Hardline is the right line when it comes to India’s attitude towards Pakistan; a dovish approach would make Modi’s regime look no different from Sonia-Manmohan Singh’s in the last year of its present term
While several issues that the Narendra Modi government was expected to resolve are getting addressed in the right manner, albeit gradually, the India-Pakistan relations, the most challenging of all tasks, will not turn cordial in the foreseeable future. However, the policy of no talks with the western neighbor until they cease their support for terrorism on Indian soil must continue. To state that the Pathankot and Uri-like misadventures continue despite Modi’s act of inviting Pakistan’s then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to the occasion of the inception of the new government three years ago and making an unscheduled stopover in Lahore to exchange pleasantries on the way back to New Delhi from Kabul is a no-brainer. Hate for India being the raison d’être for the Islamic nation — born as it is, based on the two-nation theory — these attacks will not stop even if Modi were to turn as romantically tolerant of Pakistani designs as Jawaharlal Nehru or Inder Kumar Gujral used to be. The point to note is that India judiciously exhausted the peace initiatives at the beginning of this regime, thus making the international community view Pakistan now as the troublemaking side that is in no mood for reconciliation. If the situation for the nation hostile to India had not aggravated enough for the farce it conducted in the name of trying Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind of the 26/11 attacks that killed several Americans, Israelis and other foreigners, it has worsened for Pakistan’s mischievous deed in abducting an Indian businessman Kulbhushan Jadhav — long retired from Navy, with no further association with the security establishment — from Iranian territory on suspicion of espionage. Islamabad first lost the case at the International Court of Justice and then came across as a typical rogue state when it subjected Jadhav’s mother and wife to inhuman scrutiny while they met with the wronged prisoner whose appearance suggested he had been physically tortured in Pakistani custody. The one-year-old government in the United States led by President Donald Trump is hence getting impatient with the country that it preferred to India as a regional partner during the Cold War years. For the last decade or so, one heard of cancellation or postponement of delivery of American fighter planes to Pakistan; now the US is also threatening the virtual military state of an end to financial aid.
India’s problem will have to be solved by Indians, though. To this end, it is surprising why the Modi dispensation is not plucking the low-hanging fruits as far as doable actions in diplomacy are concerned. To the chagrin of all countrymen, India continues to offer the Most Favoured Nation status to Pakistan in bilateral trade. Modi’s policy paralysis on this front has ensured that Indians now have no choice but to buy some Pakistan-made products — for example, glass — while the Indian competition has vanished from the Indian market. India is not dying for Pakistani cement, sugar, organic chemicals, cotton, man-made filaments, vegetables, fruits, tubers, mineral fuels, mineral oils, salts, earths, stone, lime, dry fruits, steel and plastering material either. That MFN is a principle of the World Trade Organisation’s General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which India is a signatory to, is as invalid an excuse for inaction as the feeble explanation that India is a part of the South Asian Free Trade Area as well, the other partners of which may turn against India. Regardless of the primacy of money for all countries, no self-respecting and strong nation could be browbeaten to submission on any worldwide economic deal in the history of the United Nations and regional inter-country groups. Although the volume of India-Pakistan trade is low, the scrapping of the MFN status will be welcomed as a necessary, symbolic gesture of intent.
There was a nationwide consensus on the revision of the Indus Water Treaty as a punitive measure following the terror attacks in Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir. Modi failed to take that decisive step either. And then, the Union government, in the form of Parliament’s treasury benches, ate a humble pie when it issued a near-apology after cornering the Indian National Congress for surreptitiously meeting Pakistani delegates at the residence of a Congress leader in Delhi while the State of Gujarat was facing its Assembly election. Just to ensure a smooth functioning of the Upper House! Modi could have exploited the record of violation of the World Bank-brokered pact by Pakistan against that country as, in the entire history of the agreement, it was Pakistan once and never India that had broken the accord. Pakistan constructed the Left Bank Outfall Drain passing through the Great Rann of Kutch without seeking India’s consent to the project, causing floods in Gujarat and polluting the water for salt farms in the area. The Indian government refused to settle the score during the most opportune time for it last year when the domestic view about Pakistan was at its nadir.
The prime minister ought to take lessons from his own hard line in military affairs. Hot pursuit in Jammu & Kashmir has substantially increased terrorist casualty on the one hand and quick retaliation by the Indian Army across the Line of Control for the killing and mutilation of its soldiers by Pakistanis did not escalate into a war on the other. Chinese troops’ ignominious withdrawal from Doklam has indicated that the northern neighbour wouldn’t push India beyond an extent when we show resolve — more so because a confrontation would hasten the process of formation of a US-Japan-India axis and also because India is a huge market for Chinese goods. A two-front war is a far cry; China wouldn’t come to the aid of its otherwise all-weather ally overtly in times of Pakistan’s distress. The attitude India has displayed in armed conflicts with Pakistan must, therefore, be replicated in the trade and water pacts. Dealing with an inimical neighbour is a mind game as in a sports encounter; when the rival is down, you cannot relax and let the opponent recover and launch a counterattack. Attack persistently with a killer instinct and finish the game. This is one sector of governance where Modi can show a remarkable departure from the Congress legacy. The year 2018 is the last in his present term where he can demonstrate a difference.