The Need to Decode the Modi Mantra

Within moments of the Indian Army Chief’s statement that India would give an “intense and immediate” response, when asked about alleged beheadings of Indian soldiers by Pakistani forces, there was widespread debate in Pakistan over developing a counter narrative to this assertion. Some felt that the Sharif government missed an opportunity at Ufa to show Islamabad’s indomitable commitment to the Kashmiri cause as a prerequisite for talks. Such statements by army chiefs or governments are often viewed as provocations, and manage to stir emotions of anxiety, anguish, and fear on both sides of the border. What is often missed, however, is the broader context in which such provocations are made in the first place. Such statements do need to be taken seriously, but become largely untenable in the long run. At present, both India and Pakistan cannot afford a limited war with nukes, rendering a nuclear confrontation unlikely. Still, war mongering and Pakistan-bashing on the part of the Narendra Modi government continues, despite the sacrifices that Pakistan has made in the fight against terrorism.

While it may be true that Pakistan has had a checkered history with militant groups, the fact that the country has been facing blowback from Operation Zarb-E-Azb, and has continuously pressed for regional connectivity is worth appreciating. Secondly, the current government under Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been considerably benign towards India, and has shown great character by advocating for closer economic cooperation between New Delhi and Islamabad in a rather hostile environment at the other end. One example is the joint statement at Ufa, where not mentioning the Kashmir factor as an icebreaker for closer cooperation and bridging trust deficits with India is testament to the concession that Pakistan has made for the betterment of regional security in South Asia.

Hence, the onus is really on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to show some flexibility, which sadly the Modi government has failed to do so far. It always takes two to tango for peace and stability. BJP under Modi has oozed anti-Pakistan sentiment since it came to power. In fact, Pakistan-bashing was a key election issue, alongside promises of economic development and capping corruption. Furthermore, as a divisive politician who champions the cause of economic development and a stronger foreign policy, with blatant disregard for human development in his state of Gujarat, the need to isolate political rivals and critics makes perfect sense. Although, this in many ways is common practice in South Asian politics, and also takes place in Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Other overtures, such as putting Pakistan on the back foot through trips to Abu Dhabi, certainly hint at the fact that negotiations and talks of economic cooperation with Pakistan are of petty importance, and a hawkish stance is more desirable for Modi and the BJP, in order to consolidate their position at the center.

The frustration stems from the fact that the BJP has not always assumed a hawkish attitude towards Pakistan. As a powerful political party with massive support in India, the BJP has had its set of demonstrative leaders who opted for brain over brawl – Atal Bihari Vajpayee comes to mind. Vajpayee’s diplomacy had garnered immense respect in Pakistan, where he is viewed as a man of considerable aptitude and prudence, and someone with the ability to deal with Pakistan through shrewd decision-making instead of rhetorical rants. The same, however, cannot be said about the Narendra Modi government, at least from a Pakistani perspective. It constantly strives to push Pakistan into submission over the issue of terrorism, and plans on isolating a nation which is strategically significant and opens up the doors to the Persian Gulf. To add to that, Modi’s checkered past and efforts to allay concerns that the BJP would not become overly aggressive and handle any misadventure from across the border by critics, seemingly fit into the strategic calculus of India’s stance on Pakistan under this government.

For Pakistan, decoding this mantra and acting prudently, instead of forcefully, in response to this vituperative rhetoric is key. The fact that Pakistan is state which is economically inferior yet boasts plenty of potential given the relevance of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), and this government’s dedicated efforts to curb extremism through the National Action Plan (NAP), are important to note. The Chief of Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif, has made it clear that any reckless adventurism by India would be met with a fitting response from Pakistan. This should be enough to deter the hawks in New Delhi, given that Pakistan relies on full spectrum deterrence rather than strategic deterrence.

Stability in South Asia cannot be achieved without Pakistan, and the need is to ensure that economic cooperation bridges trust deficits and allays concerns of escalation, which the BJP is failing to do. The Sharif government, on the other hand, is striving towards closer cooperation, although this could pave the way for economic competition since both governments came into power largely because of their economic promises. Having said that, it is undeniable that governments will continue to be governments and politics will be politics. With the RSS acknowledging that talks with Pakistan could prove to be fruitful, one wonders whether this RSS mantra is the one that Modi would want to follow.


Image: Hindustan Times, Getty

Posted in , Cooperation, India, India-Pakistan Relations, Pakistan, Politics

Hamzah Rifaat

Hamzah Rifaat is an anchor for Policy Beats, a current affairs and policy oriented web talk show series. He has over four years of broadcasting experience. He 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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12 thoughts on “The Need to Decode the Modi Mantra

  1. Great article Hamzah. I think you are absolutely correct, Modi needs to acknowledge that he cannot continue to ignore Pakistan and that it will be ‘fruitful’ of there was constructive dialogue.

