Trajectory of a nation’s growth rests on its past, and looks towards a better future with the present middling its way, improving upon the former and consequently attempting to improve the latter. India has had the dubious distinction of being just stable and detached enough to warrant a cold shoulder, sometimes self inflicted, from the major powers at their heights of confrontation. It has never been a ‘frontline’ state in any ideological or grand struggle, be it the Second World War, the Cold War or the War on Terror. The country was led by Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru for almost 17 years, the statesman also donning the role of External Affairs Minister and for a brief period of time, Defence Minister. These years were crucial as they shaped the way Indian strategic thinking would evolve. While its western neighbour Pakistan has milked its sponsor since 1947 by first presenting itself as an ally in the war against communism and later creating and charging to destroy a Frankenstein monster of terrorism, its huge eastern neighbour has thrived under a unique combination of communist authoritarianism and state sponsored capitalism, creating the perfect dialectic. However, India today has been accorded an opportunity to help usher in a more liberal international order or at least maintain the status quo, in face of an ambitious and belligerent China, state sponsored terrorism, non-state actors, migrant crisis, ethnic cleansing, an increasingly hostile nuclear environment and climate change.
What do I mean when I say India has an opportunity of a lifetime? Who or what presents this? Why only India? To answer this, lets take a broad look at the current international scenario, region wise. US, the borderline global superpower finds itself oscillating between an isolationist (withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership TPP and Paris Climate Deal) and interventionist stance (Expanding presence in Africa, continuing interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, pressurising Iran and sanctions on North Korea). From an overt nuclear posture to assisting the Taliban and colluding with Pakistan, Iran and China, Russia presents a broad spectrum of challenge (subconventional to nuclear) to the US and its allies. The entire West Asia/ North Africa (WANA) region is in disarray. Turkey has initiated its own war with the Syrian Kurds, post military rout of ISIS, with battles raging in the Syrian Kurdish enclave of Afrin. Iran may suffer a renewed round of sanctions. Most of South and South East Asia has been charmed, coerced or compelled to be part of China’s or more specifically Xi Jinping’s mega project, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The future of EU is uncertain. A migrant crisis, coupled with Brexit, lone wolf attacks and rise of xenophobia has forced cracks in the supra-state. India, due to its current stability and especially its past stands on the cusp. An opportunity has been created due to a diametrically opposite combination of India’s past and present resulting in a transitional foreign policy whose future is still uncertain.
India has followed a policy of strategic restraint since its independence. Its leaders saw the armed forces as wasteful expenditure and contributors to imperialism. The Non Aligned Movement (NAM) was created by Nehru, in conjunction with prominent leaders of the Third World, out of a need to stay away from the two heavily militarised Cold War camps. India’s posture of non alignment had benefits for Jawaharlal Nehru’s image as an internationalist. It also created India’s image as a non-aggressive, peace loving nation and a chaotic yet stable democracy which believed in the rule of law. However, as an incipient nation state, flanked on two sides by hostile neighbours, India found it difficult to carve out a strategy to either contain, suppress or rationalise relations with Pakistan or China. Fears of an omnipotent military, exacerbated by coups and dictatorship in Pakistan and China distanced the political class further from the armed forces. As a result, India was able to generate military force but never military power, an important component of any state’s foreign policy. After all, a country’s success in its foreign affairs, whether one may admit it or not, rests to a great extent on its country’s coercive strength, whether latent or overt. Non alignment also meant missing out on security umbrellas, technical knowhow and state of the art weaponry. What non alignment did allow was for India to attempt to chart an independent course for itself. By taking part in the Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission (NNRC) in the aftermath of the Korean war, it established itself as an impartial mediator in conflict resolution. It undertook a genuine humanitarian intervention by stopping the genocide in then East Pakistan in 1971. However, shackled by Nehruvian restraint, India, whether under the Congress or the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), still tried to act and behave under a moral shroud, unmindful of the dangers of indirectly appeasing a country like Pakistan which kept on pushing India’s non-existent red lines.
