Narendra Modi’s government chooses to celebrate a lie and marks it as a highlight of its muscular policy towards Pakistan, further convincing that India cannot be serious about any peace initiative to begin with. It’s an unfortunate state of affairs and a sad commentary on the prospects of peace, prosperity and progress in South Asia.
The tensions between the two protagonists of South Asia aggravated further, when India called off a planned meeting between her Foreign Minister, Sushma Swaraj and Foreign Minister of Pakistan Shah Mehmood Qureshi, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in New York.
The reason given for a back tracking within 24 hours is way too flimsy. Mr. Raveesh Kumar, External Affair’s Ministry spokesman, said India’s decision to back off follows the killing of an Indian border guard in Kashmir — killed two days before India had announced the talks — and Pakistan supporting Burhan Wani, by issuing 20 postal
stamps on July 24, 2018. Pakistan Rangers had in fact, extended help in efforts to locate the soldier’s body. These facts are well known to the Indian government. However, Indian government is choosing to hide behind the incident to stonewall talks succumbing to internal pressures. The Pakistani authorities in the interest of transparency have also offered joint investigation to establish the truth, one wonders what more Pakistan could have done. The postal stamps excuse is even more frivolous because it was months ago.
The Indian offence did not stop at calling off the peace talks. The Indian Army Chief, Bipin Ravat threatened Pakistan with painful consequences which resulted in a communication chaos, where Pakistan was pushed into retaliation by saying “Pakistan is ready to respond to any external aggression”.
Both India and Pakistan now upping the ante, have their respective armies indulging in a cold war, with open references to their nuclear status, what started as a message of felicitation to the newly elected Prime Minister of Pakistan and reciprocated with an invitattion for talks, has now turned in to an onslaught of blame game and agitation.
An opportunity to even initiate normalization has been lost and it’s back to square one for both the countries. The much needed strategic accommodation is nowhere in sight. Governments on both sides of the border are on the back foot, trying to manage public opinion, in the wake of the blame game and a hyperactive media.
The Congress used this opportunity to bash Modi’s government and opposition on Pakistan’s side is blaming Imran Khan for making Pakistan look too eager for dialogue. This is the kind of behavior that has researchers on South Asia saying that India-Pakistan rivalry is likely to endure for several more decades.
However, the international community should take cognizance of this Indian belligerency. The paradigm shift in Pakistan’s foreign policy is for all to see. In spite of malicious propaganda, Pakistan has exercised restraint and has kept the option of talks open. Pakistan’s foreign policy thrust is now driven by connectivity because of its commitment to CPEC. Pakistan is actively looking for functional relations with all its neighbors including India. Pakistan is also aware of Chinese desire to make India part of CPEC. India is the only country in South Asia that is not a part of the corridor. Now that Saudi Arabia has also become an investment partner in CPEC, its thrust is more powerful and sustainability is assured. Pakistan is ready and inclined towards high level strategic accommodation with India to improve the relations.
But more importantly, Pakistan-India relations are not a bilateral issue, besides Kashmir they are intrinsically linked to peace in Afghanistan. The Indian Chief’s reference of inflicting pain on Pakistan is an extremely loaded comment. It’s almost an admission of India using strategic space it has gained in Afghanistan against Pakistan. Threats and intimidation tactics are extremely counterproductive for regional peace and peace in Afghanistan itself.
A smooth Pak-Afghan relationship is also linked to normalization of relations with New Delhi. The Indian belligerence on Western front, its support to non-state actors in Balochistan and Afghanistan are impediments to Afghan peace process. Afghanistan is hostage to India-Pakistan rivalry due to India. Journalist and author Steve Coll, whose latest book Directorate S: The CIA and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, offers a detailed behind-the-scene look at the protracted Afghan conflict, claims that there has been a proxy war developing between India and Pakistan in recent years.
“Both sides are trying to use the same proxy violence strategies against one another,” Coll claimed. “It only reinforces the belief among Pakistani high command they need pursue on their border region as a kind of forward defense against what they perceive to be long-term Indian intentions.” Ashley Tellis, senior fellow at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said, “Afghanistan has become the arena where that struggle for influence is being manifested most clearly.”
The international community has to do more than just comment on these developments. The lack of reciprocity from the Indian side for initiation of a dialogue process itself, the politics of threatening Pakistan, and using its influence in western capitals to constantly pressurize Pakistan are the contributing factors in making peace elusive in Afghanistan.
Further on, the post-truth politics of India is acquiring a dangerous dimension, the whole drama of surgical strikes enacted two years ago on September 29, 2016, whose validity was questioned by Indian lawmakers themselves, but was celebrated in the universities and colleges across India, as “Surgical Strike Day” on the instructions of the Indian government. Narendra Modi’s government chooses to celebrate a lie and marks it as a highlight of its muscular policy towards Pakistan, further convincing that India cannot be serious about any peace initiative to begin with. It’s an unfortunate state of affairs and a sad commentary on the prospects of peace, prosperity and progress in South Asia.
The writer is the Associate Dean and an Associate Professor, Social Sciences and Liberal Arts at IBA, Karachi.
E-mail: [email protected]