  2. Muhammad Umar Which is unlikely, visionary leaders go beyond established narratives, not one’s who have a myopic world view.

  3. PM Modi is a man elected by the Indian citizen for very sound reasons. He has not been elected to serve any interest other than those of the Indian people. We need to keep in mind that he will be around for at least five years at which point the electorate will decide whether he delivered, based on which he will be reelected or packed off unceremoniously.
    The PM will not be bothered about how the world sees him, however World leaders have embraced him because he wants them to partner and share in India’s growth. His message is loud and clear — want to do business and improve your economic prospects, hold my hand. If you have any other goals, ideological or territorial, find your own way. Only an confused mind can find ambiguity in the simplicity of this message.

    Secondly, it is the Indian PM’s job to safeguard the lives of Indian citizens from any terrorist attack sponsored from anywhere by whomever. All these distinctions of State and non State actors is for those who wish to create an alibi for deniability or wish to believe in it. The Indian people suffer from no illusions as to who are the masterminds that foment and introduced terror in South Asia, what others want to believe being their business.

    Lastly, a country that shelters criminals and terrorists from neighboring countries cannot claim to want Peace, its actions speaking louder than words. Denying India MFN status as per International Treaties and obligations after enjoying the benefits of the same for two decades reflects merely crass pettiness. Holding SAARC to ransom by not allowing trade connectivity is another exercise in petty mindedness from Pakistan. Unfortunately the only sufferer is Afghanistan which certain inimical forces want to remain disconnected from the rest of South Asia.

  4. Mr. Daruwala, Modi’s connectivity ambitions can not be achieved without Pakistan given the country’s Geo-strategic significance and vital importance, given that it serves as a cross road between the Middle East and East Asia, a fact identified by the Chinese Leadership under Xi Jinping given that he has the ability to acknowledge what economic connectivity entails for the region despite the ETIM factor which could act as a potential spoiler in an otherwise perfect relationship between China and Pakistan.

    Interesting that you mention saving ‘ Indians’ from terrorism, given that Saffron Terrorism in the form of Bajrang Dal, VHP and Durga Vahini, runs amok in India and targets the very same Indians which Modi has sought to protect while coming into power. In addition, you must have heard of the Indian Mujahideen which has nothing to do with Pakistan.

    To cut it short, regional connectivity and economic ambitions requires visionary leadership, prudence and foresight. This was very much visible when Vajpayee was at the center.

  5. and may I add that not everyone embraces him or his vision. He was castigated recently by Riyadh after his visit to Abu Dhabi. KSA ( regardless of whether anyone agrees or disagrees with their role in combating terrorism), is a major economic player in the Middle East but more importantly has rejected Modi’s bid for defense cooperation, which was also rejected after the Parliament Resolution was passed by Pakistan to remain neutral in the Yemeni Crisis, just recently.

    Its important to separate fact from myth. I understand the Euphoria surrounding Modi’s ascent to the center in India, but its important to be impartial while analyzing global affairs.

  6. Hamzah, thanks for your reply. Without any counter argument against a single point raised by me your reply has meandered reflecting typical insecurities, rather than a cogent rebuttal. Your argument on Indian terror groups lacks relevance as no Indian terror group has launched any attack anywhere in the world, neither have Indians including our Muslim brothers gone around the world killing innocents. If you cannot accept this reality, nothing matters.

    This fake belief in some superior geo strategic location can be claimed by every country in the world, how any location good or bad is exploited seems more relevant. Coming to CPEC, transport by road is many times more expensive than by sea. As an example, shipping a 20 foot container from Gujarat in India to China costs less than transporting the same by road to Tamilnadu within India. Secondly, will there be enough traffic to cover the cost by toll for the roads laid under CPEC ?

    You hit the nail on the head with the statement – “regional connectivity and economic ambitions requires visionary leadership, prudence and foresight”. This advise should be conveyed to the Pakistani leadership which has crippled SAARC by not allowing free movement of goods and trade between countries in South Asia.

    What relations UAE or KSA want to have with India, Pakistan or any country is their business, I am no one to comment on their policies or inclinations. The euphoria in India over its economic prospects is grounded in confidence on the quality of Indian human resources and knowing what it takes to satisfy rapidly evolving global needs. PM Modi or anyone else who occupies his position can only act as a catalyst to motivate citizens, in his case by personal example through work ethic. He can at best accelerate or retard the process of transformation, cannot change the trajectory. India is on the path of progress and development, those who believe it is a myth can rest happy and satisfied with that conclusion.

  7. Hamzah, while India does face threat from Hindu extremists, its India’s internal matter. It cannot be blamed on Pakistan and neither does it blame it on Pakistan .

    But the bone of contention is the threat posed by the “non state actors” based in Pakistan which threaten India’s peace.

    Also, Pakistan jumping at every opportunity to support groups opposing India’s peace.

