Pakistan Needs Tough Handling
Amb Kanwal Sibal

No Indian government so far has found an answer to our unique Pakistan problem. Pakistan was a product of deep divisions - of land, people and religion - accompanied by bloodshed, ethnic cleansing and refugee flows. India’s secular, multi-religious, multi-cultural democracy has helped in healing past wounds. Pakistan, with no past prior to 1947, has in building one, become more Islamic, more alienated from its sub-continental roots and more anti-India. Its democracy has remained weak as a result, and the military, as the sword arm of Pakistan against arch-enemy India, has dominat-ed the polity. The emergence of extremist terrorist organisations in the country has inevitably followed in time. Pakistan cannot make peace with India without transforming itself. Indian diplomacy, however ungrudging, cannot achieve this for Pakistan. Our relations therefore remain stalemated.

The peace lobby in India tends to put the blame on India for failing to engage Pakistan in a sustained manner. It relies on platitudes to make its case. That there is no alterna-tive to a dialogue, that problems cannot be solved without talking, that we can choose friends but not neighbours, do not constitute political strategies for achieving foreign policy goals. We have been talking to Pakistan for almost 70 years. In the mid-1990s the so-called structured ‘composite dialogue’ began. Several summit level meetings have been held. We know Pakistan’s position in detail on all the issues bedeviling our relations as they have been discussed thread-bare over decades. Each effort to explore a possible change in thinking in Pakistan on relations with India because of its mounting internal problems, including domestic terrorism, has ended in futility.

Pakistan remains fixated on Kashmir, hanging on to 70 year old UN resolutions - which its has repeatedly violated by resorting to force, subversion and terrorism - when the world has moved on. It continues to nurture jihadi groups targeting India as they are considered assets in the proxy war against us. Pakistan is expanding its nuclear and missile arsenals and frequently threatens to use nuclear weapons against us. It abuses the provisions of the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) to stall projects that we are entitled to set up under it on the three rivers allocated to Pakistan. It refuses to normalise economic ties with India even when it can be a big beneficiary. It will not allow transit through its territory to Afghanistan even when that would help in stabilising Afghanistan economically and thus contribute to reducing to violence there. Such a step would encourage a change in Pakistani thinking about the role of the Taliban and Pakistan’s need for this obscurantist force to pursue its strategic interests In Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, Pakistan has remained fundamentally intransigent on all issues and us-es the dialogue mechanism only to seek one-sided concessions, backed by the use of terror. Any objective assessment of the result of discussions held so far with Pakistan would show that it has either not budged from its core positions, or if it has tried to project some suppleness it has been tactical in order to create a ground for India to make concessions, failing which it has reverted to its bedrock positions.

At the international level, because of the legacy of the Cold War and human rights is-sues, India has been on the defensive on the Kashmir issue. It has to battle entrenched perceptions on the issue even now. The exposure of Pakistan’s terrorist affiliations wins us understanding of the terrorism challenge we face as well as counter-terrorism cooperation, but not on the merits of the Kashmir issue. US and others exhort both sides to resolve the issue bilaterally through negotiations because of concerns that an India-Pakistan conflict might escalate to a nuclear level. They preach restraint to India, without, however, sanctioning Pakistan for provoking tensions by its terrorist misdeeds.

The Modi government has to fashion its Pakistan policy based on these hard realities. The flip-flops in its Pakistan policy, derided by the opposition, can well be seen as an-other essay on India’s part to explore whether internal pressures, changing sentiments towards it in the US, and Nawaz Sharif’s search for more elbow room vis a vis the military, some breakthrough on terrorism could be achieved. But with Pakistan’s volte face on Pathankot, followed by the Uri attack, and Nawaz Sharif adding fuel to the fire in Kashmir over Burhan Wani’s killing, the Modi government has had to revise its approach, which it has done with greater clarity than past governments.

The Modi government has broadened its options in dealing with Pakistan even if it wants to pursue them judiciously. By mentioning Baluchistan in his 2016 Independ-ence Day speech Modi put Pakistan on notice about its own internal vulnerabilities. This invited some political criticism at home, quite unjustified, as Pakistan cannot be given the unilateral advantage of railing against us on suppressing the demands of the Kashmiris and violating their human rights while their own record in Baluchistan is atrocious. Initially, the Baluchi representatives abroad got visibility on India TV chan-nels and public awareness of the Baluch problem was being increased. This has sub-sided for the moment.

The public disclosure about surgical strikes across the LOC after the Uri attack has re-moved the constraint imposed on India’s forces, even during the Kargil war, not to cross the LOC. By doing this we are treating the LOC as a legal border and making a major concession to Pakistan without any quid pro quo. Now our forces can retaliate at a time and place of their choosing undeterred by Pakistan’s nuclear threats. Here again, the opposition in India has done great disservice to the nation by echoing the Pakistani propaganda about the non-occurrence of strikes and by seeking proof from the government undermined the strong political message behind them. That a powerful message to Pakistan was made an issue of domestic point-scoring was self-defeating.

Modi has also unsheathed the most powerful, asymmetric instrument in India’s hands to pressure Pakistan on terrorism - the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT). He has announced India’s intention to exercise its full rights under the Treaty. The option to suspend the Treaty if Pakistan’s terrorist misconduct persists remains an option. Pakistan will have no answer to this instrument in our hands, just like we are perplexed about the response that would be most effective in dealing with its sponsorship of terrorism against us. We have dealt firmly with the World Bank when it has tried to be “even handed” between India and Pakistan on the latest Kishenganga and Ratle projects and have rejected US and UK intercession with us on our intentions with regard to the IWT.

While our difficult diplomatic effort to isolate Pakistan on the terrorism issue contin-ues, China’s vastly increased geopolitical commitment to Pakistan now includes shield-ing it from Indian and international pressure on the subject. If Donald Trump’s election and his robust views on Islamic radicalism have raised the possibility of tougher US policy on Pakistan’s terrorist affiliations, China’s obduracy in shielding Pakistan from Indian and international pressure on terrorism is an unfortunate reality. China has blocked the move in January by US, UK and France in the UN to designate Masood Azhar as an international terrorist. It has reiterated its opposition on both issues quite baldly just before the newly instituted India-China strategic dialogue at Foreign Secretary level. It is undeterred by the fall-out of its action on relations with India. Russian overtures to Pakistan also release pressure on Pakistan. In Pakistan’s Aman-17 naval exercise in February, in which American, Russian, British, Australian and Japanese navies also participated, bolsters Pakistan’s geopolitical standing. Russia and China are now giving it a role in Afghanistan which hardens its assumption that it can continue supporting terrorism without serious international repercussions.

All this does not ease our Pakistan problem. The early signals sent by Modi on Baluchistan, surgical strikes and the IWT therefore need to be reinforced so as to change the calculus of all parties. Equally importantly, our internal consensus on pursuing this course has to be strengthened. The opposition and the peace lobby should take a position that transcends party interests and ideological leanings.

(The author is a former Foreign Secretary)

Published Date: 24th February 2017, Image Source:

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
4 + 4 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.
Contact Us