A failed first effort


Anti-Pakistan rhetoric crucial for Modi before elections

 While responding to the Indian army chief’s threating of punishing Pakistan, the spokesperson of the ISPR in a statement said that ‘Pakistan is ready for war’ if that’s what India wishes. However, the spokesperson also noted that Pakistan prefers peace but will not remain quiet to any Indian aggression.

New Dehli’s behavior to Islamabad’s call for talks is understandable but at the same time very unfortunate. Here is what the government in Pakistan should learn from this entire episode of opening talks with India, which could have been attempted in a different way.

The government in India is putting Pakistani government effort to open talks with New Delhi on the boil to score domestic political mileage. There are two major factors that might be at play when it comes to India saying no to Imran Khan’s offer of peace talks and rather choose to go on to diplomatic offensive.

First, it’s unclear why Imran Khan may have gone out of the way to approach India while it’s clear that the government in New Delhi currently stands to gain from an environment of confrontation with Pakistan. The recent episode of India rejecting Pakistan’s effort to open talks is another instance, which offers more evidence supporting the assertion that New Delhi should not be approached when its leadership is immersed in politics of warmongering on the front of foreign policy, particularly with Islamabad.

Moreover, it should also be a lesson for Khan’s government that his one-sided rapprochement toward India created a narrative where the government in Pakistan seemed in a hurry to open talks with New Delhi while the latter at best showed rejection and disinterest. During the past one month, Khan has given away statements which hardly drew a response of similar scale or created a bilateral resonance when it comes to the alignment of all party’s interests.

India’s recent behavior has been of a small state which reacts to tactical developments to deliberately comprise on strategic issues for that offers the former leeway to gain leverage in domestic politics. Khan’s letter to Modi not only mentioned the issue of Kashmir but also mentioned India’s rhetoric related to terrorism which it peddles to hide its own criminal and malicious militaristic approach in the Kashmir. By all means, it’s more than encouraging that Khan mentioned the issue of non-state actors which arguably have caused more damage to Pakistan than any other state in the region. India, after having accepted an offer to meet at the sidelines of the UN next month, rejected scheduled meetings at the FO level by citing reasons related to Pakistan’s printing of postage stamps of personals that remain part of Pakistan’s narrative on Kashmir which is ludicrous, to begin with. However, for India, it was moment when it could pick and choose any part of the conversation when the other party had given away all talking points to open dialogue. Khan could have been cautious in his approach: inadvertently assisting Modi in gaining the upper hand in driving war propaganda should have also been part of consultations when the new government was making assessments of the current regional situation.

India, after having accepted an offer to meet at the sidelines of the UN next month, rejected scheduled meetings at the FO level by citing reasons related to Pakistan’s printing of postage stamps of personals that remain part of Pakistan’s narrative on Kashmir which is ludicrous, to begin with

On the other hand, however, India cannot expect to have Pakistan act like Nepal or Bhutan when it conducts its foreign policy in the region; rather, if the country is interested in having meaningful dialogue with Pakistan, it should have taken the recent outreach of Prime Minister Khan’s government an indication of a change of policy. Shooting down such an offer should only reinforce Pakistan’s position that New Dehli considers any signal aimed at peace talks as a symbol of weakness. One can argue that Khan could not have made an offer of peace talks to India without taking into confidence all major state stakeholders such as the country’s major security institutions which remain heavily invested in repulsing New Dehli’s regional plans to isolate Pakistan internationally. The sense in New Dehli’s political elite should have been as the one which the country has always harped for internationally: all stakeholders in Pakistan have to be on one page in order for any peace process to gain real momentum. However, the recent episode only shows that it is India that stands to gain from a crisis with Pakistan rather than the latter.

The election season in India is entering a phase where political slogans and hate mongering may become a decisive factor when it comes to the current government’s performance in the incoming general election next year. As I have written previously, offering peace talks to India in an environment when the government in New Dehli is weaponizing public debate against Pakistan doesn’t make sense, to begin with. The celebration of the so-called ‘Surgical Strike Day’ which remains a fiction but widespread narrative for the current Indian government in terms of an electoral agenda on the foreign policy front, is evidence that New Dehli should be engaged cautiously if there are any talks to take place.

While warmongering can go on, what remains clear is that India cannot afford to risk war with Pakistan. India’s military leadership should be aware of what might be at stake if its government decides to take that route. They can think about trying the Cold Start doctrine but what might come after that is anyone’s guess. This at best is war rhetoric, tried and tested before.

Imran Khan’s foreign office can put in more work when conducting such a rapprochement: the politics of talks is handy at times but it should be conducted when its likely to generate a reciprocal response.