At Mid-Term, Modi Faces Same Pakistan Reality as Others Before Him

Indian leaders, including Modi, have flip-flopped in their Pakistan policy, because all options have been exercised.

4 min read
Hindi Female

For the last nearly 70 years, no Indian government has found a solution to our Pakistan problem.

We have gone through periods of conflict and dialogue with Pakistan without being able to shape a relationship acceptable to both sides. Leaders from Nehru to Modi have failed in this quest.

Indira Gandhi broke up Pakistan but failed to close the Kashmir issue at Simla. Vajpayee moved from threat of war to making the Lahore visit and then, despite Kargil, inviting Musharraf to Agra. Manmohan Singh declared many times that terrorism and dialogue could not go together, but then delinked dialogue from terrorism and resumed dialogue with Pakistan despite the horrific Mumbai terrorist attacks.

Modi, too, has gone from actively engaging Pakistan to seeking its isolation.


Prime Minister Modi’s Push for Peace Failed?

  • The Pakistan conundrum has remained unsolved by every Prime Minister since Independence.
  • Root of the problem is Pakistan’s unrelenting hostility towards India.
  • Modi made diplomatic overtures because he may have reasoned that peace with Pakistan was better for his development agenda.
  • Pakistan views terrorism as tool to pressure India into the dialogue process to obtain material concessions.
  • No dialogue can survive a major terrorist attack from Pakistan.
Indian leaders, including Modi, have flip-flopped in their Pakistan policy, because all options have been exercised.
Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif (R) shakes hands with PM Modi (L) at the latter’s swearing-in ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhawan in New Delhi. (Photo: Reuters)

All Options Exercised, No Lasting Results

If Indian leaders, including Modi, have flip-flopped in policies towards Pakistan, it is because all options have been exercised in dealing with it, but with no lasting result in relations.

The root of the problem lies in Pakistan’s unrelenting hostility towards India. This is because of its unrealised territorial claims on Kashmir, religious antagonism, fear of losing its identity if relations with India became normal, the control of the armed forces over the country’s India policy, the Pakistan army’s thirst for revenge for our hand in the creation of Bangladesh and the humiliation of surrender to Indian forces, and so on.

With Pakistan becoming more radicalised internally, coupled with the nurturing of jihadi groups by the military to conduct terrorist attacks in India, Pakistan is becoming structurally incapable of making peace with India. Faced with this situation, no policy that must safeguard India’s own legitimate interests can succeed with Pakistan.


Why Modi Pushed for Better Ties With Pak

In India, the proposition that we have neglected our neighbours – and that for India to rise it must mend fences with them – has acceptance. Each new Prime Minister invariably announces a policy of prioritising relations with neighbours with the hope of achieving more success.

Modi may have reasoned that Pakistan would take cognisance of the fact that India now had a single-party majority government in Delhi with a strong leader at its head – one who could take tough decisions in response to choices made by Pakistan in favour of peace or conflict. Modi may have also wanted to pursue Vajpayee’s peace path, besides toning down his anti-Muslim image by reaching out to Pakistan. Above all, he may have reasoned that his development agenda for India required a reduction of hostilities with Pakistan. Thus Modi, even more dramatically than others, invited all SAARC countries to his swearing-in ceremony at which he first talked peace with Pakistan’s Nawaz Sharif.

Indian leaders, including Modi, have flip-flopped in their Pakistan policy, because all options have been exercised.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif walks past Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the 18th SAARC summit in Kathmandu, Nepal on 26 November 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

Why the PM’s Diplomatic Overtures Failed

His initiatives to resume dialogue have failed because the Pakistani side sees the dialogue process as a mechanism to obtain material concessions from India and not make any themselves. They do not want to change the sterile agenda of discussions established in the 90’s. Because they see terrorism as an instrument of pressure to force India into a dialogue process, they reject India’s demand to give terrorism priority in discussions. Worse, they not only deny any responsibility for terrorism against India, they accuse India of supporting such activities in Pakistan. They insist on maintaining contacts with the separatists in Kashmir and have reverted to calls for self-determination there in accordance with UN resolutions. They have whipped up passion over water denial by India. They have made giving India MFN status an emotive issue.

Modi has taken initiatives to resume FS-level talks, hold NSA-level discussions on terrorism and agree to a “comprehensive dialogue” after the External Affairs Minister’s visit to Islamabad in December 2015, not to mention his own dramatic visit to Lahore in the same month. But Pakistan has punctuated these attempts to improve ties with terrorist attacks in Jammu, Gurdaspur, Pathankot, Pampore, and, finally, in Uri.

With Modi’s patience running out after Uri, he has taken the lead to force the cancellation of the SAARC summit in Islamabad as part of an effort to isolate Pakistan regionally, and even internationally, on the terrorism issue. He has chosen to respond militarily too with surgical strikes across the LOC. The cease-fire there is effectively over.


An Incurable Disease?

Modi is facing the same Pakistani reality that others before him have experienced. Our options are limited as we cannot go to war in a nuclear environment. The “uninterrupted and uninterruptible” dialogue option gives room to Pakistan to continue bleeding India with a thousand cuts through terrorism.

Actually, no dialogue can survive a major terrorist attack from Pakistani soil. Modi’s answer for the present is to pursue a policy of offence-defence, introduce unpredictability in the Indian response to Pakistani provocations, carve out options below the nuclear threshold, allude to Pakistan’s internal fractures and launch a diplomatic offensive against it. This may be the best medicine possible for a disease that seems incurable for now.

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