The biggest opportunity Prime Minister Modi has created to drag India-Pakistan relations into a semblance of normalcy some 17 months after inviting Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif to his over-grand investiture ceremony is his decision to accept the latter’s invitation to touch down in Lahore (on his way back from Russia via Kabul), take a helo hop to Raiwind for a bit of jaw-jaw, before heading back to Lahore and flight back home — rather than merely overflying the neigbouring country and offering the usual pro forma good wishes to the executive head and people of Pakistan from the aircraft. Both Sharif and Modi are politicians and seek to capitalize on a good thing when they espy one — and a rapprochement, they apparently believe, will help both of them politically. Nothing’s going right for the Indian PM at home, for Pakistan little is going right in the external realm. For the Modi-Sharif duo mutual bonhomie, whatever else it does, is positively disruptive of the trend they are victims of. Whether or not this will turbocharge the “comprehensive” dialogue between the two states in terms of actually producing results on the various disputes — Sir Creek, Siachen, J&K, down the line, it will have the immediate impact in Modi’s case of befuddling and pushing back against the Hindu fringe-types who have hijacked his development agenda with completely irrelevant notions revolving around beef-eating, cow slaughter, Ram temple. For Sharif, warm personal relations combats the impression abroad of a Pakistan as nursery of jihadi terrorists — one step away from joining the Islamic State ranks in the Levant, and committing more Paris/San Barnardino kind of armed atrocities in the US and Western Europe.
If Modi wants this thaw to result in more than a slight easing of relations, then the reason why Sharif informed Pak Army Chief General Raheel Sharif only a couple of hours before Modi landed in Lahore and then to ensure security at the airport, sanitization of the air space for the two PMs to take a short copter trip to Sharif’s home ground in rural Raiwind, and secure the land corridor for their return trip by road to Lahore airport, has to be addressed. As I have long maintained, Pakistan’s fears and India-phobia will have to be dealt with on GHQ Rawalpindi’s terms.
Again as I have been advocating for some three decades now, the most effective way to do that is unilaterally to begin shrinking the army’s three strike corps to a single hefty armoured corps, and using up the thus freed up manpower and materiel resources to form two additional offensive mountain corps for a total of three such offensive corps for deployment versus the Chinese PLA in the Himalayas and across the Tibetan plateau. And follow up this stunning initiative by again unilaterally removing the forward-stationed nuclear warheaded Prithvi SRBMs (short range ballistic missiles) from the country’s Western border. The Pak Army will be hard put thereafter to claim that India poses a credible military threat when the large bulk of its land forces are facing China-ward.
These two actions will be opposed hand and foot by the policy establishment of the permanent secretariat in the govt, the Foreign Office, and the military because this will mean transformative change they are unhappy undergoing. But these actions, I have argued, are in no way Pollyanna-ish because the option of covert warfare will continue to be available to the two countries. But it will eliminate the basic hurdle preventing mutual trust from accruing.
BJP ally Shiv Sena’s spokesman wondered, if a little tartly, that they would support Modi’s peace venture vis a vis Pakistan if Modi got Pakistan to hand over the small time Mumbai gangster grown big –Dawood Ibrahim. Dawood, for instance, is of no importance to the Pak Generals and will be willingly sacrificed for the greater corporate good of the Pakistan Army, if it sees Modi doing substantive things to minimize the threat to it from the east. It will be the precursor to the Pakistani economy beginning to plug into and mesh with its Indian counterpart. It will lay the foundations for India as great power. Short of this India is destined to remain — what it has been for most of its existence — a second-rate entity that talks big and acts small, sticking to doing the same things over and over again but expecting different results. And what it has so far done best is — belabour, bully, and alienate small states on its periphery and push them into China’s embrace and then complain that the adjoining states don’t like us!