What to do with India?

Recent Indian polls have laid bare Hindutva’s weaknesses masked by GDP growth and India’s deemed status as a counterweight to China

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrives at Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headquarters in New Delhi, India, June 4, 2024. — Reuters
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrives at Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headquarters in New Delhi, India, June 4, 2024. — Reuters  

The 21st century has not been kind to Pakistan. A quarter of the way into the new century, Pakistan’s ability to pursue its interests is curtailed severely in the global arena. Yet we must find faith and confidence within ourselves to overcome the current polycrisis, rebuild our international relationships patiently, think afresh imaginatively, and square up to an India that is less strong than it appears.

The results of the recent Indian elections have laid bare Hindutva’s weaknesses masked by GDP growth and India’s deemed status as a counterweight to China. Glaring economic inequality, relative weakness against China, rising unemployment and crippling mass poverty, restive farmers, and systematic suppression of minorities, especially Muslims, have corroded the shine of "Shining India." Unlike China, India has failed to raise a majority of its population out of poverty. Large swathes of its territory are still pre-modern and riven by religious, ethnic, and caste fault lines as well as secession movements.

Western corporations have been looking to shift their manufacturing away from China towards India, but this manufacturing boom has yet to materialise. India’s contribution to the United States’s "Indo-Pacific" stratagem is more theory than practice. And it has cast its lot with a superpower receding in confidence and projection of power. India has so far gotten away with playing both sides in many international conflicts, not least the Russia-Ukraine war and the Iran-Israel stand-off. Rising China will, sooner rather than later, force the US to call India’s bluff on Iran, Russia, and Taiwan.

India’s regional profile has also degraded. Nepal, Sri Lanka, and most recently Maldives have made serious overtures to China. India’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council has been frustrated repeatedly. Its self-proclaimed superpower status is thwarted by its lack of regional preponderance. Our eastern neighbour is thus not as strong as it looks but the West’s hardening stance against China has pushed the US and its allies into an ever-tighter economic and military embrace with India.

India may not be as robust as advertised, but Pakistan has its own challenges. Pakistan is walking the tightrope between China and the US while striving to stand tall against India. The international milieu is at best indifferent, and at worst hostile. The differential between Pakistan in India in conventional forces and arms is now far worse than the Clausewitzian one-to-three ratio. India has put "Cold Start" on the ground, bringing a bulk of its fighting capacity down the length of the border.

Pakistan has to walk the tightrope in a condition weakened by its conduct in the Second Afghan War (2001-21) and the post-2021 degradation in relations with Afghanistan, the ongoing economic implosion, resistance to modernity and reform, a recurring challenge from violent extremism, Bonapartism that derailed the 2013-17 national consolidation, and the new political fascism that has arisen in consequence.

The widening difference between India and Pakistan’s economic and diplomatic strength emboldened Narendra Modi to begin pursuing in 2016 a "not war, not peace" strategy to punish Pakistan beneath the nuclear umbrella. Starting in 2017, India ratcheted up bombings across the Line of Control, then ratcheted up even more in 2018. Pakistan had no counter-strategy.

This emboldened India in early 2019 to break a half-century-long taboo of crossing Pakistan’s air boundaries. The valiant response of our air force was dissipated, as Pakistan was constrained to return Flt Lt Abhinandan without any visible quid pro quo. This won Modi the 2019 election and led to the decisive next step: the August 2019 annexation of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK).

Modi’s annexation of IIOJK shattered 75 years of Pakistan’s foreign policy. Yet we failed to mobilise the international community at all. The UN published in 2018 and 2019 two landmark reports on torture in Kashmir. We failed to mobilise the international community. Killings, torture, and draconian legislation to discriminate and deny citizenship to minorities in India attracted and continues to attract international headlines. We failed to mobilise the international community. Meanwhile, India continues to encircle Pakistan economically by deepening relations with Iran, Afghanistan, and our friends in the Persian Gulf.

This explains but does not justify Pakistan’s strategic timidity when in 2020 India and China clashed in Ladakh, where India lost at least twenty soldiers and much credibility. The clashes continued till 2022, and in consequence, India has shifted a substantial portion of its Pakistan-facing troops towards China, leading to what some say now is a parity of conventional forces on the Pak-India border. India rewarded Pakistan’s "good" behaviour with an LoC ceasefire in February 2021, which still holds. This is the stalemate as Modi 3.0 began last month.

Narendra Modi finding the courage for peace is unlikely and would be uncharacteristic, although climate change, water, and food security offer new vistas of cooperation. Modi 3.0 will continue courting Taliban 2.0 in Afghanistan, as it did so recently through its “continuous help in capacity building of the Afghan cricket team.” New Delhi is likely to placate angry Kashmiris in IIOJK with the olive branch of statehood.

Voices in New Delhi are arguing that India should take advantage of its putative ascendant position to force an advantageous peace deal with Pakistan. But equally strident voices are arguing that India is doing well without engaging Pakistan and is better off remaining so. It is too soon to tell which voices will prevail.

What is Pakistan to do, not just with India but also to salvage its international reputation? The first action is to stop offering talks to India, which the present government has inadvisably done more than once. The second is to start walking the talk on regional geo-economics. The third is to eliminate violent extremism decisively from our soil.

The fourth is to deepen the strategic dialogue with China towards long-term strategy and leverage our membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. The fifth is to conduct discreet but consistent diplomacy with our European partners, who have been steadfast in maintaining trade concessions to Pakistan despite Brexit and US hostility.

The sixth is to begin an uphill campaign to achieve parity with India’s provisional status in the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Seventh, develop a strategic communication unit to systematically expose India’s human rights violations across the world. The eighth is to invest in studying India. The final is the most consequential: freeing the state from vested interests, modernising structures of governance, aggressive liberaliaation, and unleashing investment domestic and foreign, towards an economic growth of more than 5% for a decade.

All of the above actions are difficult for the government and the nation, some excruciatingly so. Despite our reduced circumstances and myriad internal challenges, nuclear power Pakistan can fortify itself with the strength and resilience of its 240 million citizens, stop appeasing India, protect its sovereignty, and pursue its interests with hard work and verve. “To the question, What shall we do to be saved in this world?” wrote the Marquess of Halifax, “there is no other answer but this, Look to your Moat”.

The writer is a former federal minister and MNA. He tweets/posts @kdastgirkhan

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed in this piece are the writer's own and don't necessarily reflect Geo.tv's editorial policy.

Originally published in The News