Author : Sushant Sareen

Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on May 25, 2019
Modi Season 2, Episode Pakistan: Give pressure a chance The image of Pakistan's foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who not long back had not only boasted about the ‘googly’ that the Imran Khan government had bowled by opening the Kartarpur corridor but also displayed his toxic sexism while referring to the Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, sitting somewhat diffidently next to her during the SCO foreign ministers meeting in Bishkek told the story of the desperate efforts of Pakistan to re-engage India in some sort of a dialogue. As is the wont of his class – feudal from South Punjab – Qureshi pretended to be all sweet and honey and claimed (wrongly, as it turns out) that his Indian counterpart had brought sweets so that the two sides could “speak sweetly”. Later, after it became clear that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had won by a landslide, Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan congratulated him and expressed the hope of “working with him for peace, progress and prosperity in South Asia.” Over the last few days, reports coming out of Pakistan make it clear that the Pakistanis are sending out signals that they are keen on engaging India in a dialogue. Among the options being explored by Pakistan is to appoint a National Security Advisor who could then open a back-channel with his Indian counterpart. Within India, the usual suspects have once again started a campaign to restart talks with Pakistan. There is also some talk of international ‘pressure’ coming on the next government to engage Pakistan. The possibility of Modi being tempted to smoke the peace pipe with the Pakistanis cannot be entirely ruled out. But this is a temptation that he must shun, just as he must shun the ‘let’s rescue Pakistan from itself’ lobby that has become active inside India – an example of this is the sales pitch of using Pakistan's economic vulnerability to incentivise peace. Some twenty years ago, the same lemon was sold to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He initiated the Lahore Bus diplomacy, and Pakistan Army’s business units were given fat contracts to supply sugar to India. The reward for this initiative was Kargil! In his first term, Modi made at least half a dozen attempts to put the engagement process with Pakistan back on the rails. But every effort of his was rudely rebuffed by the Pakistanis. For instance, the Ufa meeting in Russia was followed by the attack on Gurdaspur and the Lahore visit of Modi was followed by the Pathankot attack. Even after Pathankot, Modi was ready to give peace a chance by accepting Nawaz Sharif’s offer to investigate the attack and punish the perpetrators. Of course, nothing of the sort happened because the ‘deep state’ and the military establishment in Pakistan stymied all efforts to book the Jaish-e-Mohammad which was responsible. The Uri terror attack, however, was the last straw for Modi who finally realised that dialogue and diplomacy with Pakistan was a Mug’s game. The massive mandate given by the people of India to Modi, in part on account of the assertive and aggressive steps taken by him to punish Pakistan’s export of terror in India – ‘Surgical Strike’ in 2016 and the ‘Balakot’ airstrike earlier this year – will be wasted and India will be back to square one if the government once again falls in the talks trap. Modi must rid India of the Prithviraj Chauhan syndrome – giving the enemy an honourable exit when he is down and out, only to see him recover and regain strength and attack again – that has guided, nay dogged, Indian policy making for decades. If there is one lesson of the last seven decades, it is to never throw a lifeline to an enemy like Pakistan when he is down. The sweet reasonableness dripping out of Islamabad is not because there has been a change in policy or strategy, but because Pakistan has its back to the wall and would therefore like to avoid a conflict-like situation with India. Increasing tensions with India don’t suit Pakistan; lulling India into inaction does. With an economy on the ropes, a dysfunctional polity and mounting strategic challenges, the last thing Pakistan wants at this stage is a hot border with India. But this is precisely the reason why this is the time for India to press home the advantage. Because even as Pakistan confronts a failing economy, a failing polity and a failing strategy, it has continued with its deeply inimical policy towards India. This is manifested in its efforts to agitate on the Kashmir issue, continue pushing in terrorists, conduct hostile operations against Indian interests in the region and beyond, and pretty much doing everything and anything that hurts or harms or threatens India, including a missile test to signal the intentions to confront India. Therefore, instead of creating space for Pakistan by entering into yet another desultory dialogue with it, India needs to use the space made available by Pakistan's problems to increase the power differential and the force differential between the two countries. Entering into any kind of dialogue with Pakistan and lowering tensions with that country at this time will tantamount to giving Pakistan an escape route. Far from ushering in peace in the region, any space India makes available for Pakistan will be exploited by it to prepare for the next round of conflict after it has recouped and recovered