Demystifying India’s Volte-Face on Pakistan

Relations between India and Pakistan have long been strained by a number of historical and political issues. The relationship of the two South Asian nations has been plagued with hostility and suspicion. Regional peace, and to an extent, the peace of the world has been held hostage by this bitter hostility for the past 67 years. Recently, new Indian government sprung two back-to-back surprises on Pakistan: the first was inviting Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to the swearing-in of Prime Minister Narendra Modi; the second was the about-face on foreign secretary level talks upon the resumption of dialogue.

Modi’s invitation to Nawaz Sharif was seemingly couched in India’s regional diplomacy, but was mainly directed at Pakistan. The message was that with a new right-leaning government in New Delhi, Pakistan could expect bolder movement on the outstanding issues between the two.

However, the cancellation of talks apparently stemmed from the Modi government’s reluctance to be brought to the negotiating table under Pakistani pressure.

There were an estimated 95 incidents along the Line of Control (LoC) this summer, with 25 on the working boundary. The increase in action along the LoC is being seen by some sceptics as Pakistani military’s attempt to get India to engage meaningfully and to position the military favourably within Pakistan. This was first to gain credibility for the talks by pushing India to the table, and second to caution the Pakistani government against any “sell out.”In this event, the Pakistani high commissioner’s meeting with Kashmiri leadership, something traditionally accepted legal by India, provided the pretext for the cancellation of talks.

India’s outstretched hand in the Rashtrapati Bhawan forecourt appeared promising for the peace constituency in Pakistan. It is a longstanding Indian policy to hold out economic benefits to Pakistan as an incentive to go beyond the Kashmir question. Cancelling talks was a serious blow to all efforts towards the restoration of peace between the two states. The cancellation and the manner it was done together suggest India’s intent to bring about change through other means.

The ability to administer military punishment was found wanting when it was tested during the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Even though India has had a conventional doctrine for the nuclear age, called Cold Start, since the attack on India’s Parliament in December 2001, the military’s wherewithal to execute its policy could not keep pace given the strained economic circumstances during the later part of the last decade.

Deterrence deemed insufficient, India is now attempting to compel.

India is expected to import $250 billion in arms over the next ten years. It is filling in the gaps in its conventional inventory, such as artillery, to improve the credibility about its conventional deterrence. The amount of foreign investment allowed in defence manufacturing has been upped to 49 per cent. Since assuming office, Mr Modi has visited occupied Jammu and Kashmir twice, addressing troops on both occasions. Additionally, keeping the defence portfolio without a full-time minister has allowed Modi to keep a closer eye on it.

Three warships have been commissioned in close succession, although two of them are reportedly not quite ready. Carte blanche has been given to the Army and the Border Security Force by respective ministers to administer a “befitting reply” on the LoC and international border.

Will this strategy succeed?

Pakistan, for its part, has a counter-strategy of ensuring that it is always in a position to credibly show itself in conflict with India. All it needs to do to win is to avoid losing. Further, its moves on the nuclear front are being taken by India as a threat of escalation. This places India’s conventional threat in question, as it is based on keeping any conflict non-nuclear.

In Pakistan’s perception, with the US set to exit Afghanistan and “good behaviour” on Kashmir over the past decade not having “worked,” it may be back to business. The spike in firing incidents since talks were cancelled suggests as much.

India has been involved in a proxy war against Pakistan. This has been conveyed to the Indians, most notably at the Sharm-el Sheikh joint statement in Egypt. The appointment of an intelligence czar as India’s national security advisor is an indicator that India won’t back off. Afghanistan readily lends itself as a suitable site for such an endeavour.

Given such dangers, India and Pakistan would do well to restart the peace process at the earliest opportunity. At the least, a meeting between the two PMs would reinsert a buffer between crisis and conflict. Realistically, this may not be on the cards. India, set on upping the ante, may have decided to hold course no matter what. In this game of chicken, it hopes Pakistan’s army will be the first to blink. This is a touching, if entirely unfounded, faith in Pakistan’s army.

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