The Normalization Phenomena: Strategic Desperation of Neighbors Amid New Delhi’s Rise


As New Delhi is setting the stage for great power meetings this year like G-20 and QUAD, its neighbors seem to be desperate to roll out a thaw plan with India.  Recently, Pakistan wished to normalize relations with New Delhi however, they turned back later.  On the other hand, China, after failing to lock India in protracted conflict at the flashpoints of Indo-China border is also keeping a close watch on New Delhi. Though China is still far from the normalization phenomena, but its possibility cannot be denied because Beijing’s options to play against India’s best interests are gradually shrinking. 

Strategic Desperation and Détente

Islamabad’s attempt to bring thaw in Indo-Pak relations is indicative of the fact that Islamabad is desperate to get out from deteriorating situation at home.  However, the genuineness of such attempt will always remain questionable because of Pakistan’s ‘dagger at the back’ attitude – the Kargil war of 1999, Uri terror attacks of 2016 are some sterling quality evidences to show  how Pakistan engaged in talks in 1999 but at the same time secretly launched an attack on India’s outposts. Similarly, in 2015 December when PM Modi paid a surprise visit to Pakistan with a motive to normalize relations with Pakistan. However, shockingly, within a span of 10 months, Pakistan backed terror groups carried out terror strike in Uri, a town in Jammu Kashmir.

But what is more interesting is to discuss that triggered this desperation. In international politics, two hostile nations begin to normalize the relations when one of them realize the exponentially growing asymmetries between them or sometimes to control the escalation ladder if they are in conflict with each other which may severely affect one of them. There are clinching evidences pointing towards this phenomena being  in play – the détente between US and Soviets.  

Such events have led to normalization phenomena between hostile nations. In case of India and Pakistan, normalization or détente occurred with many ups and downs regardless of them being covert or overt. We saw the modern-day mini détente in India-Pakistan relations two years back in 2021 when both the nations negotiated ceasefire at LoC and held talks over the Indus River.

These overt affairs got complemented time to time by covert affairs or back-channel talks. Nothing significant materialized in these covert and overt talks except negotiation on ceasefire at Indo-Pak border.But interestingly, the détente efforts coincided at a time when India’s Vaccine Matri initiative (India’s vaccine diplomacy) was rolling out and gradually reached their peak through which India was not only maintaining its tight grip over its traditional sphere of influence but was also expanding it to Africa and South American region. At the same time,  Pakistan was ravaging from political and socio-economic instability.

These evidences show that whenever there is exponential rise of India, alarm at Islamabad gets on. This to a certain extent plays a major role in pushing Islamabad towards negotiation tables. Similarly, the present case could be decoded, Islamabad has once again got the ‘push’ towards negotiation tables by adverse situations. Sending notice to Pakistan on modifications in the Indus Waters Treaty is one visible sign of Islamabad getting hard push for coming on negotiating tables.

However, this time the situation is more harsh and worse than the past;turning back of Islamabad after expressing the willingness to normalize the relations is also quite comprehendible since elections in Pakistan are around the corner, political and domestic necessities to a certain extent do not allow Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to fully lean on the détente factor. This thus becomes became a bigger necessity when Pakistan PM has to face multitude of crises and a still strong political opponent- Imran Khan. 

As far as the question of China is concerned, the normalization phenomena in Sino-India affairs is also quite interesting, where on one hand, Pakistan’s so called normalization efforts are guided by necessities, China’s normalization efforts are guided by deception and mood testing. During former Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee’s time, when India’s GDP cruised around 8 percent, Chinese to certain extent wished to progressively work on normalization of ties.

Last year, Chinese Foreign Minister came to Delhi after sensing Russia-India axis getting closer and accelerating on economic issues after west bombarded Russia with stringent economic sanctions. The normalization tactics were quite deceptive because soon China began to flex its muscles at Indo-China border and attempted to lock  India in protracted border conflict inspired by Mao’s strategic calculations.  However, with India’s matured and greater understanding of Beijing, China is facing difficulties to trap New Delhi. 

New Delhi extends Invitation

New Delhi’s geopolitical behavior was themed on strategic autonomy- aggressively assertive on echoing and negotiating national interests while simultaneously undertaking the role of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (World Is Family) as its central approach on G-20.

Undoubtedly, India has immense potential to change and redefine the currents of global politics especially the multilateralism. Since past few years, India has proved itself by its exponentially growing Atma Nirbhar Bharat Mission (Self Reliance Mission) and continued efforts of recalibrating economical and diplomatic outreach, engaging in multilateralist affairs and upping the tempo of technology and development.

However, it is also imperative to mention that shadows of Russia-Ukraine war may cast on G-20 event and India’s strategic balancing between the West and Russia. Experts argue that New Delhi balanced the power relations very well.

Recently, New Delhi’s crude oil trade with Russia is proving to be beneficial for West as New Delhi is refining the Russian crude oil to fuel, and trading it with the west. Moreover, Ben Cahill, a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank said, “They are aware that Indian and Chinese refiners can earn bigger margins by buying discounted Russian crude and exporting products at market prices. They’re fine with that.”

Therefore, New Delhi’s stance has passed the so called ‘critical currents’ of the West and has to a certain degree become acceptable to United States . Though,  New Delhi’s act of helping Russia to relax and circumvent sanctions is still under scrutiny by the West. Moreover, with an attempt to redefine multilateralism and solidify the strategic autonomy game, New Delhi has come up with ‘Voice of Global South’ as  one of its core initiatives at G-20.

It must be underlined that as a power focus now, New Delhi’s geopolitical behavior has to be more sophisticated and cautioned where New Delhi cannot afford any kind of animosity or disturbances at its periphery. Inviting its arch rivals  China and Pakistan for SCO Summit in Goa this year is one evidence of such behavior. To a certain extent, it does drop the hint of normalization phenomena but time will only tell if it was a success or not.

Srijan Sharma
Srijan Sharma
Srijan Sharma is a national security analyst specializing in Intelligence and security analysis and worked as a Research Assitant in India's premier and prestigious national security and foreign policy think tank United Service Institution of India(USI) He has extensively written on matters of security and strategic affairs for various institutions, journals, and newspapers(Telegraph) Currently, he is a guest contributor to the JNU School of International Studies. He has also served as Defence Editor for a journal.