Neighbour or enemy? Both. India-Pakistan relations are like a roller coaster ride. All depends on which way the political wind is blowing, North or South. Presently, it’s bellicose and defiant, short of eyeball confrontation with both New Delhi and Islamabad standing there ground: Don’t mess with us.
It is a moot point if temperatures will ever come down in Indo-Pak relations post the bifurcation of Jammu & Kashmir into two Union Territories, J&K and Ladakh which has completely changed the dynamics of dialogue on Kashmir. Predictably, Islamabad has downgraded diplomatic ties, suspended bilateral trade and closed a corridor in its airspace.
Certainly, the first casualty of this altered scenario is chances of a guftagu have disappeared. For New Delhi there is now no “outstanding” issue of Kashmir except India’s claim on Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), which includes Gilgit-Baltistan.
Undeniably, Modi has changed the rules of the game and is re-writing India’s Pakistan policy. He seems to be pursuing a ‘strategy of deterrence by punishment’, which implies that any time Pakistan provokes, be prepared to exact a cost. The idea here is that if Pakistan realizes that its misadventure against India has a cost involved then it might be deterred.
In this heady diplomatic cocktail there is little scope for old fashioned moderation. Consequently, the prospects of any early “normalization” of ties with Pakistan have receded.
Questionably, does Islamabad have the appropriate diplomacy to counter Modi’s drive for Indian supremacy in the region? The ball lies in Pakistan’s court as it has always been the trigger of our bilateral relations. It has propagandist options, but no substantial ones. Therefore, it is unlikely that after being outflanked by India it will change its policies.
Importantly, its political frustration and domestic pressures are forcing it to internationalize India’s unilateral decision on Kashmir and warn of exercising all options against these “illegal” steps. Of course, it can try to foment resistance within the Valley and step up terrorism in J&K. But this could be risky as support to jihadi activities will allow India to increase pressure on Pakistan in the UN’s Financial Action Task Force (FATF) besides the danger of retaliation from India, which Pakistan can ill afford in view of its distressed economic situation.
Pertinently, three factors could decide Islamabad’s future course. One, how long Kashmir’s lockdown continues and subsequent protests which might provoke harsh crackdown and perhaps a new phase of insurgency. Islamabad, could covertly funnel arms and cash to the protestors leading to tensions intensifying.
Two, Pakistan would ratcheted its global campaign and raise the ante against India on Kashmir. So far, its campaign has been unsuccessful, barring all-weather-friend China, as it suffers from a global image of being the factory of jihadists. Thus, it may escalate cross-border firing along the LoC and deploy troops to its eastern border as a show of force. It has already launched a missile.
Three, how motivated Pakistan is about remaining off FAFT’s list. The Task Force which monitors money laundering and terrorist financing had placed Pakistan on a “gray list” for terrorist financing in 2018. If it concludes Islamabad hasn’t done enough to combat terrorist financing by October when it meets, Pakistan runs the risk of being blacklisted which could deter investors from doing business with it. This would be a big blow for its economy already reeling from a serious balance-of-payments crisis. Hence, Islamabad needs to limit its engagements with militants and hold back on sending jihadists to Kashmir until the FATF meet.
Moreover, insecure Pakistan faces twin dilemmas of international marginalization due its economic distress and terror factories and India’s political stability and growing economy. For Pakistanis fed on the belief, that ‘accepting the status quo with India is defeat’, has resulted in a perceived ideological perspective that it has to be at war to stand up and be counted.
This is forcing the Pakistani army to take calculated military risks against the backdrop of its nuclear capability as a manifestation of its continued struggle which it must continue to provoke India. It has made plain “it is prepared and shall go to any extent to fulfil its obligations to the Kashmiris”
Do the present assertive trends of Indian foreign policy portend the likelihood of an aggressive outcome during Modi’s tenure? The Prime Minister has talked openly about Pakistan’s vulnerabilities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan; exposed Pakistan’s misdeeds in POK including Gilgit-Baltistan; and suggested the possibility of relooking at Indus-Water sharing treaty, hitherto considered unimaginable. Succinctly, debunked the two-steps-forward-one-step-back approach coupled with backchannel talks which have made India appear timid, confused and soft.
Where does all this lead to? True, South Block has no illusions about any dramatic transformation in Islamabad’s policy towards New Delhi. As matter stands today, Pakistan has been pushed into a corner, notwithstanding its war mongering. It suffers from deep mistrust, lack of confidence and is busy generating artificial illusions about how it intends getting the better of India.
On its part New Delhi new assertiveness would need all the wisdom and restraint to ensure that it remains in control of the Indo-Pak script. One way is to adopt the Israeli Defence Forces strategy in which the aim is to cause the opponent more damage (quantitatively and qualitatively) than the opponent caused Israel in the same time span. The fear of punitive retaliation would, it was hoped, delay the next conflict and restrain the enemy’s ambitions.
Pakistan has got caught between a rock and hard place. The military holds the strings with a puppet Prime Minister. The nation psyche is military fed on a staple anti-India tirade since 1947. Make no mistake when it comes to India the army, ISI, politicians and civil society beyond its Lollywood and Coke studio hi society have the same view.
Certainly, in this zero sum game the muscle-flexing, war rhetoric and one-upmanship will continue till there the core issue of Kashmir is resolved. No one wants war, far from it, but at the same time Raisina Hill has to make sure Pak-sponsored terrorism and its ISI masters are given a befitting reply.
The long-term prospects of Pakistan-India relations will be determined to a large extent by India’s strategic goals and objectives in the context of the evolving regional and global security environment. The other part of the equation would be Pakistan’s policy goals and its handling of this critical relationship.
There is definitely a strategic imperative of peace between Pakistan and India because of their status as de facto nuclear powers and the need for them to focus their energies and resources on the gigantic task of economic development necessitated by widespread poverty.
Unfortunately, however, these factors alone will not be able to usher in an era of durable peace and friendship between the two countries. In all likelihood, Pakistan-India relations will continue to suffer from recurrent periods of tensions and strains because of India’s hegemonic designs in South Asia and outstanding disputes, especially the Kashmir dispute.
Therefore, genuine friendship between the two countries would remain elusive in the foreseeable future. The best that can be hoped for is the maintenance of peace between them and normal good neighbourly relations marked by low level of tensions and cooperation in various fields on a mutually beneficial basis.
At the end of the day, neither side – particularly Pakistan, with its crippling economic crisis – is gunning for a conflict. Clearly, there is little scope of smoking the peace pipe till Pakistan stops its jihadist machinery. Else the long thorny road to peace will end up as a peace road to nowhere.