    Well you may argue that Pakistan itself is victim of terrorism, its matter of its states policies over last few decade. Excuse the world if we doesn’t sympathize with you on this victim card.

    Without these “non state actors” we can have a territorial dispute without having to compromise on cultural and trade ties much like India and China.

  8. Thank you for your comment Mr. Daruwala,

    You missed my larger point regarding Saffron terrorism. Whatever happens in India may happily stay in India, but the point is that this Narendra Modi administration tolerates these right wing fascist groups who are hell bent on revisionism, which threatens India’s social fabric. In light of this, I find it difficult to fathom as to how is it possible that India constantly puts pressure on Pakistan for countering terrorism without due consideration to internal introspection. Even some erudite domestic analysts have pointed out how this BJP has been focused more on Saffronizing a state which was founded on secular principles, with revisionists in power. Kindly read Rajeev Dhavan’s ‘ Death of Secularism: This is Modi and Hindutva’s dream of India’

    Let me add that I agree with you that these fringes have not conducted violence or do not export violence to other states, Modi’s tough stance on terrorism becomes open to an array of different interpretations. and his argument is weakened significantly, which is not similar to Susan Rice claiming that Pakistan should ‘ do- more’ to crack down on the Haqqani Network.

    On, CPEC, this project is a testament to China’s opportunism in the Middle East through which Pakistan acts as a gateway. The intricacies and convolutions of the project aside, my point was that Pakistan’s strategic significance can be gauged through the project’s relevance and with Prime Minister Sharif, constantly pressing for more regional connectivity ( inclusive of India). Initiatives such as reigniting the JEC which was defunct since 1986 between Iran and Pakistan as well as the IPI, post N-deal are other areas which can be explored given that we live in times when economics is the Ace Card. So while, its true that the CPEC has its set of limitations, few can doubt that such munificence on part of China can be discarded as exploitation without the relevance of Pakistan’s strategic location.

    Please, scroll back to your first comment above. You said ‘ World Leaders’ have embraced him ( Indian PM) and at the same time in your last comment you claim that however the KSA and UAE want to deal with India is their business. If that argument is bought on face value, why on earth would the Al Saud family relax its stance on Pakistan over passing a parliamentary resolution to stay neutral over joining the Yemeni Crisis to tackle the Houthis or issue warnings to Modi to not attempt to isolate Pakistan after his trip to the UAE?. There even been recent calls for increased Saudi investment in Pakistan from Riyadh, where security as a quagmire is slowly eroding as an impediment. towards visible economic opportunities in the offing which includes balancing the Post N-Deal Iran.

    Lastly, this narrative that Pakistan sponsors terror from this BJP ( not Vajpayee’s- he was a real shrewd statesman, is growing increasingly futile. I would suggest that you go through the latest statistics on the progress of Operation Zarb E Azb instead of parroting narratives which are more in line with Zia Ul Haq’s time period, when the Mujahideen were trained to ward off Soviet Influence and the same groups came back to haunt Pakistan. A strategic blunder, yes, but the very same Armed Forces which orchestrated Kargil are now cracking down on an array of groups which have threatened the writ of the state and have also acted as spoilers between India and Pakistan or for the region for that matter.

    To look beyond the Zia Ul Haq narrative, requires visionary leadership and moving forward in light of pressing economic issues which both states and the region grapple with.

  9. Rohit, had the world not sympathized with Pakistan, there would be no acknowledgement on part of the United States on the Pakistan Army’s strides in Operation Zarb E Azb which targets the very same groups which have targeted the state institutions, civilians and economic infrastructure, due to the policy blunders of one maverick dictator.

    For Kashmir, let me sum it up:

    Cries of freedom over curfews, Pakistani flags being raised in Srinagar, beef bans being imposed in J and K. BJP to blame or Introspection anyone? easy to throw the ball back into Pakistan’s court, that too during the US open. Its 2015 my friend.


  10. author’s comment – . Vajpayee’s diplomacy had garnered immense respect in Pakistan,
    What was the result
    The result was an all out attack by Pakistan Army in Kargil in Jammu and Kashmir,
    India has seen the result of goodwill to Pakistan with Active Army War in J&K and terrorist attack 26/11 in city of Mumbai,
    Author conveniently ignores the burnt faced by India due to Pakistan Supported Terrorists. Any other country (say Israel, US or Russia), Pakistan would have been wiped off the map

  11. @ Expose, I would not want to respond to your comments. It oozes with ‘Pro Modi’ Euphoria, which slowly but surely is fading away in a country as vibrant and democratic as India, after the deafening silence on Hindutva Terrorists running amok as he champions ventures such as ‘ Digital India.’ Pakistan on the other hand is fighting a war against terrorists, through initiatives such as the National Action Plan and Operation Zarb E Azb, which is met with massive approval and applause across the world. So instead of glorifying Modi’s India and living in Paranoia, kindly read about Pakistan in contemporary times and then making comparative assessments. .

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