India, on the eve of national elections of 2014 was on shaky ground, in terms of international prestige and national security. BJP’s election manifesto of 2014 promised a sea change in India’s foreign policy and national security apparatus including an overhaul and review of India’s strategic nuclear programme. Instead of treaties and deals based out of fear or dependence, this manifesto aimed at leveraging India’s advantages in constructing a web of interlocking relationships that would be favourable to all parties involved. Instead of behaving as an arrogant power or regional hegemon, India invited all the countries in its neighbourhood to interact with it on an egalitarian basis. Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi (NaMo) embarked on an ambitious tour of countries (56 and counting) in his three years since coming to power on a landslide victory. Following an aggressive stance and creating personal rapports with heads of states, NaMo revitalised India’s foreign policy. From heavily focusing on the economic and strategic parameters of its relations with ASEAN and beyond in a revamped Act East Policy to strengthening ties to the US to connecting with West Asia and Iran, NaMo has prioritised India’s national interests above everything else. Some of the foreign policy benefits that have accrued to India due to NaMo are:
Conversion of Look East into Act East
Given that around half of India’s foreign trade is dependent on the economies of South and South East Asia, it was just a matter of time when India had to focus on the region. Actuation of the Act East Policy (AEP) is an acceptance of the same. AEP heavily focuses on increasing connectivity between India’s still-neglected North East and the East Asian countries. A number of connectivity projects have been initiated, both single mode and multi-modal, to give impetus to people-to-people and economic links. AEP has graduated from a solely economic and cultural policy to a more strategic one, with the Indian Navy playing an important role in ensuring safe passage of merchant traffic and Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs), apart from conducting multinational exercises and humanitarian and disaster relief (HADR) operations. The Indian Navy’s primary area now extends from the Red Sea, Gulf of Oman, Gulf of Aden, Southwest Indian ocean, Indian Ocean Region (IOR) island nations and East African littoral states, while the secondary area for the first time addresses South China Sea (SCS) as well as Western Pacific and East China Sea. Indian warships will start patrolling the Malacca Straits for protecting the SLOCs. This is a signal that India aims to act as a Net Security Provider for the SLOCs passing through the greater Indo-Pacific region. Signing of an agreement giving Indian ships logistics rights at Changi, Singapore is a step in that direction. India has also agreed to take part with Japan, Australia and the US in a grouping of democracies called the Quadrilateral (Quad). This has been ostensibly to coordinate in the fields of ensuring Freedom of navigation (FoN) in international waters, a free and open region and adherence to rule of law but considered as a counter to rising Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific region. Many analysts consider it as the beginning of an ‘Asian NATO’ though its feasibility still remains to be tested.
Neighbourhood First Policy
NaMo has focused on improving relations with its neighbours, although that seems to be floundering at the moment. From HADR missions to Maldives, indirect financing of weapons for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) through Russia, negotiations over Teesta waters and exchange of enclaves, concluding a civil nuclear agreement with Sri Lanka and attempting dialogue with Pakistan, NaMo government has made connecting with the neighbourhood his priority. NaMo has understood that for India to flourish economically, militarily and culturally, its neighbourhood has to offer a conducive environment. This can only with an active policy of shaping events and policies as per its national interests. India has offered SAARC nations benefits of telecommunications and e-medicines through the use of SAARC satellite, sacrificed real estate on its eastern border for better relations with Bangladesh and come to Bhutan’s aid when defending its territorial integrity in face of Chinese aggression. India has however sent tough signals to Pakistan that its benevolence cannot be taken for granted by conducting surgical strikes on terrorist launch pads post the Uri attacks of September 2016.
Entries into Strategic Clubs
Modi’s presentation of India as an emerging power and his personal style of diplomacy has ensured entry of India into various ‘untouchable’ clubs and groupings such as the Australia Group, Wassenaar Agreement and the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). This has helped India in inching close to the membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) which will help in it gaining access to unprecedented nuclear material, technology and equipment, without acceding to signing the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Also, India’s entry into the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) may help it in gaining access to the Central Asian Republics (CAR), alternatives to India’s dependence on the Middle East for energy sources.
