Point, Counter-Point: Pragmatism, the NDA and Sharif

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


I am writing this post in the wake of a Pakistan Tehrik I Insaf rally here in the Abode of Peace. The event, which coincided with calls for challenging the status quo by a Canadian cleric in Rawalpindi, hints at a political landscape which couldn’t have been starkly different from the elections of 2008.

Nothing of what was articulated by the PTI chairman, can be considered as a throwback to the years when rallies conducted by the Pakistan People’s party or the Pakistan National Alliance managed to mobilize masses. Yet diehard PTI supporters might equate my claims with radical heresy, given that the party expects its chairman’s decrees to be accepted as Gospel. The distinct lack of prudence as far as Khan’s politics is concerned has made him an isolated political figure in the country despite the PTI performing stupendously well in last year’s elections.

In a nutshell, prudent politics and rationality in terms of dealing with issues of grave significance is the name of the game in South Asia – particularly with the Indian elections taking place. With the exit polls hinting at a comfortable victory for the Narendra Modi-led NDA in the run up to the Lok Sabha; an array of speculations and perspectives of what Modi could mean for Pakistan and regional stability have begun to surface. Yet, many of the myths surrounding the BJP’s stance can be debunked if one considers geopolitical realities in the South Asia of 2014 as we see it today. To believe that a Modi-led government would jeopardize prospects for peace based upon ‘electioneering’ which targets Pakistan, would be naïve to say the least.

The following factors, outside of leadership, would have a bearing on India-Pakistan relations which have swayed like a reckless rickshaw, yet also promise stability when the stakes of cooperation supersede those of confrontation between both states. The four factors are:

  1. Commercialism precedes reckless adventurism
  2. Civil- military schisms in Pakistan, a point of contention and contemplation for the NDA
  3. NDA’s relationship with the Indian military, and the Cold Start Doctrine
  4.  The role of spoilers and the NDA’s reaction

 1.  Commercialism preceding reckless adventurism

Much of Pakistani voter confidence towards the PML N government had rested heavily on its economic, religious and environmentally conservative nature, which considered economic revival as one of the top priorities in the lead up to the May 2013 elections. Upon coming to power, in one of the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s first addresses to the nation, forging amiable economic ties with India was considered critical, despite noted incidents of LoC skirmishes taking place. Similarly the BJP has also historically considered ‘Swadeshi’ or indigenous economic empowerment as critical towards prosperity. With the results of the elections coming to a foregone conclusion, the Modi-led NDA, driven by domestic economic interests, is likely to adopt a far more pragmatic approach when dealing with Pakistan, despite their manifestoes suggesting otherwise.[1]

For those not familiar with the ‘stability-instability paradox’, it is defined as a concept which considers the likelihood of direct war greatly decreasing between two nuclear armed nations wishing to avoid mutually assured destruction. Yet the paradox also provides the vacuum for limited proxy wars to take place which could easily complicate relationships between adversaries. This theory is often cited with reference to the Cold War showdown between the Soviet Union and the United States. Cooperation between two states to avert a nuclear showdown would be tested with non-state actors aiming to thwart economic prospects between both parties, with an understanding of the significance of economic cooperation. Non-state actors’ actions and LoC violations could widen the trust deficit between both governments and prompt a wistful reaction from the NDA.

Both parties (BJP and PML N) boast about an economic apparatus which is deeply entrenched and consider economic prosperity as one of the pillars of their national policy. Hence, development projects which provide mutual benefits could well and truly trump undue belligerence from certain quarters wishing to hijack the lucrative prospects ahead. It is noteworthy that despite the difference between the personality cult of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Narendra Modi, back in the late 1990’s important steps towards ensuring that the Lahore Declaration in 1999 would materialize took place with great dedication. Emphasis on avoiding the nuclear race as well as both conventional and unconventional warfare with Pakistan was considered in the declaration, prior to the Kargil debacle. Much of the same could also be expected this time around, however the NDA needs to be cognizant of an adversary which desires a political and security quagmire over a frail peace process.

