PAKISTAN’S India policy has generally suffered from the constant tussle between wishful thinking based on merely legal and moral arguments, on the one hand, and the compulsions of power realities at the national, regional and global levels, on the other. Our actual policy has vacillated between these two extremes creating the impression of confusion, inconsistency of purpose and lack of a sense of direction.

Our official pronouncements on India and Kashmir, the core dispute, are generally tactical and short-term in nature responding to day-to-day developments. They do not reflect a well-crafted long-term policy which is grounded in power realities and which weaves its political, economic, military and diplomatic dimensions into a coherent whole within the framework of a grand strategy. What we need is a long-term and strategic approach to give a sense of direction and steadiness of purpose to our India policy.

We need a long-term and strategic approach in our India policy.

Our long-term India policy must be based on an accurate understanding of India’s strategic goals in the region, the demands of Pakistan’s independence, security and economic progress, and the regional and global strategic environment. India’s main strategic goal is to establish its hegemony in South Asia and the India Ocean region. It views an independent and strong Pakistan as the biggest hurdle in the fulfilment of its hegemonic ambitions. According to Indian security analyst C. Raja Mohan, the creation of Pakistan left India with a persistent conflict with the former and an internal Hindu-Muslim divide, separated India geographically from Afghanistan and Iran, and created profound problems for India’s engagement with the Muslim Middle East.

India’s hegemonic ambitions in the region pose an enduring threat to Pakistan’s independence, security and economic well-being over and above the negative repercussions of Kashmir, Sir Creek, Siachen and Pakistan-India water disputes. These factors are major obstacles in the way of good-neighbourly relations between the two countries. There are no indications that in the foreseeable future India will give up its hegemonic ambitions or agree to a just settlement of the Kashmir dispute. The coming decades will witness continued tensions and hostility between the two states.

The balance of power between Pakistan and India, more than anything else, will determine the shape of their future relationship and the ultimate outcome of their outstanding disputes, especially on Kashmir. So it is imperative for Pakistan to build up its relative national power vis-à-vis India. On the other hand, India can be expected to employ every instrument of policy, overtly and covertly, to destabilise Pakistan politically and weaken it economically, to bring it to its knees for the sake of establishing its hegemony in the region and achieving the settlement of outstanding disputes on its own terms. It will not desist even from fomenting terrorism in Pakistan as the arrest of Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav in Balochistan in March 2016 conclusively proves.

Pakistan must formulate its long-term India policy keeping in view the foregoing analysis and the growing strategic partnership between the US and India to contain the expansion of China’s power and influence in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region, which inevitably will push Pakistan closer to China so as to maintain a strategic balance in South Asia. In the long run, Pakistan’s security will be ensured primarily by its political stability, economic and technological power, and a credible security deterrent.

Simultaneously, we should pursue a low-risk and non-adventurist foreign policy to minimise chances of a major armed conflict, allowing the country to allocate the lion’s share of its resources to economic development. Trade with India should be conducted on a level playing field while promoting Pakistan’s economic growth and well-being.

Within this framework, Pakistan should try to defuse tensions and adopt confidence-building measures in its relations with India while maintaining a principled position on outstanding disputes like Kashmir, Sir Creek and Siachen. In view of India’s hegemonic ambitions and intransigence, any breakthrough in the settlement of the Kashmir dispute can be safely ruled out in the foreseeable future. The best that can be hoped for in the short term is the cessation of hostilities across the Line of Control and efforts to safeguard the human rights of Kashmiris in Indian-occupied Kashmir through demilitarisation and local autonomy. For the long term, Pakistan should build up its national power, especially its economic and technological strength, and go for a final settlement at an opportune time.

The writer is a retired ambassador, an author and president of the Lahore Council for World Affairs.

Published in Dawn, June 3rd, 2021



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