Closing in with the US
With an unprecedented five trips to the US, Modi has indicated a definite change in its non aligned mode towards coordinating with the US on a number of converging issues. India’s entry into important clubs and groups has been facilitated by the US, its status has been upgraded to being a Major Defense Partner of the US, it has been feted as a pivot for countering China through the Quad and President Trump in his newly unveiled Afghanistan strategy has admitted to India’s stabilising role in the war-torn country. Major defence deals such as acquisition of M-777 Ultra Light Howitzers, C-130 and C-17 transport aircraft, AH-64 Apache attack helicopters and Guardian drones for the Airforce have resulted in the further diversification of India’s arsenal, long dependent on Russia. The US has designated Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), an old pro Pakistan terrorist organisation in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO) along with placing its chief Syed Salahuddin as a global terrorist. An India-specific Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) has been signed based on the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA). However the rest two foundational agreements also need to be agreed upon and signed in order to provide a platform for future collaboration with the US forces in countering common foes and sharing of sophisticated technology with India. There however needs to be a note of caution for India for not hugging the American coast too closely, as it still needs to find its feet.
Under NaMo’s leadership, India is currently transitioning from a strategic self restraint phase to a more assertive one. But this can easily be set aside as an aberration rather than the accepted norm considering India’s past policy of under-influencing events. The momentum that has been gained will suffer setbacks as happened in Nepal, Maldives and Sri Lanka but India has to push on. India has to accept the rise and ascendance of China on the world stage. It has to accept that it cannot match China’s financial investments in its neighbourhood that have led to China leaning governments in Nepal and Maldives, re-encroachment on Doklam in Bhutan and fructifying of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). India’s tryst with realism is still in its infantile stage due to a number of reasons. The way forward is to leave the past of non alignment behind, and engage the world based on its priorities. This will lead to situations where policy decisions affecting one country may be a hindrance to another. A classic example is India’s relations with both Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA). On one hand, India has a major strategic relationship with Israel especially in arms deals, on the other India trains the officers of PA’s small military in its academies. These discrepancies will arise and will have to be dealt with in a diplomatic and mature manner. Instead of Non Alignment, India needs to follow National Alignment, facets of which can be summarised below:-
Improving Diplomatic Footprint
Though NaMo leads from the front when engaging nations, this personal touch must be seen as a superimposition over India’s diplomatic prowess and not as a standalone setup. India’s pool of 3000 diplomats compares poorly with countries such as Japan (5700), South Korea (4500) and the US (20000). Change of government may reduce the personal nature of diplomacy currently being followed and dedicated and expanded cadre of officers will be able to handle the political fluctuations.
China has arrived on the global stage. This is a fact. States have to learn to live with this. Despite the US egging on India to take on China and Japan clamouring for giving the Quad more teeth, India needs to realise its present strengths and limitations. It needs to deal with China more diplomatically and needs to give dialogue more opportunity to work. It has to realise that the US and Japan each have their own motives to counter China and those motives may not resonate with India. India needs to focus on reducing its trade deficit with China, upgradation of its border infrastructure and engaging in dialogue but ceding no space on Doklam. Despite India’s stance on CPEC crossing India’s sovereign territory, a pragmatic decision can be made on agreeing to be part of BRI as India’s projects in South East Asia will invariably clash with it, and a collaboration outlook should be more constructive for the countries involved. Indian armed forcesneed to be upgraded in its eastern sector to deter Chinese aggression.
India needs to slow down future investments and step up completion of already promised projects in various countries. The much heralded Trilateral Highway connecting India’s North East to Myanmar and Thailand, a crucial link in India’s AEP still remains incomplete with the earliest completion date now being pushed to 2020. India’s soft loans of around $24.2 billion in the form of ‘lines of credit’ to various countries in Central America and Africa also needs constant monitoring.
Stop Moralising, Start Realpolitiking
It is not important that two countries’ national interests align perfectly. Although US expects its allies and major strategic partners to follow its foreign policy, India needs to chart its own course as per National Alignment. As an example, post pullout of the US from the Paris climate agreement, India must coordinate more deeply with China with regards to climate change. Despite voting against shift of Israel’s capital to Jerusalem, India can still expect to consummate an extensive arms deal with the country. India also needs to take on board the US, Russia and China in terms of countering terror. As of now, India seems to be the only country that seems to straddle many boats and in the process, promote a horizontal bonhomie amongst nations.
