Narendra Modi should stick to his out-of-the-box Pakistan policy
The one major take-away from PM Narendra Modi's recent references to Balochistan, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK) and Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) is that India will no longer accept the 'pain as usual' template when it comes to Indo-Pak relations.
Having failed in 1948, 1965 and 1999 to militarily wrest Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) from India, Pakistan's strategy has been to force India on to the negotiating table in a weakened position.
The instrumentality for this has been the use of terror as state policy.
Under the nuclear overhang, Pakistan has been inflicting pain on India for decades, assessing that India will not respond for fear of escalation of matters to the nuclear level.
The assessment has had merit since India did not respond either after the 2001 Parliament attack or after the 2008 Mumbai strikes.
Keeping quiet for so long
So far, this has been the template of the relationship: Pakistan inflicting pain and India absorbing the pain and the casualties.
Every government has found such a template unacceptable and intolerable but has not been able to find a way to retaliate because of the nuclear conundrum.
Neither has mobilising international opinion on Pakistan worked in stopping the terror offensive.
What Modi has done is to signal that he is willing to do something about it.
Cards on the table
Three cards have been laid on the table - POK, Gilgit-Baltistan and Balochistan.
This is testing the waters. Nothing has been said or done that is irretrievable, the reference itself is related to violations of human rights.
The ball is in now Pakistan's court. How do they see, read and respond to the signal? How does Pakistan calculate the cost of the Indian gambit? Do they read this as an Indian bluff and continue on the same path of exporting terror?
Or will Pakistan withdraw from the brink inferring that henceforth India will support the secessionists in Balochistan (though India has not made any statement to that effect explicitly) and up the ante in POK and GB?
The manner in which Pakistan responds will be the catalyst for the future of Indo-Pak relations.
Up the ante
Complicating matters for Pakistan is Modi's foreign policy style. Many critics have called it incoherent, accused him of flip-flops and of changing goal posts.
The reason is that foreign policy establishments, the world over, like predictability in policy. They like neat boxes in which relationships can be put in.
In Modi's case, the only predictable thing is his unpredictability.
Whether it was the invitation to SAARC leaders for the inauguration, or calling off foreign secretary-level talks because of the Hurriyat, or the impromptu visit to Lahore, all have been unpredictable out-of-the-box initiatives.
The I-Day speech, too, has to be seen in this light.
Achievements so far?
It is debatable whether previous governments had a Pakistan policy and this government does not - but the moot point is - what did the policy achieve?
Has India's Pakistan policy over the last seven decades succeeded in moderating Pakistan's belligerence and sponsorship of terrorism?
The answer is clearly in the negative. This being the case, should we persist with the 'consistent' policy or try something new?
Dealing with a revanchist country like Pakistan - a status quo foreign policy just cannot work - as the last seven decades has shown.
Being unpredictable, taking the initiative, changing goal posts like this government has done in the past two years is certainly worth a shot.
If nothing else, it has caused anxiety to many in Pakistan and made them pause and realise that it is no longer 'pain as usual'.
The key test for the government would be to press home the advantage. For this it must follow up with several initiatives, three of which could be:
(i) A verbal policy shift by highlighting the horrendous violations of human rights inflicted on the Baloch and on the people of POK and GB, including their appalling living conditions.
(ii) Provide "diplomatic, moral and political support" to the Baloch and Kashmiris, for example, by organising conferences and seminars in which, to begin with, overseas representatives of the Baloch and Kashmiris are invited to highlight their legitimate grievances.
(iii) Encourage Indian TV channels to start showing temperatures of Gilgit, Skardu and Muzaffarabad in their weather bulletins.
Where does all this leave Indo-Pak relations?
It is undeniable that the relationship does look forlorn. Some have argued that it would require extremely deft handling, even at the political level, to kick-start the relationship again.
Perhaps it would.
However, the question is why is it necessary to kick-start the relationship so soon anyway? What is the hurry?
Things should be allowed to cool down for at least six months to a year before the threads are picked up again.
Routine diplomatic exchanges are being done through the High Commissions anyway and there is a lot that is keeping Pakistan tied up already -
- Nawaz Sharif is under a lot of political pressure at home on account of serious corruption charges.
- A new army chief should be announced shortly and will be in the saddle by November.
- The Army is stretched out in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) while terrorist attacks continue within Pakistan.
- The economy is in shambles with both exports and remittances showing a serious downward slide.
- The Chinese are unhappy with the tardy progress of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
- Pakistan's relations with the US, Afghanistan and Iran have seen better days.
A dialogue at this stage is Pakistan's requirement, not India's.
Let India not bail out Pakistan by being in a hurry for a dialogue.
Instead, the out-of-the-box signal given by the PM should be pursued to drive home the message that henceforth things will be quite different.
The author retired as Special Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India. He tweets as @tilakdevasher1
Edited by Jhinuk Sen