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif met in Ufa in Russia on the margins of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit. They agreed that a normalisation process would begin with a meeting of the two National Security Advisors.

However, the Pakistani generals were enraged because the Ufa Joint Statement did not mention J&K.

They therefore ‘rejected’ it. Modi relented and the National Security Advisors and the Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan met in Bangkok in early December 2015. A few days later then External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj visited Islamabad for an Afghanistan-related meeting. She agreed with Pakistan to begin a Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue process once again.

Modi put the seal of approval on these developments as an act of statesmanship when he dropped in to meet Nawaz Sharif on his way back from Kabul to Delhi on Christmas Day in 2015. However, as in the past, so now, the Pakistan Army did not want this to go forward.

Within ten days of the Modi visit, the Pathankot airbase was attacked. Yet Modi persisted with the peace initiative and allowed a team which included an ISI officer to visit India for investigations and also go to Pathankot. This did not change Pakistani approaches.


India’s Retaliation Post Pulwama

In July 2016, the Kashmiri terrorist Burhan Wani was killed by the security forces and Pakistan unleashed a propaganda war against India. In September, the Uri military base was attacked by terrorists from Pakistan. It is at this time that Modi’s approach changed and he ordered a surgical strike against Pakistani terrorist launch pads.

This was a significant change in policy and has to be appreciated. Yet it would seem that despite the surgical strike, there was thought being given by Modi to continue with contacts with the Pakistan leadership.

In his book ‘In Pursuit of Peace’, the late Satinder Kumar Lambah who was the Indian part of the back channel between India and Pakistan during the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh period notes, “On 20 April 2017, a senior official of the PMO came to see me at my house. He said that the Prime Minister wanted me to go to Pakistan to meet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif”. (page 314) Eventually, Lambah did not go but a “leading Indian businessman’ went, according to press reports.

It was the Pulwama terrorist attack of February 2019 which changed Modi’s position finally.

He ordered the Balakot air strikes. This was an indication to Pakistan and the world that India would take military action against unacceptable Pakistani terrorist attacks.

Along with the air strike, India enunciated a doctrine of pre-emption which needs to be reiterated from time to time but is not.


The constitutional changes in J&K in August 2019 caused Pakistan to go irrational. It broke off ties and the rupture in the relationship has continued. Even then, perhaps as claimed by some Gulf countries diplomats, India and Pakistan entered into a ceasefire in February 2021 along the LOC and the International Border in the UT of J&K with the facilitation of some Gulf country leaders. That has largely held.

Even as Modi’s initial instinct was to pursue the policies of his predecessors, the record shows that Modi has changed the dynamics of the India-Pakistan relationship in the context of terrorism. Its test may come if Asim Munir the new Pakistani Army Chief decides as some of his predecessors have done—to act irrationally.

(The writer is a former Secretary [West], Ministry of External Affairs. He can be reached @VivekKatju. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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Topics:  Narendra Modi   Congress   Terrorism 

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