The days of the strategic alliances are all but over. NATO may have got a second chance at survival with the resurgence of Russia but whether Article Five of collective defence will be sustained by the Europeans is not as clear as it states. The current US administration’s self professed isolationism in major issues has put the efficacy of security umbrellas in question. India, unlike the US, understands that all international problems do not have a military solution. It needs to step away from contemplating a NATO like model, even with like minded democracies (Quad) and focus on diversification that helps its national interests. But it should also shed its inhibitions regarding establishment of overseas bases, basing of ships and troops of other countries and conducting joint exercises with the Quad on ground and air. The idea of two mutually destructive superpowers sitting on an arsenal of nuclear weapons can be replaced with that of society of states with economic, cultural and technical linkages but with adequate coercive power to deter a challenge. What lies in India’s destiny? Part of a NATO like entity or an independent yet interconnected foreign policy? Its the latter that would benefit the entire world.
Pakistan: A Terrorized Rather than Terrorist State
It is not hard to analyze the human audacity in engaging itself towards violence particularly in modern world. The charm of subjugating others through oppression or use of violence is not something new, it had been done in the past but since the inception of the modern world into its true shape, it has shifted its discourse in new and different modes. In the current order, there is a new form of inflicting pain that is through extremism and terrorism.
Pakistan a piece of land with diversity on Indus sands, has long been a victim of this ailment. One key tactic of ensuring the impact of terror or achieving what is desired is to hit the vulnerabilities of the victim. This seems to be true in case of Pakistan which was once vulnerable state for numerous reasons mainly internal, but now it has gotten up from its knees. Where once there were sirens of death and constant trepidation of a terrorist attack, people now believe that dark clouds have dispersed.
Since its independence, Pakistan has seen many blows in its journey but the most severe one was terrorism. In past eighteen years, more than 65,000 Pakistani civilians and armed forces personals had been a victim to or sacrificed their lives against terrorism. One can debate on whether the steps which were taken by the various chief executive of the country through extending hands with the shady ally and stepping into the quagmire, were need of that time or just another fallacy in our history but the fact remains that the nation suffered the impact of the decisions which were taken at that time. The mourning continued for more than 15 years and the despair remained/prevailed among the nation.
It is not to be misunderstood that Pakistan is the only nation who paid the price of fight against terrorism for quite a long period of time in shape of trauma, misery and grief. There’s a narrative which is mainly spread by the antagonistic parties to demoralize the efforts of the state and inflict more pain to the suffered minds was that the Pakistan is a promoter and exporter of this franchise of terror. Moreover, that its security forces are involved in exporting and promoting it also, thus ignoring the sacrifices of the country which it had presented while fighting to uproot terrorism. The Pakistani military conducted more than eight full scale military operations to curtail the malady, where numerous lives of soldiers were laid in order to achieve the desired goal. Unfortunately, most of the time international arena had neglected the efforts.
This all has its roots when Uncle-Sam decided to invade Afghanistan in 2001 on the tag of eradicating terrorism. which was threatening the global “peace” order. Washington compelled Islamabad to be its non-NATO ally and so Pakistan became part of this bleakness. The war against terrorism did not bring any fruitful results and it blow backed as the Afghan mess shackled the mighty US. It’s been more than 17 years now and Washington still finds itself clung in Afghan terrain. One of the crucial effect of this un-holy alliance of Islamabad with the Oval was that the Pakistan suffered the most at home, especially at the north-western front of its empire.
Pakistan is a save heaven for radicals and terrorists! This seems more like a false accusation rather than honest claim. The infection of terrorist organizations residing in Pakistan is courtesy of an untrusty ally, US. The moment United States started their war against terrorism the remnants flew to bordering Pakistani territories and due to high density of Pashtun Pakistani citizens in those territories it was difficult to operate with full military muscle. When Pakistan started doing it, those citizens turned more radicalized towards the state.
