Author : Harsh V. Pant

Originally Published 2016-09-26 07:51:10 Published on Sep 26, 2016
In his Kozhikode speech, Modi managed to underscore how Pakistan was going against the forces of history and how isolated it stood today as a result.
Modi’s Kozhikode masterstroke reflects maturity in Pakistan policy

Once again Prime Minister Narendra Modi managed to confound his critics and bhakts at the same time. His speech at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rally in Kozhikode, where he had come to attend the party’s National Council meet, was not a call to arms against Pakistan as many had expected and some had feared, but a statesman-like outreach directly to the people of Pakistan.

He threw a challenge to ordinary Pakistanis, asking them if they could find solutions to developmental issues faster than India could.

"I want to tell the people of Pakistan, India is ready to fight you. If you have the strength, come forward to fight against poverty. Let’s see who wins. Let’s see who is able to defeat poverty and illiteracy first, Pakistan or India."

Careful balancing act

Against the backdrop of terror strikes in Uri last Sunday which killed 18 soldiers, Modi’s speech was highly anticipated as he had not publicly spoken on the attacks apart from some tweets. Sections of the media and commentarial had gone to town making a case for an imminent war against Pakistan. And Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s tirade against India at the United Nations General Assembly earlier this week had further vitiated the atmosphere. Modi’s speech was a careful balancing act but has managed to convey a clear sense of the direction where he wants to take this country and the region. He made it clear that "there’s anger in entire country after the Uri attack. 18 of our soldiers sacrificed their lives after our neighbour exported terrorists there," and that "India will leave no stone unturned to isolate Pakistan in the world."

"At a time when there are serious questions about security lapses at Uri, he paid a tribute to the Indian soldiers by underlining that "in the last few months, our neighbour tried to destroy our country by exporting terrorists more than 17 times, but our army defeated them."

"More than 110 terrorists have been killed in the past few months by the Indian army while they were trying to infiltrate," Modi added.

Taking potshots at Pakistan

Keeping up the pressure on Pakistan, he took aim at Pakistan’s obsession with Kashmir and asked it to "first look at the land they have already captured — PoK, Gilgit and Balochistan." And for the rest of the world too, there was a message that while the 21st century could very well become Asia’s century, there was one Asian country (who else but Pakistan) whose "aim" was to prevent that from happening. He said that country wanted to "paint the entire continent with blood," and was "voting against Asia’s prosperity." Modi’s speech was remarkable for the clarity of its worldview and for the number of targets it managed to hit. In one fell swoop, he managed to underscore how Pakistan was going against the forces of history and how isolated it stood today as a result.

Categorical message

He also reached out to multiple audiences — in India to those who were baying for blood, he struck a note of caution that a direct military confrontation may not resolve underlying problems; in Pakistan to ordinary Pakistanis to do some soul searching as to why India had managed to move so far ahead and why their country is stuck in a time warp; and to the outside world Modi’s message was categorical that India has a leadership which is capable of looking at the larger strategic picture and can manage Pakistan’s nuisance value on its own terms.

PM Modi takes on Pakistan

  • Modi stuns critics and bhakts by challenging Pakistan to fight against social evils.
  • Raking up PoK, Gilgit and Balochistan was a pressure tactic aimed at targeting Pakistan’s obsession with Kashmir.
  • Modi’s speech makes it clear that post Uri, India is not considering military offensive as an option.
  • Targeting Pakistan on the issue of terrorism intends to further isolate the country globally.

Political masterstroke

Modi’s critics will immediately pounce back, reminding him of his earlier comments on Pakistan and his admonition of the UPA government for being a soft state. And Modi’s supporters, the rank and file of the BJP, would also be disappointed with the Prime Minister for not taking a harder line against Pakistan. Both should take a deep breath and recognise Modi’s speech for the political master stroke that it is. Like its predecessors, the Modi government may have recognised that there are few good military options against Pakistan but it is different from its predecessors in so far as its success in altering the terms of engagement with Pakistan is concerned.

As Nawaz Sharif’s failed UN outreach exemplifies, Pakistan’s global isolation on Kashmir is almost complete. More significantly, Sharif has come across as a political pygmy who can be effectively handled by a junior Indian diplomat at the UN.

Development mantra for the Pakistanis

And even as the Pakistani military continues to huff and puff, even brandishing its nuclear weapons, Modi’s speech makes it clear that it doesn’t bother Indian policy-makers who are working on larger issues of socio-economic development. Modi’s comment that "both our countries got freedom together" but "why does India export software and your country export terrorists?" is something that all right thinking Pakistanis should ponder upon.

Well calibrated move

Modi is nothing if not a risk-taker. He had taken risks in reaching out to Nawaz Sharif early on in his term, and now he seems to be taking a risk in bringing to bear some costs on Pakistan for its misadventures in Kashmir. His speech in Kozhikode reflects a sound understanding of not only the challenges facing India’s Pakistan policy but also the opportunities that have emerged in recent years as a result of India’s rising global stature. Pakistan will clearly continue to be a nuisance in the near future but Modi’s India is gearing up for a larger stage and bigger stakes.

This commentary originally appeared in The Quint.

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Harsh V. Pant

Harsh V. Pant

Professor Harsh V. Pant is Vice President – Studies and Foreign Policy at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. He is a Professor of International Relations ...

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