Author : Manoj Joshi

Originally Published 2022-03-15 11:44:55 Published on Mar 15, 2022
The millstone around Pakistan’s neck weighs down India too
Steer a middle course
Last month, a Pakistani business magnate created a flutter when he claimed that PM Modi could make a cross-border visit in March, if the resumed backchannel process succeeded. Predictably, Moeed Yusuf, Pakistan’s NSA, attacked the ‘prevailing ideology’ of the BJP government for the current stasis in ties and declared that India had to first create the enabling environment.
The BJP did not need dog-whistles like ‘terrorism’, ‘Pakistan’ or ‘the bravery of our jawans’ to post its spectacular performance in Uttar Pradesh.
A striking aspect of the recent state Assembly elections is that the BJP did not need dog-whistles like ‘terrorism’, ‘Pakistan’ or ‘the bravery of our jawans’ to post its spectacular performance in UP. BJP support, that included significant OBC and Dalits, came on the basis of its Hindutva ideology, as well as the party’s effective use of welfare measures to overcome the distress of the people on account of poverty, economic stagnation and the ravages of the pandemic. Above all, the BJP, master of the art of populist politics, outdid itself in deflecting responsibility for its own shortcomings by blaming everyone else—Nehru, the Opposition, Muslims, urban Naxals, foreign forces, the elites and so on. Recall in 2017, the so-called ‘surgical strikes’ played an important role in the BJP’s outreach to the electorate in UP and how the ‘martyrdom’ in Pulwama and the Balakot airstrike became part of the ‘nationalistic’ 2019 General Election campaign. This current development could suggest that Modi could consider a resumption of efforts to make peace with Pakistan. Recall Modi’s early approach that had him descending on Lahore to greet the then PM Nawaz Sharif on his birthday on December 25, 2015. This initiative was swiftly derailed by the Pakistani deep state that engineered a terrorist assault on the Pathankot Air Force base a week later. The Uri attack on September 18, 2016, that led to the death of 18 soldiers brought a major shift. Eleven days later, the Indian Army conducted simultaneous retaliatory raids across the LoC. These were propagandistically elevated to ‘surgical strikes’ and they became part of a narrative that fed into the campaign of the UP Assembly election that the BJP swept in early 2017. Indian diplomacy also took a tough turn by working to corner Pakistan on terrorism. The PM used the platform of G20, ASEAN, BRICS and bilateral meetings to repeatedly denounce terrorism and call for the isolation of ‘countries that back terror’. Simultaneously, he pushed for the adoption of the UN of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT). Many wondered why India was raising the terrorism issue so insistently. Data was showing that separatist violence in Kashmir and Islamist terrorism had actually been declining for quite some time. The answer lay in the use being made by the BJP of terrorism as part of its domestic political agenda. Pakistan became a proxy for Indian Muslims in the party’s rhetoric — attacking the former was a means of marginalising the latter. After the Mumbai attack of 2008, Pakistan had switched tactics to direct attacks by its jihadi proxies against Indian military and police targets that did not have the same emotional or political response from the international community as the attacks on civilians and non-combatants.
Pakistan became a proxy for Indian Muslims in the party’s rhetoric — attacking the former was a means of marginalising the latter.
Coincidentally, in 2018, when Pakistan was in the Trump administration doghouse, it was placed on the FATF (Financial Action Task Force) grey list and asked to clean up its act on money laundering and terrorist financing. This decision has had a bite that Islamabad has not been able to ignore. Both India and Pakistan are now realising that the current deadlock is not in their interest. Backchannel talks in the last two years helped re-establish the ceasefire along the LoC in February 2021. This set the stage for Pakistan army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa’s call for a ‘paradigm shift’ in his country’s relations with India. But the usual obstacle remains — Kashmir. But Pakistan has understood that New Delhi’s harsh repressive measures have checked violence in the state. Reporting for The Tribune last week, Mukesh Ranjan cited Indian intelligence assessments that the number of jihadi fighters along the LoC have ‘come down to half’; where last year there were 115-120 fighters, this year the number was around 70. This was most likely an outcome of some decision by the deep state, aka the Pakistan army. Pakistan has good reasons to make a shift in its approach to India. First and foremost its economy is in a bad shape. But with a friendly government in place in Kabul, it can afford to take a more relaxed posture with New Delhi which has, at last, decided that its primary security challenge comes from the north. Equally, the deep state seems to have realised that military-friendly governments like that of Imran Khan can’t really deliver. And then, Islamabad may be going great guns with China, but Modi had hugely enhanced New Delhi’s ties with its key Gulf benefactors, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. India’s reasons for a new approach to Islamabad may not be as compelling, but they are no less important. Despite all the brave talk about fighting two-front wars, India needs to be realistic about its security situation. More important, its longer-term plan can’t but rest on the notion of an integrated South Asian economic region which includes Afghanistan and Pakistan and has a pathway to Central Asia and beyond. Even so, New Delhi needs Pakistan to clearly demonstrate that it is making a strategic shift away from the use of proxy warriors against its neighbour. It’s time to understand that the millstone around Pakistan’s neck does not just weigh it down, but India as well.
This commentary originally appeared in The Tribune.
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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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