From the beginning till date, Pakistan had been the victim of terrorism rather than exporter of it. Its whole socio-economic segment got wounded by it and still even after efforts for curtailing the malevolence, it is still striving to overcome those effects in order to maintain its stature in the international standing as the Pakistani nation and state pay the excruciating price which was not even due on them. In a nut shell, Pakistan repented for the sins committed by the US. Pakistan’s un-accompanied skirmish against terrorism is not over, yet there remains more to achieve, especially rehabilitation, facilitation and mainstreaming of the war torn areas, but foremost is to learn the lessons from the past and refrain to repeat the gaffes which the predecessors did.
Kashmir: Will Modi accept Pakistan’s Khan’s talks offer?
Once again Pakistan’s prime minister has welcomed India to talk about the Kashmir dispute.
He had earlier advocated a Good-Friday (Ireland)-like solution of the dispute. While addressing a gathering at Uri (November 8, 2018), Farooq Abdullah, also, had sounded a clarion call for solving the Kashmir tangle. He advocated an -type settlement model to resolve the Kashmir imbroglio. Northern Ireland’s population is approximately 55 per cent Protestant and 45 per cent Catholic, and the two communities placed their emphases on different elements of the problem. The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 had five main constitutional provisions: (a) Northern Ireland’s future constitutional status was to be in the hands of its citizens. (b) If the people of Ireland, north and south, wanted a united Ireland, they could have one by voting for it. (c) Northern Ireland’s current constitutional position would remain within the United Kingdom. (d) Northern Ireland’s citizens would have the right to “identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both.” (e) The Irish state would drop its territorial claim on Northern Ireland and instead define the Irish nation in terms of people, rather than land.
India could discuss other solutions, if allergic to the word `plebiscite’, Here is a bird’s-eye view: (a) Status quo (division of Kashmir along the present LoC with or without some local adjustments to facilitate the local population, (b) Complete or partial independence (creation of independent Muslim-majority tehsils of Rajauri, Poonch and Uri with Hindu-majority areas merged in India), (c) Plebiscite to be held in 5 to 10 years after putting Kashmir under UN trusteeship (Trieste-like solution), (d), Joint control, (e) Indus-basin-related solution, (f) Andhorra island (g) Aland-island-like solution and (h) 2. South Tyrol model. Under the Paris Agreement of 1946 (also known as the Gruber-Degasperi Agreement) and the South Tyrol Package of 1969, Austria is mandated with exercising a protective function vis-à-vis Italy for the Austrian and Ladin minorities in South Tyrol. The goal is to secure the continued ethnic, cultural, social and economic existence of the German and Ladin-speaking population of South Tyrol. Besides, much importance is attached to the peaceful co-habitation of the different linguistic groups in the province of Bolzano. (i) Ibarretxe Proposal for the Basque conflict in Spain. The Basque agreement is supported by three basic premises: (1) The Basques are a People with their own identity; (2) they have the right to decide their own future; and (3) it is based on a respect for the decisions of the inhabitants of the different legal political spheres in which they are situated. At present, the Basque people are organised in three legal-administrative communities. On the one hand is the Basque Autonomous Community—made up of the provinces of Alava, Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa—and the Province of Navarre, both of which are situated within the Spanish state. On the other are the territories of Iparralde — Lapurdi, Zuberoa and Benafarroa — situated within the French state that do not have their own political administration. (j) Trieste model.
For the Free Territory of Trieste, over which Italy and Yugoslavia shared sovereignty until 1954, the lessons, if any, are negative. AG Noorani has argued that the Trieste formula is nothing but communal partition, with the Treaty of Osimo giving the largely Italian port city of Trieste to Italy and the Croat-Slovene dominated Istrian region to the erstwhile Yugoslavia. (k) Sami model. Another creative example is the Sami Parliamentary Assembly, established in 2000, as a joint forum of the parliaments of the Sami indigenous people who reside in the northern regions of Norway, Sweden and Finland. The Sami have been demanding greater control over the land, water and natural resources of their ancient homeland. They elect representatives to their own regional parliaments but are now trying to develop a pan-Sami political institution to better protect their rights. The three Nordic countries have all been pulled up by the UN for their treatment of the Sami and many issues—such as Norway’s decision to allow expanded bombing ranges for NATO warplanes—affect the indigenous population cutting across sovereign state borders.
