While the post-Pulwama IAF operation in Pakistan has proved Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a ‘decisive leader’, a mere military adventurism devoid of political diplomacy cannot be sustained as a long-term policy approach towards Pakistan, and could even prove to be counter-productive to India’s national interests
The Pulwama fidayeen blast and it repercussions flared up India-Pak tension with display of air power on both sides, escalating the war scenario between the two nuclear powers. However, the flurry of international diplomatic intervention, including UNSC’s strong condemnation of the Pulwama terrorist attack and mediation, through the good offices of the USA, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, brought significant pressure on the Pakistani establishment to de-escalate the tension by following the Geneva Convention on the release of prisoners of war and thus unconditionally releasing Indian Wing Commander Abhinandan.
Further, Pakistan, under pressure from international community, gave strong indications of taking actions against the terrorist groups flourishing on its soil, including Jaish-e-Mohammed. The “peace gestures” on the part of the Pakistan Government has defused the tension between the two countries to some extent. However, the pertinent question remains: how durable is this peace overtures of the Imran Khan Government? Will India succeed in isolating Pakistan internationally post-Pulwama?
In hindsight, a long term durable peace between India and Pakistan requires fulfilment of two pre-conditions: (a) de-ideologisation of Pakistani state, and (b) cessation of India and Pakistan as a factor in their respective domestic politics. Both are difficult to achieve. Subject to these two structural constrains, India has limited option but to engage Pakistan through negotiation to achieve “tactical durable peace” for the following reasons:
First, the Balakot operation by Indian Air Force — hitting the terrorist target inside the Pakistani territory — certainly represents a new shift in Indian approach to deal with Pakistan. With this action, India psychologically freed itself of Pakistani threat of “nuclear blackmail”, and projected itself in the league of the USA, Israel and Russia in conducting pre-emptive strikes against the terrorist hideouts in a foreign land.
This limited muscular approach of the Modi Government served its multiple objectives well: Venting out the collective hurt feeling of Indians over repeated terrorist attacks by Pakistan-based terrorist groups, winning over international community by keeping its military precision strike limited to terrorist hideouts, projecting PM Modi as “decisive leader”, deflecting public opinion from the alleged developmental failure of the Modi Government, and centring nationalism as electoral agenda. All these may contribute to Modi’s electoral harvest in forthcoming parliamentary elections.
However, a military adventurism devoid of political diplomacy and negotiating skill cannot be sustained as a long-term policy approach towards Pakistan, and could prove to be counter-productive to India’s national interests. Recent history of military approach towards terrorism is a pointer in this regard. Thus military interventions by the US and other major powers of the world in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Algeria, Pakistan, etc, to eliminate the theatrical politics of terrorism have produced a trail of instability and devastation — a fertile condition for the growth of terrorism — than the elimination of terrorist threat, notwithstanding the liquidation of terrorist physical infrastructure.
Therefore, having achieved its limited, legitimate objective, India now must return to its old doctrine of “strategic restraint” and evolve a long-term policy of sustained engagement with Pakistan on multiple fronts, including mobilising international stakeholders against Pakistan’s use of terrorism as instrument of foreign policy. A mere muscular approach full of jingoism towards Pakistan, which is currently being displayed by all mainstream Indian political agencies, both the incumbent and the Opposition, may eclipse India’s high moral ground in the international arena built through the practice of “doctrine of strategic restraint” and discourse of non-alignment with its focus on pacific resolution of conflicts.
Second, Pakistan’s strategy of bleeding India through thousand cuts has not derailed India’s growth, making it fourth largest economy in the world. Any armed conflict with Pakistan has potential to slow down or even negate India’s developmental trajectory. Pakistan politics has, to a great extent, hinged on Kashmir since the beginning of latter’s accession to India; however the Pakistan’s hand became activated only in the context of alienation of section of Kashmiri youths since mid-1980s on the ground of perceived violation of promised autonomy of Jammu & Kashmir by Indian state, perceived threat to local, Islamic identity of Kashmir valley, differential treatment to Kashmir valley within the secular discourse of idea of India, developmental failures and increasing “securitisation of life process” of common Kashmiris. Therefore winning over hearts and minds of alienated Kashmiri youths must be essential component in India’s counter-terrorism strategy. A credible fight against cross-border terrorism in the Valley is only possible with cooperation and support of Kashmiris.
Third, it is hard for India to isolate Pakistan internationally and regionally. Pakistan continued to be a relevant entity in the global geopolitics, particularly its utility in serving the interest of global powers in South, Central and West Asia. The USA is unlikely to abandon Pakistan even if it withdraws from Afghanistan following its successful negotiation with Taliban, while China has further strengthened its relationship with Pakistan is as evident from CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) and Gwadar project. Pakistan is of much use to an assertive China, particularly to keep India embroiled in a “dog fight” with Pakistan and prevent it from emerging as global power. Further, Pakistan with its “military diplomacy” and “nuclear knowhow” has over the years developed enormous influence in Muslim world, particularly in oil rich Gulf, Turkey and West Asia. Unlike India, Pakistan provides “hard military support” to the security of regimes in Gulf and West Asia. The Jordanian crackdown on PLO in 1970, what is called Black September, was led by late General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. The Saudi’s sponsored Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition, an alliance of 41 Muslim countries, is headed by Raheel Sharif, former Pakistani Chief of Army Staff. It is not without reason that Pakistan secured billions of dollars in grants from the UAE and Saudi Arabia to bail out its fledging economy. Moreover, if America with its might and global influence could not succeed in isolating Iran internationally, it is rather impossible for India, a medium power with hardly regional and global clout, to achieve the same vis-a-vis Pakistan. A prudent policy for India, therefore, is to continuously engage Pakistan diplomatically and expose its misdeeds in the international domain.
Finally, it is in this context that India must seize the momentum build up in the context of UAE’s invitation to India as Guest of Honour to OIC’s Council of Foreign Minister (CFM) meeting at Abu Dhabi, held last week, to more robustly engage with Muslim world with a view to secure full membership of OIC, even beginning with grant of Observer Status. This invitation would not be possible without Saudi’s help.
The silence of Muslim world over India’s air strike within the territory of Pakistan, a Muslim land, the non-mention of Kashmir in the Declaration of OIC’s CFM meeting and the knee jerk response of OIC members to boycott of Pakistan to India’s speech as Guest of Honour at OIC are all indicative of the fact that Saudi-UAE-led OIC shares India’s concern over cross-border terrorism and wants to deepen their relationship with India. In return India needs to address the hard security concerns of Gulf regimes. A full membership within OIC would be of multiple advantage to India: ranging from economic cooperation, showcasing soft Indian form of Islam and depriving Pakistan of its anti-India platform.
(The writer is Senior Fellow, Policy Perspectives Foundation, New Delhi. Views are personal.)