This Article is From Oct 17, 2014

On Pakistan, Good Start By PM Modi

Harsh V. Pant is Professor of International Relations at King's College London. His most recent book is "India's Afghan Muddle" (HarperCollins).

Pakistan has a way of making its presence felt in India's foreign policy and national security matrix that, much to New Delhi's chagrin, tends to steal India's diplomatic thunder. At a time when Prime Minister Modi was trying to project himself as a global statesman with a successful visit to Japan, a visit to Gujarat and then Delhi by the Chinese President, and a 'rock-star' reception in the US, Pakistan decided it must get some attention.

So the Pakistani Army did what it does best. It escalated tensions along the border in an attempt to ratchet up pressure on India. It started with unprovoked mortar shelling on forward Indian positions along the Line of Control (LoC) and over the next few days, the firing spread to the international border and intensified.

Accusing India of "deliberate and unprovoked violations of the ceasefire agreement and cross-border firing," Pakistan promptly shot off a letter to the UN Secretary General asking for an intervention by the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan, a body for which India sees little role after the signing of the 1972 Simla Pact. The UN decided to ignore Pakistani shenanigans and has merely reiterated that India and Pakistan need to resolve all differences through dialogue to find a long-term solution to the dispute.

Pakistan is facing multiple crises. US forces are withdrawing from Afghanistan starting December 2014 and Beijing is increasingly dissatisfied with Islamabad's attempts at controlling the flow of Islamist extremists into its restless Xinjiang province. Tensions are rising also on Pakistan's borders with Iran where Pakistani Sunni extremists are targeting Iranian border posts, forcing Iranian policymakers to suggest that if Pakistani authorities "cannot control the common border, they should tell us so that we ourselves can take action." And the new government in Afghanistan under Ashraf Ghani is likely to go even further in developing close ties with New Delhi.

Within Pakistan, Imran Khan is breathing down Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's neck and the Pakistan Army's struggle against the domestic Taliban seems to be going nowhere.

All this is happening at a time when there is renewed confidence in India about its future as a major global player under the Modi government and when the world is ready to look at the Indian story afresh. No wonder, the Pakistani security establishment is nervous about its growing irrelevance - and what better to way to come into global prominence once again than to try and create a crisis in Kashmir!

Despite election season in India, the Modi government's reaction has been creditable so far. Rahul Gandhi came out of hibernation to attack the Prime Minister for ceasefire violations by Pakistan. The government, however, ignored the opposition's many taunts and confidently made clear to Pakistan that Indian forces would "make the costs of this adventurism unaffordable."

This gave the Indian military much-needed operational space to carve out a response which was swift, sharp and effective. Together, the Indian government and the nation's military have underlined the costs of Pakistan's dangerous escalatory tactics with massive targeted attacks on Pakistani Ranger posts along the border.

Now the Modi government needs a long-term plan to handle Pakistan. It can be considered the biggest strategic failure of Indian diplomacy that even after more than six decades, India has not found a way to neutralize the malevolence of a neighbour one-eighth its size. Business-as-usual has never been an option for India, and yet India's Pakistan policy in recent years has struggled to move beyond cultural exchanges and cross-border trade. Pakistan has continued to train its guns at India and drain India's diplomatic capital and military strength - and India has continued to debate whether Pakistani musicians should be allowed to enter India. This disconnect between Pakistan's clear strategic priority and India's magnificently short-sighted approach will continue to exact its toll on India unless Delhi makes it a priority to think outside the box on Pakistan.

Pakistan has a revisionist agenda and would like to change the status quo in Kashmir while India would like the very opposite. India hopes that the negotiations with Pakistan would ratify the existing territorial status quo in Kashmir. At its foundation, these are irreconcilable differences and no confidence-building measure is likely to alter this situation.

India's premise largely has been that the peace process will persuade Pakistan to cease supporting and sending extremists into India and start building good neighbourly ties. Pakistan, in contrast, has viewed the process as a means to nudge India to make progress on Kashmir, a euphemism for Indian concessions.

The debate in India on Pakistan has long ceased to be substantive. The choice that India has is not between talking and sulking. Pakistan has continued to manage the facade of talks even as its support for separatism and extremism in India continues unabated. India should also continue to talk (there is nothing to lose in having some level of diplomatic engagement after all) even as it needs to unleash other arrows in its quiver to manage Pakistan.

Smart policy for India means not being stuck between the talking/not talking binary. It's not talking that matters but under whose terms  - and after years of ceding the initiative to Pakistan, it is now for India to dictate the terms for negotiations.

Modi has done well to remind Pakistan that India indeed has the capability to impose serious costs in response to Pakistan's escalatory tactics and he should now build on that to carve out a long-term strategy.

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