The Sami example is a case of an attempt by a partitioned people to craft meaningful political institutions from below, often in the face of indifference from above. (l) New Caledonia Model Noumea Agreement.In 1774, the island was discovered by English captain James Cook. In 1853, under Napoleon III, France officially took its possession. The 1999 Noumea agreement on New Caledonia—where the indigenous Kanaks are now outnumbered by the descendants of European settlers and by other non-Melanesians—maintains French nationality over the colonial possession while establishing the idea of New Caledonia citizenship over a 20-year transition period till a referendum on final status. This example is unappealing in the South Asian context because Kashmir is not a colonial possession. Nevertheless, the notion of shared sovereignty is an interesting one. (m) The Chenab formula. Jammu and Kashmir has four distinct parts. The state of Pakistan-administered Kashmir is quasi-dependency of Pakistan. The Northern areas (former Northern Province of J&K) are an affiliated part of Pakistan except Aksai chin, an area under control of Chinese. The rest of the original state of Jammu and Kashmir including the valley is under India, where it has been granted a special status under the Indian constitution.
According to the Chenab Formula, Pakistan may consider Doaba, a narrow strip of land between Chenab and Ravi rivers in the suburbs of Shakargarh stretching up to Chamb, Dhodha and Rajwari districts as international border. “Even the town of Kargil might go to India under this ‘give and take’ but from Kargil upward, India will have to agree to give territory to Pakistan,” say the architects of this formula Most of the districts in Jammu and on the left bank of the Chenab are Hindu majority in the state of Jammu and Kashmir while in most of the districts on the western side of the Chenab, the Muslims are predominant. “Pakistan may also agree to forego its claim over the Buddhist majority Ladakh region, but there will be no compromise on the Valley,” Pakistani researchers say.
The Valley will be partially autonomous and there will be major changes on the borderline to adjust tehsils and towns surrounding the Valley between India and Pakistan. In short, the River Chenab will form the separation line between the Pakistan and Indian-held areas. (n) Kashmir Study Group formula.
The US-based Kashmir Study Group commissioned to find solution to Kashmir problem in its latest report recommends that portions of the former princely State of Jammu and Kashmir be reconstituted into self-governing entities enjoying free access to one another and to and from both India and Pakistan.
Each of the new entities would have its own democratic constitution, as well as its own citizenship, flag, and legislature, which would legislate on all matters other than defense and foreign affairs. India and Pakistan would be responsible for the defense of the entities, and the entities would maintain police forces to maintain internal law and order. India and Pakistan would be expected to work out financial arrangements for the entities. (o) An independent or autonomous Kashmir, as a neutral country. (h) Permutations and combinations of the aforementioned options.
Sheikh Abdullah’s autonomy proposal
From the early 1950s to the beginning of the crisis in 1989, “Sheikh Abdullah supported ‘safeguarding of autonomy’ to the fullest possible extent” (Report of the State Autonomy Committee, Jammu, p. 41). Abdullah irked Nehru so much that he had to put Abdullah behind the bars. Bhabani Sen Gupta and Prem Shankar Jha assert that “if New Delhi sincerely wishes to break the deadlock in Kashmir, it has no other alternative except to accept and implement what is being termed as an ‘Autonomy Plus, Independence Minus’ formula, or to grant autonomy to the state to the point where it is indistinguishable from independence”. (Shri Prakash and Ghulam Mohammad Shah (ed.), Towards understanding the Kashmir crisis, p.226).
But, how could a solution evolve? India has avoided a dialogue with Pakistan for about a decade. Sans sincerity, the only Kashmir solution is a nuclear Armageddon. Or, perhaps divine intervention.
Let India begin to talk. True, honesty, not obduracy or legal rigmarole, will solve the Kashmir tangle.
The ‘High-Risk Low-Gain’ Politics of the Kashmir Issue
Over the last few days, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan seems to have come under tremendous fire for his recent statements regarding a possible future settlement with India over Kashmir. Speaking to a group of foreign journalists, Mr. Khan had stated that he might have a better chance of reaching an agreement with Mr. Modi if his right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party were voted to power in the ongoing elections in India. This he predicted would be better than dealing with the struggling Congress Party which may lack the political capital to cooperate with Pakistan, out of fear of alienating India’s influential far-right.
