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Back to the Future Munir Akram

Back to the Future | Munir Akram

PAKISTAN’S relations with India have returned to familiar hostility. The foreseeable future looks much the same. Normalising relations with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP government was never a likely prospect. The contrary anticipation in Islamabad was naive and delusional. Modi’s policies are driven by an ideology whose central tenet is the ‘Hinduisation’ of ‘Mother India’ which encompasses all of South Asia.

Pakistan’s eagerness to normalise relations with Modi’s India — attending his ‘inauguration’, pleading for revival of the ‘Composite Dialogue’, offering concessions on trade — were seen as signs of weakness and evidence of the differences between Pakistan’s civilian government and its ‘security establishment’. Not surprisingly, these overtures were met by intensified bullying and bluster from New Delhi.

Surprisingly, Islamabad suffered Indian insults — cancellation of the foreign secretary talks, unacceptable preconditions for restarting the Composite Dialogue, outrageous threats — in virtual silence. To add injury to insult, it accepted the skewed statement in Ufa restricting dialogue to terrorism.

India’s Western patrons point fingers at Pakistan’s defensive responses rather than the Indian military expansion.

When, in response to a domestic outcry, Pakistan’s government attempted to broaden the agenda of the planned talks between the national security advisers of the two countries, and to revive the tradition of meeting Kashmiri leaders, India issued an ultimatum opposing this, providing Islamabad a convenient excuse to cancel the ill-conceived meeting.

What will follow is a repetition of history: recrimination, rhetoric and rising tensions, manifested in at least four areas.

First: the military threat. Almost all of India’s existing and new military capabilities are being deployed against Pakistan. Doctrines of a ‘limited war’ and a ‘Cold Start’ (surprise) attack have been espoused by India’s military forces. To display his muscle, Modi may feel tempted at some point to test Pakistan’s mettle. The recent LoC violations may be an early test.

Pakistan is obliged to equip itself to deter and defend against such adventurism: modern tanks and aircraft are required to deter and defend against a conventional attack; short-range missiles to break up attacking Indian formations; long-range missiles to neutralise distant missile attack; a second strike capability to deter a pre-emptive strike.

Perversely, India’s Western patrons point fingers at Pakistan’s defensive responses rather than the Indian military expansion, which they myopically see as a counter to China’s rising power. Pakistan should demand that India’s major arms suppliers — the US, Israel and France — cease and desist, lest they destabilise deterrence and encourage another India-Pakistan war. Such a démarche can be accompanied by bold proposals for conventional and nuclear arms control, placing the onus for their rejection on India.

Second: Kashmir. The Modi-BJP government policy is to eventually change the demographic and political status of India-held Kashmir. Partici­pation in the Srinagar coalition with Kashmiri collaborationists is a first step to this end. An attempt at trifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir is a likely next step.

Inevitably, these BJP moves will be met by strong resistance from the majority of Kashmiri Muslims and start another ‘intifada’. Equally inevitably, India would blame Pakistan for the insurrection, instigating a political and military crisis.

Pakistan should acknowledge that no compromise on Kashmir is possible with India at present. The possibility of a viable future settlement should not be eroded by offering pre-emptive concessions, merely to appear ‘reasonable’. The best defence is offence. Pakistan should revive the demand for implementation of the UN Security Council resolutions on Kashmir; raise India’s oppression of the Kashmiris in the Human Rights Council; call for the withdrawal of India’s 700,000 occupying force from India-held Kashmir; provide generous financial support to Kashmiri political parties seeking self-determination; invite them to meet in Pakistan or elsewhere and help to unify their struggle for freedom.

Third: Afghanistan. It must be anticipated that in the wake of the collapse of the Kabul-Taliban talks, India will intensify its campaign of destabilisation through enhanced support for the TTP and the Baloch insurgency from Afghanistan. Despite the recent rhetoric from President Ghani, Pakistan’s primary effort should be to help in promoting reconciliation in Afghanistan in exchange for Kabul’s action to neutralise the TTP and the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA). With appropriate incentives and pressure, the Afghan Taliban, under Mullah Mansour, can be persuaded to resume the talks with Kabul and perhaps to agree to a partial de-escalation of violence. However, Pakistan may have to consider unilateral action to root out the TTP from its safe havens in Afghanistan if Kabul and its allies prove unable or unwilling to do so. Such direct action is authorised under several resolutions of the Security Council.

Fourth: the media and diplomatic ‘war’. With active support from the Western media and think tanks, India has been hugely successful in portraying Pakistan as a failing state and the source of terrorism and nuclear proliferation. India’s monumental shortcomings and dysfunctionality remain well-hidden. New Delhi will no doubt now intensify this campaign to ‘isolate’ Pakistan.

Pakistan needs to activate its diplomatic and media machinery to counter this Indian campaign and regain the narrative. A viable way has to be found to conform with international legality regarding the Lashkar-e-Taiba. It will not be difficult to justify contacts with the Afghan Taliban if Pakistan is successful in securing resumption of the talks with Kabul.

These defensive steps should be accompanied by a campaign of offence. Apart from the actions suggested here on arms control and Kashmir, a systematic effort is required to expose India’s historical and current role as a state sponsor of terrorism. As a first step, the three dossiers prepared for the aborted NSA talks on India’s support for the TTP and BLA should be made public and circulated as official documents at the UN. Also, the scope and success of Pakistan’s anti-terrorist operation, Zarb-i-Azb, and NAP need to be more extensively projected to the world community and media.

Only once India realises that it cannot intimidate Pakistan into submission will it agree to negotiate normalisation on the basis of equality and rationality. This is unlikely until Modi and the BJP have passed from power. Pakistan has lived with Indian hostility for 68 years. While war must be avoided through deterrence and diplomacy, Pakistan can wait a while longer to establish a normal relationship with India.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

Back to the Future | Munir Akram  

Published in Dawn, August 30th, 2015

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