2. Civil- military schisms in Pakistan, a point of contention and contemplation for the NDA

The Modi led coalition will be confronting a Pakistan government which is at loggerheads with an establishment over a fragile peace process with ‘stakeholders’. The PML N’s naïve expectancy that the TTP would adhere to ceasefire deadlines reminds one of the ‘Frog Prince,’ given its unfathomable idealism. Much of the discord however, also relates to the formulation of a coherent security policy with conflicting narratives on national security to begin with. The NDA on the other hand, (which hinges on a brawny ‘anti-terrorist’ narrative)  would need to find ways of thwarting reckless adventurism against what it considers to be state sponsored terrorism if the discord continues to provide a vacuum for stakeholders to assert their clout in the region.

The option of negotiating with the Nawaz government does seem like the only viable option however, given that traditional theories of deterrence render any nuclear adventurism as redundant and obsolete. As far as the Modi factor is concerned, it is common knowledge that he himself would be leading a party which not only has to live up to its claim of ensuring economic prosperity but also considers calls for a stronger foreign policy to materialize in front of its loyal vote bank. This becomes complicated when they are pinned up against a civilian leadership on the other side of the border with a convoluted outlook on regional security.


3.  NDA, the Indian military and the Cold Start Doctrine

Next, the relationship of the Indian army and the NDA will determine the future course of action against Pakistan if something similar to the 2008 Mumbai attacks takes place. This is despite the fact that Narendra Modi had alluded to authorizing India’s intelligence services to stage cross border strikes against terrorists earlier, on which Praveen Swami in India’s new language of killing has elaborated eloquently. A wistful response from Pakistan should also be expected, where the previous PPP government has been vehemently opposing Indian adventurism in Balochistan for much of its tenure for fomenting separatism. Hence, the pressure could shift towards the proclivity of invoking doctrines such as Cold Start as a bail-out package, but with strings attached, given its economic viability and the fact that Modi’s country will be grappling with internal insurgencies – none more so then the Maoist- Naxalite quagmire. For those who recall the contours of Cold Start, the process of quick mobilization and punitive strikes is a prerequisite for its true realization. Hence a cost-benefit analysis needs to be weighed before authorizing military action.

4.  Role of Spoilers and the NDA’s reaction:

Lastly, I hypothesize that proxy wars in the form of cross border terror intelligence or the role of spoilers are the largest threats which could haunt both India and Pakistan with the NDA and the PML N in power. These spoilers would include NSA’s or entities such as the TTP being provided a vacuum by the fragile peace process to assert more political clout in adopting a hard line approach towards India. The NDA, being distinct from the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), may have to shun away the pursuit of commercial interests and negotiations with the Nawaz-led government if spoilers make their clout visible in the form of episodes similar in gravity to the 2001 Parliament attack. Yet I will fall short in claiming that the nuclear threshold could ever be threatened and equate it with being ludicrous and nonsensical, especially in light of Modi ruling out revisions to India’s NFU policy just recently.

One can safely say that national interests and pragmatism could trump any military adventurism in the years to come, and would act as a credible deterrent for both Nawaz and Modi to exercise restraint. However, the schism which exists in Pakistan between the establishment and the government and the NDA’s response to the spoilers which could jeopardize CBMs and prospects for trade, could well define the course of strategic stability in South Asia between two nuclear armed foes. According to me, factors one and three almost inevitably ensure that cooperation would supersede confrontation, yet on the other hand, factors two and four could test the mettle of the NDA-Nawaz leadership. The foregone conclusion, however, would be that practical politics and pragmatism would matter more than the personality cult that Nawaz or Modi exhibit at this point in time. It takes two to tango after all.

[1] Shulman, Stephen (September 2000). “Nationalist Sources of International Economic Integration”. International Studies Quarterly 44 (3): 365–390

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

Hamzah Rifaat

Hamzah Rifaat

Hamzah Rifaat is a gold medalist with a Master of Philosophy degree in the discipline of peace and conflict studies from the National Defense University in Islamabad. He holds a diploma in World Affairs and Professional Diplomacy from the Bandaranaike Diplomatic Training Institute in Colombo, Sri Lanka. He was a freelance writer and blogger for the Friday Times and received a CRDF scholarship to the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, where he studied nonproliferation and terrorism studies at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies. He was also a Graduate Editorial Assistant for Women's International Perspective, a global source for women's perspectives, based in Monterey. He has also represented Pakistan as a member of the CTBTO Youth Initiative 2016. His writings encompass political and internal security issues in Pakistan and he regularly contributes for The Diplomat Magazine. Hamzah is a former SAV Visiting Fellow (January 2016).

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