INDIA is all over the media again. Prime Minister Modi has irked our nationalist fervour with the Sialkot incident. Officialdom is back in the groove, regularly throwing around words like ‘honour’, ‘dignity’, ‘parity’, etc.
Thankfully, I sense that our decision-makers recognise that while the usual game of pinning Modi down for this (and whenever else he overplays his hand) must be played, this tactical positioning can only get one so far. They are rightly more perturbed about what they feel is Modi’s larger design: to keep Pakistan internally unstable and globally isolated. Equally, they feel the world is deliberately going along despite Modi’s insincerity towards resolving outstanding disputes and his insistence on talking to Pakistan only on India’s terms.
My worry though is that in terms of responses, we are still fixated on outmanoeuvring India in the tactical realm. This is self-defeating, especially if one takes Pakistan’s own analysis of Modi’s policy at face value. If Modi wants to keep Pakistan in the dock, preoccupying us at the tactical level is precisely what he would be aiming for.
To understand this, we first need to establish why Modi is able to maintain a dismissive attitude towards Pakistan and why the world is looking the other way.
Why is Modi able to maintain a dismissive attitude towards us?
An honest analysis on our part should lead us to recognise that India’s expanded manoeuvring space is a function of the growing disparity in strengths between the two countries. It’s statecraft 101: with an internal base that is stronger than ever, India can afford to forego benefits of improved ties with Pakistan, especially if its dismissiveness allows it to keep Kashmir off the table.
Equally, the world’s attitude towards India is driven by a convergence of interest between Delhi and the global powers. India offers the world’s military-industrial complex the single largest market and its economy has locked in Western business and investment interests. Add to this the West’s flawed belief that India will play counterweight to China.
Therefore, if I am Modi and I want to keep Pakistan boxed in, I would want to ensure that my differential with Pakistan grows further; that Pakistan remains the world’s favourite whipping boy; and consequently, I feel no real pressure to negotiate sincerely on disputes with Pakistan.
Modi can best achieve this by keeping Pakistan stuck in its current India-centric security paradigm. To do so, he needs to keep Pakistan’s traditionally heightened threat perception of India intact. If he can keep Pakistan worried about his military’s strength, formations, doctrines and periodic actions such as on the LoC and about his growing ties with Pakistan’s neighbours, he’ll be set.
Pakistan’s resources will remain disproportionally committed to defence and it will be distracted from its more pressing internal needs. India’s economy will keep growing (despite losses associated with broken ties with Pakistan) but Pakistan’s priorities will remain fundamentally warped.
Pakistan’s decision-makers should realise that focusing solely on the tactical game with Modi only plays into his hands. You’ve got to think strategic and find a way to reverse Modi’s two real advantages: power differential; and the world’s support to him.
Pakistan’s only silver bullet solution is creating leverage over India by forging strong economic ties with it. By doing so, you’ll tie Indian and regional economic interests with yours and force India to develop stakes in keeping the Pakistani economy integrated and thus, mainstreamed. Projects like Tapi will make India dependent on transit through Pakistan (India wouldn’t be able to afford instability in areas hosting pipes/transmission lines); allowing overland route to India will mean that its entire trade with Central Asia will be dependent on you; you’ll undercut the competitiveness of Iran’s Chahbahar port; likewise, offering India-held Kashmir transit through your ports will link them intrinsically to you; and by tying CPEC to an east-west corridor involving India, you’ll not only optimise gains but force India to de facto acknowledge your right over Gilgit-Baltistan.
Most importantly, you will be able to break the regional logjam that is holding your economy back. An improved economy will naturally begin to interest the world positively. A stronger economic base will also allow you to maintain robust defence capabilities, but now without being an obvious drag on your economy.
Mind you, this paradigm shift will not prevent you from continuing to play the tactical game, firmly advocating your position on Kashmir, etc. in the interim. That you must to keep your stakes in the game. But the course suggested here will simultaneously begin to move you towards attaining real ‘honour’, ‘dignity’, and ‘parity’, that builds on internal strength rather than hollow sloganeering. This is the only way to compel India to negotiate with Pakistan somewhat evenhandedly.
The writer is a foreign policy expert based in Washington, DC.