Modi raises the stakes

24 Aug

Shahid M Amin

The last few days have seen a marked deterioration in relations between Pakistan and India. Moreover, Indian influence is growing in Iran and Afghanistan, giving Pakistan a sense of encirclement. On the other hand, Pakistan’s ties with China have taken a quantum leap with the launching of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is likely to transform Pakistan’s economy and will strengthen Pakistan in other sectors as well. Such a prospect does not suit India. The enhanced Indian hostility towards Pakistan couild be motivated by a desire to sabotage or minimise projects under CPEC. These developments need careful evaluation by Pakistani policy-makers.
India is the second most populous country in the world and the fourth largest military power. It has a huge market, which gives it considerable leverage in international relations. India has made rapid economic progress but about 30% of its people still live below the poverty line. India is a democracy and has maintained political stability. It enjoys considerable political influence in the world. But India has all along sought to dominate its neighbours. Only Pakistan has stood in the way of Indian domination of South Asia. India also has had a troubled relationship with China with which it is in an undeclared competition for leadership of Asia. After the collapse of Soviet Union, its old ally, India has established a strategic alliance with USA in which the driving force is a common rivalry with China. Pakistan’s alliance with China is a particular eyesore for India.
India-Pakistan relations remain a hostage of history and religion. For a thousand years, Muslims held power in India, although Hindus remained the majority. Despite living together for centuries, genuine integration did not take place and the two communities maintained their distinct national identity. In the 20th century, irreconcilable differences between Hindus and Muslims on the constitutional setup eventually forced the Muslims to demand the division of India and setting up of Pakistan in Muslim-majority areas. Since their independence, India and Pakistan have remained pitted against each other despite periodic efforts to improve bilateral relations. Behind platitudes about secularism in India and desire for good relations with Pakistan, the underlying problem in India remains resentment against Muslims who had ruled over Hindu majority for a thousand years. After independence, Hindu supremacy in India is unchallenged but Pakistan is seen by many Indians as the continuation of that Muslim past. Besides, it is the only country in region opposing Indian ascendency. The hard-liners in India, including the ruling BJP, want to cripple or destroy Pakistan.
Kashmir remains the most serious problem between India and Pakistan. It has a Muslim majority and should have become a part of Pakistan but, through deceit and use of force in 1947, Kashmir is largely under the control of India. The Kashmiri people remain unreconciled to Indian occupation. The latest situation is that mass anti-India demonstrations are taking place in Kashmir since July 2016, after the killing by Indian military of Burhan Wani, a young Kashmiri militant leader. India has used brute force, including pellet guns that have blinded many protestors. The scale of unrest is unprecedented.
Turning a blind eye to realities in Kashmir, India is accusing Pakistan of abetting the current unrest. Pakistan maintains that the Kashmiri struggle is purely indigenous. Pakistan has openly sympathised with Kashmiri protestors and is raising the Kashmir issue in international forums. The current turmoil in Kashmir has aroused international concern. This is clearly pinching India and it has now adopted a new strategy to strike back against Pakistan.
In his speech on India’s Independence Day, Prime Minister Modi raised the temperature by publicly supporting the secessionists in Balochistan. He also claimed that the people in Pakistani-held Kashmir are being oppressed by Pakistan. But Modi’s claims fly in the face of realities. There is no sentiment in Azad Kashmir to separate from Pakistan or join India. So far as Balochistan is concerned, the whole world recognises it as a Pakistani province. India’s support for Baluch secessionists is a flagrant violation of international norms and constitutes interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs. In the words of a Pakistani spokesman, India has crossed a ‘red line’.
Pakistan can retaliate by supporting secessionists in several states in India like Punjab, Nagaland and Mizoram. However, it would be wiser for Pakistan to remain on the moral high ground and adopt a low-key response to Modi’s provocations on Balochistan. Any tit-for-tat policy would merely divert world attention from the Kashmir situation. This is what India would welcome and this could well be the reason why Modi raised the Balochistan bogey. Modi’s comments corroborate Pakistan’s view that India has been involved in subversive activities in Balochistan. This was also proved by the arrest of Yadav, an operative of RAW, who admitted being involved in subversive activities there for about ten years. In the words of Nirupama Subramanian, an Indian journalist, Modi has given Pakistan “a huge helping hand to drive home its India-hand claim about the Baluch struggle. Perhaps worse than this is that in one swoop, Modi has discredited the struggle’s indigenous moorings.” Nirupama added that in Pakistani Kashmir, “there is no popular unrest. Much as India might wish, there is no people’s movement. Most people living (in Azad Kashmir) think of themselves as Pakistanis. As for Gilgit Baltistan, being united with India is not on their wish-list. What Gilgit-Baltistan wants most is to become Pakistan’s “fifth province” so that it has the same constitutional rights that the other four enjoy.”
It is possible that Modi is playing internal politics by employing anti-Pakistan rhetoric, with an eye on the forthcoming UP elections. His party is dedicated to Hindu fundamentalism. This has been a key reason behind its popularity in India, where such mentality appeals to many Hindus. In any event, Modi is playing with fire and must not forget that Pakistan is a nuclear power with missile capability. The strategic reality is that a nuclear confrontation is in the interest of neither country. The nuclear deterrent will ensure Pakistan’s survival, irrespective of any Indian intrigues. Another strategic reality is that Modi’s words will not bring about the separation of Balochistan where the secessionists have been further discredited due to India’s open support for their cause.
— The writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, the ex-Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.



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