Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and National Security Adviser (retd) Gen Nasser Janjua have struck a sensible note on India in their separate remarks on Tuesday.

Addressing an air force passing out parade, the prime minister said: “Cooperation rather than conflict and shared prosperity instead of suspicion are the hallmarks of our policy.” India was not directly mentioned, but the thrust of Mr Sharif’s remarks made clear which country he was addressing. Meanwhile, Mr Janjua has said that India and Pakistan cannot be enemies forever and must engage in dialogue to resolve disputes.

The comments come at a time when Pakistan-India relations have plunged to a new low. The conviction for spying and sabotage of Indian national Kulbhushan Jadhav has the potential to inflict lasting harm on bilateral relations if not handled sensibly. Defence Minister Khawaja Asif has done the right thing by publicly clarifying that the death sentence against Jadhav will not and cannot be carried out quickly.

Already, however, there are indications that the decision to put Jadhav on trial may have elicited a response by India. The recent disappearance of a retired Pakistani military officer in Nepal in murky circumstances suggests that the spy wars between India and Pakistan are spiralling in unpredictable directions.

The fear is that the leaderships of the two countries are locking themselves in an action-reaction cycle that may eventually turn into open conflict. From there, ratcheting down tension and pulling back from the brink would be far more difficult. So now is the time for cooler heads to prevail on both sides.

Perhaps a series of questions need to be asked of policymakers in both countries. What is the policy outcome that is being pursued by engaging in spy wars? Has a cost-benefit analysis been done, ie is the damage to the overall relationship worth narrower intelligence wars? And how do spy wars affect the wider internal security challenges that both countries face?

If Prime Minister Sharif’s approach is right — and this paper wholeheartedly supports dialogue and peaceful solutions — what appears to be missing is a strategy to implement it.

For four years now, Mr Sharif has preached the same message of regional integration, trade and prosperity, but he has been unable to convince either the Indian government or, seemingly, hawks in the security establishment here. The NSA too has been ineffective, notwithstanding the occasional willingness to speak candidly.

Meanwhile, the country still does not have a foreign minister and the defence minister is effectively irrelevant given that he has to contend with a major electricity crisis, the power sector being his principal portfolio.

National security and foreign policy are the two domains in which even the team advising the prime minister is ad hoc. From that self-created position of weakness, it is unlikely Mr Sharif will have much success in implementing the vision he so often articulates.

Published in Dawn, April 13th, 2017

Opinion

Populism and Pakistan
Updated 14 Jun 2021

Populism and Pakistan

The country’s politics is not immune to being shaped by regional and global populisms in a myriad of ways.
Domestic workers
Updated 14 Jun 2021

Domestic workers

A bill to protect domestic workers is awaiting Senate approval.
FATF compliance
13 Jun 2021

FATF compliance

Pakistan has made serious efforts to address the deficiencies in its CFT/AML regime because of FATF pressure.

Editorial

Power shortages
Updated 14 Jun 2021

Power shortages

It is high time that governance and structural reforms were introduced in the energy sector.
14 Jun 2021

Suicide in Thar

THARPARKAR is an appropriate case study for examining the factors that lead some people to the desperate, final act...
14 Jun 2021

Water woes

THIS past week saw a discussion on a water management system that, if properly implemented, should go some way...
Covid strategy
Updated 13 Jun 2021

Covid strategy

It is critical for govt to demonstrate to the public how badly health, business and education have suffered during the pandemic.
13 Jun 2021

Women in Balochistan

THE Balochistan government seems to be taking steps to improve women’s integration into society and the workforce...
13 Jun 2021

Deprived of cricket

THE federal cabinet has disallowed PTV to enter into an agreement with an Indian company for broadcast rights to...