Written by Rizwan Zeb.
India is going through what Charles Dickens would have called the best of times and the worst of times. The best of times because India is rising and destined to emerge as a global power. The worst of times because at this important juncture of history it is ruled by a government that is confused and dragging it back. Modi’s India is confused and this confusion is affecting India in its domestic, regional and foreign policy relations.
Is there a civil-military tussle going on in New Delhi?
In India’s strategic assessment, Pakistan, its proverbial twin, poses a long-term threat to its security. For the last 70 years, India and Pakistan have been engaged in what Stephen Philip Cohen calls a paired minority conflict. This relationship is based on open hostility, rivalry and deep mistrust. The relationship soured at the time of partition in 1947. Subsequent bilateral, regional as well as global developments have further added to this complication. 70 years since independence, India and Pakistan have apparently gone different ways. India is generally believed to be an emerging global power; Pakistan continues in its search for itself.
At present, any discussion on India-Pakistan relations anywhere in the world blames Pakistan for all what is wrong between India and Pakistan. Islamabad is blamed for negatively responding to New Delhi’s peace offers. This narrative claims it was Islamabad that sent its raiders and troops in Kashmir in 1948, initiated operation Gibraltar that resulted in the 1965 war, supports terrorist groups in India especially Indian controlled Kashmir, provides sanctuary to groups like Lashkar-e-Tayiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad, Kargil, and is responsible for the Mumbai terror attacks.
What is missing from this is a discussion of New Delhi’s Pakistan policy. Historically, New Delhi has followed different policies to deal with Pakistan: actively participating in the disintegration of Pakistan, peace process and dialogue, ignoring Pakistan, and diplomatic campaigns to get Pakistan declared as a rogue state. At the same time, despite its claims that India has grown beyond Pakistan’s league, a closer look at the deployment of its armed forces indicate where New Delhi’s major concerns are. Since 1998 and the overt nuclearisation of India and Pakistan, New Delhi conducts its policy responses as a signal to Washington to restrain Islamabad or things will go out of hand. A year-long military standoff in 2002 and the post Mumbai crisis are cases in point.
Nothing illustrates New Delhi’s policy confusion more than the 2002 military standoff. New Delhi mobilised its army in the wake of the terror attacks. What exactly New Delhi wanted to achieve through this mobilisation is anybody’s guess. On May 16, 2003, then Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee made it clear that New Delhi would not talk to Islamabad until and unless Islamabad ends cross-border terrorism. Forty-eight hours later, in Srinagar, he extended a hand of friendship to Pakistan. The Srinagar speech started the peace process between India and Pakistan. It is yet not clear what exactly happened in those 48 hours that changed his mind.
New Delhi’s policy confusion is further evident from the fact that when a deal was almost reached on Saichen between Islamabad and New Delhi, New Delhi got cold feet. Pranab Mukherjee stated, “What if we withdraw from Siachen and they (Pakistani forces) occupy it?” New Delhi faced intense pressure from the Indian Army not to move ahead on the Siachen deal with Islamabad.
Another factor in this regard is the prevailing view in New Delhi that in the post-9/11 world, Pakistan is under tremendous pressure internally and externally and that the power configuration at the national, regional and international levels favours India and it is time to do things according to its own terms. Former Indian Prime Minister late I.K. Gujral, a noted advocate of peaceful India Pakistan relations, voiced this view when he said: “His (Musharraf’s) country faces innumerable problems. He also finds India growing taller and taller. His friends, the Americans, have told him not to rock the boat.”
A number of South Asia watchers argue that New Delhi is now using water insecurity against Pakistan, a lower riparian state, through its various hydro projects. This is especially the case in its projects on the headwaters of the Indus River on the Indian side and by manipulating the Indus Waters Treaty. Recent developments in this regard are typical of India’s new approach.
New Delhi often claims that it is not clear who it should talk to in Islamabad because Pakistan is run by the Pakistan Army and it does not want peace with India. One of India’s finest and wisest men, Shashi Tahroor, recently reiterated that the real problem is Pakistan’s army. He said: “India has an army; Pakistan army has a state.” Hence New Delhi is unenthusiastic to talk peace with Pakistan’s political leadership. Yet, no resolution of the Kashmir issue came out of the General Musharraf-Manmohan Singh back channel. Making peace with an army ruled Pakistan, according to the Indian strategic community, would strengthen the military in Pakistan and further weaken democratic forces.
Modi’s New Delhi is no different. Recently, one has come across a number of extremely aggressive, provocative and gratuitously reckless statements from the Indian army and air force chiefs regarding Pakistan. Since assuming the office of the prime minister of India, Modi has blown cold and hot. He and his national security advisers have spelled out their actions against Pakistan in Balochistan and criticised Pakistan for supporting the TTP. It could have been argued that Modi’s New Delhi has finally decided how it wants to deal with Pakistan, but then the Indian side disclosed to the Indian media that the National Security Advisers of India and Pakistan are in contact and have secretly met in Thailand. What is happening here, especially when the Indian armed forces chiefs are making extremely provocative statements? Are they on board with the Indian civilian leadership’s contact with Islamabad? Is there a civil-military tussle going on in New Delhi?
This indecisiveness in New Delhi is puzzling for South Asia observers. What lies at the root of this indecisiveness? What is New Delhi’s Pakistan policy? How does it want to deal with its Pakistan problem? A generally held view among many South Asia watchers is that normalisation of relations and reaching an understanding with Pakistan is paramount for the emergence of India as a global power. Yet, is India ready for it? Despite a conventional imbalance between the two, it is obvious that India cannot decisively defeat Pakistan and any such military conflict would drag India further away from achieving its global power status. It is paramount that India clearly spells out its Pakistan policy.
Whilst India’s indecisiveness continues, China will continue to make inroads into South Asia, especially Pakistan. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor the free trade agreement with Maldives, Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port, and Nepal’s pro-China parties are clear examples. China’s increasing influence among its neighbours will also be an impediment to India’s rise. One thing that must be kept in mind is that India’s rise to global power status is linked with its relations and standing among its South Asian neighbours. Pakistan must also work on improving its relations with India. They have tried war and conflict for almost 70 years, it is high time they change their course. Both India and Pakistan have much to achieve by treading on the path of peace.
Rizwan Zeb, Ph.D., is associate editor of Journal of Asian Security and International Affairs (Sage). He is a former Benjamin Meaker professor, University of Bristol, UK; visiting scholar India-South Asia Project, Foreign Policy program of the Brookings Institution, Washington DC, USA. He is also consulting editor of soon to be launched weekly e-paper Pakistan Review. He tweets at @SRizwanZeb. Image Credit: CC by Obama White House/Flickr.