Thursday, April 06, 2017

Chakravyuh we made: India needs a more realistic assessment of its Pakistan and China options

The country’s foreign and security policy has plunged into a Chakravyuh of its own making. Its major manifestation is the dead end that we have reached in our relations with China and Pakistan, our two principal neighbours, who are simultaneously our principal adversaries and each other’s best friends.
The biggest foreign and security policy challenge that we confront is the deepening China-Pakistan relationship. These are countries we have warred and skirmished with, and on their account we have to spend a fortune on our security apparatus.
Faced with this challenge, one would imagine that the principal aim of our government would be to seek to break this nexus, which has been around since the 1960s, by fair means or foul. Instead, however, we have been witnessing a strengthening of that alliance, especially in the last two years. As for the government, it is in a world of its own where it already believes that it is a major world power that can bring its adversaries to heel through a policy of unrelenting toughness.
In the real world, the choices for India are fairly clear – manage ties with the countries in question or engineer change in them. Changing China or Pakistan is too big a task for India to attempt alone. Even the mighty US has tried and failed. Hoping for change to come is a non-option, what is needed is a policy to manage the bilateral problems through dialogue and negotiation in the short term and effecting change with the help of other likeminded countries in the longer. In essence this is what India’s policy has been till recently. And it has achieved a great deal by avoiding a major war with either country, despite our very serious issues with them.
India rightly believes that the forces against change in Pakistan are powerful and insidious, but it is still worth pursuing the path of dialogue and friendship. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s approach towards Pakistan, at least to the point, a little over a year ago, when he descended on Lahore to wish Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif “Happy Birthday”, was in line with this.
It’s not clear what happened thereafter and the same Modi has since spoken of the need to sanction and isolate Islamabad in virtually every international forum that he addressed. It cannot simply be the cross-border attacks which are fairly minor and had been going on since, at least, 2012. We can only assume that Modi’s desire to make peace with Pakistan has been overtaken by his need to win the UP election and thereafter the general election; in both cases, bashing Pakistan and, by inference, Islamism, plays well with his electorate, as against the risk of endangering his political capital through instances such as the Pathankot and Uri attacks.
New Delhi has displayed the same zig-zag pattern with China. In his visit to Beijing in 2015, Modi made an impassioned plea to his counterparts to resolve the border issue. But since then, New Delhi has adopted a strident and sometimes belligerent attitude towards Beijing on issues that can, at best, be considered trivial – India’s membership to the NSG and placing Masood Azhar in the UN’s 1267 list. The former appears to be born out of a sense of entitlement, rather than a real need. As for the latter, counterterrorism is better off focussing on eliminating the terrorist, not putting him on some list. Hafiz Saeed has been on that list since 2008 and it has hardly made any difference to him or the Lashkar-e-Taiba.
A third issue relates to CPEC which India says it will not condone because it passes through Gilgit-Baltistan. On the face of it, it looks reasonable, but in essence it means that New Delhi is offering Beijing a Hobson’s choice – either accept India’s claim on J&K or abandon Pakistan. And it is not about to do either, at least not without good cause.
Defeating the Chakravyuh is not easy, false choices and illusions block the way, and the belief that only unrelenting toughness will work with Islamabad and Beijing. Getting out requires a more realistic assessment of India’s options and a willingness to accept the international norm that in bilateral ties, you are expected to give something in exchange for something you want. There are incentives New Delhi could offer – contracts for Chinese companies, a face-saving role for Pakistan in Kashmir and so on. At present all that is on display are disincentives for them. As of now, it would seem that New Delhi is riding on the hubristic belief that friendship with Washington is its key out of the maze. But in the US of today nothing will come for free.
Times of India March 4, 2017

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