Considered by many as a blatant endorsement of Mr. Modi and his more oppressive brand of politics, Mr. Khan has since taken considerable flak from his political opponents as well as from some prominent voices within Pakistan’s mainstream media. These include former diplomat Senator Sherry Rehman who has vehemently criticized the PM’s statement. Her position is that Pakistan instead of appearing to favor certain individuals should focus on dealing with the Indian state as a whole. Particularly with respect to the Kashmir issue, she pointed out that favoring one individual or party over the other not only amounts to interference, but denigrates and shuns other parties from any future diplomatic efforts as well.
The Senator does have a point. Picking favorites and potential negotiation partners before the Indian elections even start does amount to a diplomatic faux pas of sorts. However, if one was to simply consider the PM’s statement on its own merits, all he did was state a harsh, albeit long-standing political reality that has persistently characterized both countries’ relationship with one another. Particularly with respect to the politics and discourse surrounding the Kashmir issue, this reality has been referred to by renowned South Asian expert Stephen P. Cohen as the ‘high risk low gain’ nature of cooperation that exists between both countries.
This idea of the high-risk low-gain nature of Pak-India relations is based on the fact that any form of cooperation between both countries has historically remained fraught with risks, particularly within the realm of local politics. This idea that leaders on both sides of the border have often more to lose than to gain politically has been evident throughout both countries’ histories; especially when calling for greater cooperation.
For instance, these same risks were evident on both sides during Mr. Modi’s impromptu visit to Pakistan in late 2015. Building on the budding bonhomie between himself and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, both leaders had highlighted their growing personal relationship as highly positive for India Pakistan relations. This was despite the criticisms both were facing for appearing too conciliatory and overeager to paper over long standing issues. However, the risk of appearing weak or ceding more than necessary was ultimately greater for an already weakened Nawaz Sharif. Already dogged by the increasingly tenuous relationship between himself and the military establishment, Mr. Sharif instead of gaining any ground towards a workable solution with India, found himself even more politically alienated as a result of his overtures.
The same was the case in the Musharraf era as well. At the height of his power in 2001 and immune to the political risks of civilian leaders, Mr. Musharraf appeared more than willing at the Agra summit to reach a workable solution. His proposed solution however remained untenable for Indian leaders such as L.K Advani, who found the risks of appearing reconciled with the Pakistani General as too great. Six years later, the four point plan which Mr. Musharraf had developed over years of back-channel talks with Mr. Manmohan Singh’s government, also fell through as Mr. Musharraf’s political troubles at home started to take toll. The growing uncertainty over Mr. Musharraf’s political future further compounded the risks being faced by Indian leaders in late 2007, at a time when the Kashmir issue was according to many ‘all but resolved’.
Even more ironic perhaps was the lost opportunity for India at Simla in 1972, where Shrimati Indira Gandhi Ji at the height of her power remained a hair short of finalizing the Kashmir issue with a militarily defeated Mr. Bhutto. As the controversial story goes, a verbal agreement between Mr. Bhutto and Mrs. Gandhi just fell short of being written down and signed due to Mr. Bhutto’s insistence. He had reportedly asked for more time as the political risks for reaching a final settlement over Kashmir were far too great for him then.
Coming back to Mr. Imran Khan’s most recent statement, his prediction of a weakened Congress party being less able to face such risks can be termed as a candid summation of the above historical lessons. Not to mention the risks Mr. Khan himself faces to his own political capital, when calling for cooperation with a jingoistic and war-mongering BJP government. A BJP government, which thus despite its highly questionable sincerity to peace, may still yet offer a more pragmatic chance of cooperation over Kashmir.
Yet, in staying true to the irony that has long plagued India -Pakistan relations, both Mr. Khan and Mr. Modi are neither the first, nor likely the last leaders to face the high risk low-gain implications of calling for peace and reconciliation between Pakistan and India. Unless there is widespread political consensus on an honest and stringent commitment to peace and reconciliation on both sides of the border, that elusive peace sought by a few idealists is likely to remain just that; an elusive ideal.
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