Point, Counter-Point: Narendra Modi’s Leadership and his Pakistan Strategy

Point, Counter-Point: A Four Part Series

Leader takes all, not, by  Jayita Sarkar

Pragmatism, the NDA and Sharif, by Hamzah Rifaat

South Asian Leadership and their Legacies  by Amina Afzal

Narendra Modi’s Leadership and his Pakistan Strategy, by Reshmi Kazi


Twenty-first century leadership is a complex matrix of political practices that bears critical influence on strategic affairs of geopolitical players. These political practices are again deeply influenced by several other factors like ideology, gender, religion, youth and populace, media, regional geopolitics and leadership influences. In South Asia, with the 2014 national election wave ongoing, leadership influences are expected to play a cardinal role in the regional stability-instability situation.

In South Asia, India is presently in the midst of the 2014 national election euphoria. Several leaders contending for the prime ministerial post are fighting the electoral battle. Among them, Mr Narendra Modi is a prominent prime ministerial aspiring candidate from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It is noteworthy that the historic Lahore Declaration (1999) was inked under the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.  Mr Vajpayee has been a prominent member of the BJP. However, a decade and a half later, BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi is apparently unable to carry the same legacy of his senior leader. Vajpayee was a tough man and conducted an assertive foreign policy towards Pakistan. In spite of the recurrent India-Pakistan tensions (Kargil War in 1999, terrorist attack on Parliament in 2001 followed by mobilization of forces in 2001-2002), Vajpayee followed a parallel peace process, engaged in bilateral dialogue, initiated direct Delhi-Lahore bus service, and effected a ceasefire agreement between the two nations.

As a prospective prime-ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi perhaps lacks the liberal qualities of Vajpayee. During his election campaign, he did not take any specific stand on Pakistan. In his evasive style, he has refused to state whether on assuming power, the presently suspended Composite Dialogue Process will be resumed. He has neither stated any clear views on pursuing policies of lasting peace with Pakistan. In fact, he was found to be on the defensive on being asked to clarify his stand on considering cross-border covert operations against Pakistan to seize wanted terrorists such as Dawood Ibrahim. Narendra Modi’s stand is a clear demarcation from Atal Behari Vajpayee and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Though there existed strong differences in their respective strategies, both these leaders exhibited clear inclinations for good neighbourly relations with Pakistan. This is not to indicate that Modi is not in favour of establishing good relations with Pakistan. However, the BJP prime ministerial candidate’s statement in the context of the 2008 Mumbai attacks shows an inclination for the Indian government “do more and speak less” and pursue a “zero tolerance” policy against Pakistani perpetrated terrorism.

Narendra Modi’s ideology and Rashtriya Swayam Sevak affiliations have so far generated a hardline image of his future foreign policy conduct towards Pakistan. Pakistani media has been rife with conjectures about the 2014 national elections prime candidate’s statesmanship towards the western neighbour. However, there is some apparent understanding that much of Modi’s hardline position is to satisfy the electoral compulsions and is not essentially his personal opinion.

The BJP’s hardline take on talks with Pakistan is essentially that there cannot be any serious India-Pakistan dialogue, including resumption of the Composite Dialogue Process, while cross-border infiltrations remain a concern and Islamabad-supported terrorists continue to attack India. Notwithstanding so, some reports claim that unnamed advisors of Modi had travelled recently to Pakistan to meet the leaders of the Muslim League. If the reports are to be trusted, it then appears that Modi as a leader has the capability and confidence to steer his foreign policy towards Pakistan independent of the BJP’s stance on Pakistan. This apparent development will reduce Pakistani apprehensions that on assuming power, the right-wing BJP leader will refrain from adopting a confrontational approach towards Islamabad. This trust is of crucial importance in steering India-Pakistan bilateral relations towards improvement, which can be done only under a strong and confident leader. Undeniably, Pakistan is a significant challenge of all leading world foreign policies including that of India. Any success of improved relations with Pakistan is premised upon the enunciation of a realistic strategy with Islamabad, which has to strike the right balance between carrots and sticks – as was evident during Vajpayee’s reign. Much of this success will be incumbent upon the statesmanship and level-headed understanding of the Nawaz Sharif government to extend cooperation to the new Indian government in establishing enduring peace and stability in the region.

Narendra Modi’s prime electoral promises are primarily inclined more towards providing social and economic development of the population. However, effecting of peaceful external and internal situations and establishing effective counter-terrorism measures are cardinal for the progress towards a stable South Asia. How far Narendra Modi will be successful in chartering a stable Pakistan policy will depend upon his personal caliber, competence and leadership.

Posted in , Elections, India, India-Pakistan Relations, leadership, Pakistan, Point Counter-Point

Reshmi Kazi

Dr. Reshmi Kazi is Associate Professor in the Jamia Milia Islamia (Central University). She specializes in nuclear security, nuclear non-proliferation, and nuclear disarmament. Her doctoral thesis is on “Evolution of India’s Nuclear Doctrine: A Study of Political, Economic and Technological Dimensions” from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She has written extensively on nuclear security issues and made several presentations including a paper on "Nuclear Terrorism and UN Resolution 1540: A South Asian Perspective" at the UN Headquarters, New York. Her publications include monographs on "Post Nuclear Security Summit Process: Continuing Challenges and Emerging Prospects" (2017) and "Nuclear Terrorism: The New Terror of the 21st Century" (2013). She is an alumni of National Defense University’s Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Study, Washington DC and a Visiting Fellow (Summer 2016) for the South Asia programme in the Stimson Center, Washington DC. Her aim is to research and publish on critical areas pertaining to nuclear issues that can contribute to future policy making.

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One thought on “Point, Counter-Point: Narendra Modi’s Leadership and his Pakistan Strategy

  1. Besides Narendra Modi’s leadership qualities, much will also depend on how the military-Jihadi complex reacts to his moves. Even before the new government in India has set foot, two independent Indian journalists in Pakistan have been asked to leave the country. Many see this as a typical ‘welcome’ to the new government.

    I do not wish to be negative even before the two governments start talking. However, more than anything else, it is patience of the new Prime Minister that will be tested in bringing the relationship between the two countries on track; a quality that a no-nonsense personality like Narendra Modi might not have in abundance.

    Aman Sharma
    Twitter : @amancool5

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