Whether we like it or not, India’s Narendra Modi is in the driver’s seat at least in controlling the ‘temperature’ in Islamabad. He just has to ask his ministers to utter a few irresponsible words to instantly bring us into a ‘reactive’ mode as was seen in recent weeks with our government and media both quickly joining in the war of words. That is what he wanted. He also looks for an opportunity to be truly himself as he was in his recent visit to Dhaka where he could not be more spiteful of Pakistan. Modi gloated over the role his country played in the 1971 dismemberment of Pakistan. He must have been looking into the mirror when he accused Pakistan of “creating nuisance and promoting terrorism.”
There couldn’t have been a more provocative statement thus far from any Indian leader. But what could one expect from a Kautilya disciple? Traditionally also known as Chanakya, Kautilya, a scholar at Takshashila who served as guardian-teacher to Emperor Chandragupta Maurya, founder of the Mauryan Empire more than three thousand years ago, had recommended seven strategies to Chandragupta Maurya in dealing with his neighbouring powers. These included” appeasement, gift and bribery, divide and split, force and coercion, deceit and illusion, ridiculing the enemy and faking military strength.
As a master chess player, he knows when to move his chess pieces and when to readjust them. After a spate of provocative posturing, he suddenly made a short telephone call to our prime minister as a gesture of goodwill at the beginning of Ramadan. Modi also announced the release of detained Pakistani fishermen as “an act of goodwill” in the month of Ramadan. Both sides have been releasing fishermen periodically as a mutual gesture on humanitarian basis. Modi however chose to capitalise on the first routine event of his tenure for a political advantage. Nevertheless, irrespective of the motive, the gesture was worth acknowledging. And Nawaz Sharif did acknowledge it.
He described Modi’s telephone call as reflective of his “sincerity for good ties.” That was a bit of exaggeration. Modi is master in making illusions that only a clever chess player would make against an amateur rival. He knows when to checkmate and when to reposition his ‘piece’ on its square without even being required to move it. After an ill-mannered provocative and threatening posture in the context of alleged Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, his phone call to Nawaz Sharif was nothing but a chess player’s clever readjustment move. He had to wear a reconciliatory face towards Pakistan to appease Washington which for some time has been urging him to ease tensions in the region.
In a statement issued by his office, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was also quoted urging the two nations “to forget their differences and move towards peace and tranquility to be able to co-exist peacefully.” He asked them not to “let their bilateral differences become hurdles in that path.” It looks an innocuous statement but in India-Pakistan context, it amounts to serious erosion in Pakistan’s known principled position. No one knows what actually transpired in their telephone conversation. At least the statement issued by the Indian prime minister’s office and even Modi’s personal twitter do not corroborate the remarks attributed to our prime minister in the statement issued by his office.
If it was a five-minute call, there was hardly any time for either of the two prime ministers to banter or delve into any serious exchange on bilateral relations. Whatever the reality, from what has been attributed to our prime minster is certainly not our official position and is bound to create misunderstandings in future India-Pakistan parleys. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif perhaps doesn’t know that for Pakistan, it was a very costly incoming call. By all accounts, Modi did achieve his objective. He gave a lollipop to our prime minister and was also able to reassure Washington of his skills to keep everyone cool in the region.
Modi has been playing this game ever since he assumed his office in May last year. His invitation to the Saarc leaders to attend his swearing-in ceremony was itself a patronising gesture from someone who had been speaking of other countries in the region and their leaders with contempt. In his speech on the occasion, Modi boasted that “the presence of the regional leaders had sent a clear message to the world about India’s strength confirming that it was a big power.” From the treatment Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif received on that occasion, it was clear that he was invited there only to be reduced to the level of the other South Asian leaders.
Modi showed no special gesture to Nawaz Sharif. He did not even join him in a media stake-out after his meeting with him. It was a message to Pakistan to consider itself part of a region that lies in India’s hegemonic sphere of influence. We would certainly have been better off by not providing Modi that opportunity to reduce Pakistan to the level of other scrawny South Asian countries which because of their small size and limited clout cannot but acquiesce to oversized India’s supremacy. Pakistan has never accepted Indian designs of regional supremacy. In fact, Pakistan’s very creation was a manifestation of its rejection of Indian hegemony.
We also became a nuclear power only because we were not ready to accept a subservient role to India’s supremacy in the region. Nawaz Sharif himself took that historic decision in May 1998 by responding to India’s nuclear blackmail in a befitting manner. Today, Modi’s policy towards Pakistan rooted as it is in Kautilya’s cold-blooded realpolitik is only aimed at advancing India’s larger designs for regional hegemony and global power.
No matter how many telephone calls Modi makes to his Pakistani counterpart, he will persist in India’s diversionary campaign seeking to redefine the Pakistan-India issues by obfuscating them into the ‘issue of terrorism’ and sporadic incidents of violence across the Line of Control.
This, in fact, has been a familiar pattern in India’s arrogance towards Pakistan since 9/11 which after Modi’s emergence on the scene has assumed a dangerous dimension. After his military threats, our leaders can’t afford to be gullible any more. We also have no reason to give up on our principled positions. Those who have the slightest understanding of the dynamics of India-Pakistan relations would be cautious in raising unrealistic hopes or drawing euphoric scenarios as a result of telephone calls or bilateral meetings on the sidelines of regional and global conferences.
Mutual mistrust and apprehensions on both sides are deep-rooted and will not evaporate simply by “thinking wishfully” or by promising “miracles” through shady back-channel deals. Their problems are real and will not disappear or work out on their own as some people in our country have started believing. Peace in South Asia will remain elusive as long as Kashmir remains under India’s military occupation. The world must know that there is but one fair, just, legal and moral solution to Kashmir issue, which was provided by the United Nations, and which both India and Pakistan mutually accepted in UN Security Council resolutions.
On other issues, of course, we cannot ignore India’s illegality in Siachen, its ongoing water terrorism in Occupied Kashmir by building dams and reservoirs on Pakistani rivers in violation of the Indus Waters Treaty.
The writer is a former foreign secretary