its strength. For anyone in India to think that the time is ripe for India to make another attempt for striking a grand bargain with Pakistan, is utterly delusional and will be nothing short of committing a historic blunder. Although a case can be made for keeping open lines of communication, but entering into any kind of structured or formal dialogue at any level would be a strategic error. Even, the line of communication that is opened must be used only for conveying to the Pakistanis what they need to first deliver  substantially, if not entirely. In other words, the communication must centre on the prerequisites for an engagement at the political level. For this to happen, two things are required. First, the communication channel has to be at an appropriate level. The Pakistani plan to appoint a NSA to hold a conversation with his Indian counterpart isn’t going to work. Pakistani NSAs, even if they are retired generals just don’t have the same weight as the Indian NSA. If at all there has to be a back channel opened between India and Pakistan, then it must be between the Indian NSA and the Pakistani army chief. Anything short of that will always run the real risk of India not getting what it sees. Second, the Modi government must prepare a set of metrics on which it will measure and judge Pakistan's professed intentions for good relations. These very same metrics will also come handy in warding off whatever international pressure comes on the government to re-engage Pakistan. These metrics are the political and security equivalent of the ‘prior actions’ that IMF expects Pakistan to take to prove its bona fides in the economic sphere. Without Pakistan meeting these metrics, engaging that country would be a waste of time. On the issue of terrorism, the metric has to go beyond the usual eyewash actions like passing a new law, banning an organisation, seizing funds and sealing offices of terror outfits, or even placing terror masterminds and cadres under preventive detention. The only metric to judge whether Pakistan is serious in crushing the jihadist terror groups is that their top leadership is not only prosecuted but, also punished under the stringent anti-terror laws that operate in Pakistan. Anything less isn’t going to hold any credibility given Pakistan's past perfidy. Other ‘prior actions’ can include things like ceasing state-driven and military-directed hostile propaganda, stopping the funding of shady ‘NGOs’ that carry out anti-India campaigns, shutting down extremist organisations that incite and instigate violence against India, dismantling the jihadist infrastructure in a visible and verifiable manner. Until there is delivery on these metrics, India must keep up the pressure and exploit Pakistan's vulnerabilities instead of letting them off the hook. The military pressure shouldn’t be eased. For Pakistan’s armed forces to stay in a constant state of alert is an extremely expensive proposition which they cannot afford given the state of their imploding economy. Just the way post Pulwama crisis has blown a fiscal hole in Pakistan's finances. This is not a sustainable proposition for any length of time, even less so with IMF breathing down Pakistan's neck to cut government expenditure, including defence spending. Further economic pressure can be imposed by undercutting Pakistan’s exports. The Modi government must also use its political and diplomatic heft to isolate Pakistan and mount more pressure on it in international forums like FATF. Most of all, in its Season 2, the Modi government needs to double down on building the sinews of the Indian armed forces, and giving them the capability and capacity to effectively operationalise the doctrine underlying the Balakot airstrikes and the earlier Surgical Strikes. The attendant benefit of this will be the pressure it will put on Pakistan to match up or shut up: If they try to match up, they spend themselves into ruin; if they shut up, it will go a long way in addressing the export of terrorism from Pakistan into India. Of course, there will be those who will argue that China will step in to fill the breach. But China isn’t a costless option for Pakistan. It will demand its pound of flesh which will sooner, rather than later start rusting the relationship between the ‘Iron Brothers’. The relations are already showing some signs of strain. If these strains can be deepened, it will address the big strategic challenge confronting India – breaking the Sino-Pak nexus. Finally, the Modi government needs to get its strategic communications strategy in place. A well-directed and well-crafted psy-war campaign that psychologically degrades the enemy and exploits its many fault-lines, vulnerabilities and insecurities — is not only a very cost-effective but also an operationally effective way to gain ascendancy over the enemy. The building blocks of a robust and realistic policy on Pakistan had started taking shape in the last two years of Modi Season 1. It is now imperative that in Season 2, Modi takes that policy further. And, that is possible only if no quarter is given to the terrorist state of Pakistan.
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Sushant Sareen

Sushant Sareen

Sushant Sareen is Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. His published works include: Balochistan: Forgotten War, Forsaken People (Monograph, 2017) Corridor Calculus: China-Pakistan Economic Corridor & China’s comprador   ...

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