Squandering an opportunity?

The invitation by the incoming PM Narendra Modi to the heads of government of SAARC states, including the Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, has unfortunately been turned into an occasion of high strategy by Islamabad with the reports emanating at the end of Thursday, May 22, that a final decision will be made by Mian Sahib by late afternoon May 23. He is obviously tugged in different directions. There is the more enlightened section of the Pak Foreign Office which is hoping their leader will not “squander” this opportunity handed on a platter for yet another new start to shift the relations to a higher. more mutually beneficial, plane. This view is backed by those in the trading community and industrial houses who believe they have lot to gain from access to the Big Emerging Market in India. And then there’s the Pakistan Army that finds itself facing a serious dilemma. It has invested much over the years in cultivating the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) and the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) as tools of asymmetric warfare, which it is loath to give up, or even to keep sheathed. On the other hand, it finds itself stretched on five fronts — battling the Tareeq-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in FATA and elsewhere in the tribal strongholds in the country’s northwest, fighting the resilient freedom Movement in Baluchistan, containing the situation on the Iran border from getting out of hand with Tehran’s warnings of military hostilities if Pakistan does not control Islamic militants from foraying across into its territory, dealing with the traditional animosity of Afghanistan on the other side of the indistinct Durand Line, which also hosts TTP guerillas seeking safe haven and will only be ratcheted upwards should Abdullah Abdullah be sworn in as successor to Hamid Karzai in Kabul, and then there’s the live-fire situation prevailing with India on the Line of Control in Kashmir.

Rationally-speaking, GHQ Rawalpindi’s best option would seem to be to permit Sharif to visit New Delhi to generate goodwill, re-start talks, and even get the relations moving in the trade and commerce sphere that both Sharif and Modi desire. However, even so level-headed a Pak Army Chief as General Raheel Sharif seems in two minds. The question is can Mian Sahib over-ride Pakistan army’s reservations and make the short hop to New Delhi anyway? If he does somehow manage this feat, the returns to Pakistan, its govt and its army may be far greater than any of them presently anticipate. There’s pressure on PM Sharif to do this also because, other than the Maldivan President, the Nepalese PM Koirala, and the Bhutanese PM, Karzai and Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa accepted Modi’s invitation with alacrity. (Sheikh Hasina’s previously scheduled state tour to Japan on May 26 provides her with legitimate exemption.) Nawaz Sharif will, in the event, be conspicuous by his absence should he not make it to Delhi, and miss out on the moment to forge strong personal relations with Modi at a time when the latter is ascendant and will potentially head the Indian govt for a long time to come.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in Afghanistan, Asian geopolitics, Bangladesh, Bhutan, civil-military relations, Geopolitics, India's Pakistan Policy, Indian Politics, Internal Security, Maldives, Pakistan, Pakistan military, society, South Asia, Sri Lanka, Terrorism. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Squandering an opportunity?

  1. Raja says:

    Pakistani Army is struck between the rock and the hard place, its credibility questioned due to internal clamours and the TTP and various fundamentalist groups baying for their blood. Hence, any normalistaion of relations will be beneficial to them.

    India has adopted a soft approach for too long and suffered the consequences with a number of terrorist attacks. With our financial clout as well as military prowess, it would be prudent to give a befitting reply, if the power wielding generals do not mend their ways.

  2. Raja Kumar says:

    The Pakistani Army is struck between the rock and the hard place. It’s credibility is on the line due to increasing footprint of TTP and other fundamentalist groups. Hence, improving relations will be in their favour.

    At the same time, India has to shed its image of a soft state. Any ingression must be given a befitting reply. Pakistan cannot get away with claiming the role of non state actors who operate from its soil. Till India enunciates a clarity of thought and vision, it is going to be subjected to terror attacks. Talks at any level will then be a meaningless event.

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