Author : Manoj Joshi

Originally Published 2015-07-14 00:00:00 Published on Jul 14, 2015
No matter how you nuance the outcome of the recent Sharif-Modi meeting, the fact is that continuity, rather than change, marks the Indian PM's new Pakistan initiative. And, Time has shown the success of this strategy because India has, if anything, become more resilient, while Pakistan has come to the brink of collapse.
Modi's Pakistan policy back on track set by Narasimha Rao in 1991

After meandering for a year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's policy on Pakistan has gotten back onto the track that was set by P V Narasimha Rao as far back as 1991. No matter how you nuance the outcome of the recent Sharif-Modi meeting, the fact is that continuity, rather than change, marks the PM's new Pakistan initiative.

This policy has seen India engage with Islamabad, regardless of what it has thrown at us. And that has been quite a lot, in terms of terrorist attacks, bomb blasts and the like. Time has shown the success of this strategy because India has, if anything, become more resilient, while Pakistan has come to the brink of collapse.

As part of this track in the 1990s, India worked out military confidence building measures, a near deal on Siachen, unilaterally granted MFN status to Pakistan even as the Pakistani covert war against India was at its peak. India even swallowed the bile of the Kargil attack and resumed normal relations by 2003-04.

Post-Mumbai 2008, however, there has been a hiatus, as much a result of political turmoil in New Delhi and Islamabad, as anything else. Now with stable government in place in both countries, the long process is moving ahead.

The pithy joint statement of the Modi-Sharif meeting accepts this and also signals the end of the old composite dialogue process which has run its course. Little will be served by re-discussing the key issues - Siachen, Sir Creek, trade ties and even Jammu & Kashmir. Their solutions are already visible, what is lacking is the political juncture in which they can be unpacked.

There is, however, one issue which has not quite satisfactorily been dealt with - terrorism and cross-LoC violence. Hence the salience of security issues in the joint statement issued after the Modi-Sharif talks which condemns terrorism and says there is need to discuss "ways and means to expedite the Mumbai case". The task of dealing with this has been given to the National Security Advisers, border police and military leadership of the two countries.

So we're back at the place where we will talk out a rational modus vivendi, and, if things work well, actually move towards an entente that will fulfil the commitment we have made to create a South Asian Free Trade Area (Safta) by 2016. Incidentally this commitment was made at the 12th Saarc summit that was held in Islamabad in January 2004, and it was at the sidelines of this summit that Musharraf and Vajpayee came to an agreement which has come close to delivering a Kashmir settlement.

Over the years, a key element in India's policy was not to involve itself in a tit-for-tat covert war by promoting terrorism in Pakistan. Pakistan has numerous faultlines which can be easily widened, should New Delhi decide to do so. A failed Pakistan is certainly not in India's interests, now more so than ever, when the spectre of Islamic State has shown that violent Islamist extremism is capable of springing new surprises.

With nuclear armed neighbours, there are limits to the physical punishment you can inflict on them for their malign actions. This is something that has finally sunk into the minds of the hotheads in the Modi team who have been pushing for a fight with Pakistan.

You also need to be aware that military action usually breeds bitterness and feelings of vengeance. A generation of Pakistan military personnel grew up believing that India was responsible for splitting Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh; they have not yet reconciled themselves to the fact that the blame was primarily their own and New Delhi's limited role was that of a midwife.

What the Modi-Sharif meeting has achieved is to have overcome the worst instinct of the bureaucracies on both sides. Modi's instinct had led him to invite Saarc leaders, including Nawaz Sharif for his inauguration. But his outreach was undermined by deliberately raising the temperature on the Jammu portion of the Line of Control.

The effort to help Pakistan to become a "normal" state will be a long and tenacious one and it cannot be achieved by knocking out one terrorist "general" like Lakhvi or Masood Azhar. Now, more than ever, we are becoming aware that in the wired world of today this is a global struggle.

In this, we also have allies in Pakistan. We must not be taken in by the caricature representation of Islamabad we often see in sections of our media. Pakistan is also a victim of terrorism and has paid a significant price in the fight against its admittedly self-created monsters.

This fight is far from being won. But the blows they have suffered have sharpened the minds of the Pakistani elite who have learnt the limits to ISI's ability to manipulate a Pathan with an AK-47.

They cannot but be aware that the terrorist acts have only hardened India's capacity to deal with the pain, as well as enhance its counterterrorism capabilities. Further, instead of splitting India along religious lines it has - more than anything else - helped bind the country closer, evidenced most famously by the fact that the number of Indians in Islamic State can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

(The writer is a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

Courtesy: The Times of India, July 14, 2015

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Manoj Joshi

Manoj Joshi

Manoj Joshi is a Distinguished Fellow at the ORF. He has been a journalist specialising on national and international politics and is a commentator and ...

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