Pak on the boil: Time for Modi to display Chanakyan foresight

It is always bad news when a neighbouring country plunges into a political crisis. India faces double trouble with two adjoining states on the boil —Pakistan and Sri Lanka. While President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s exit may mollify the people and a belt-tightening International Monetary Fund (IMF) rescue programme save the Sri Lankan economy, no straightforward solution is in sight for Pakistan, where severe IMF strictures turbocharged the campaign against the Imran Khan government.

The situation in Pakistan is more nettlesome also because, apart from the IMF-imposed economic austerity, the dynastic leadership of the two main opposition parties—Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) under Shehbaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party—with a gaggle of Maulana Fazalur Rehman-led small religious parties in train, had a personal stake in regime change, what with the former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, in exile in London, being pursued on corruption charges.

But having unseated the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) regime, the opposition may find a deposed Imran an even greater challenge once he marshals his resources and PTI takes to the street and makes life miserable for the “khichdi” government of Shehbaz Sharif. In his address on the eve of the ‘no confidence vote’, Imran had warned this would happen. He seems to have majority support with the very large and motivated under-30 demographic in the country, fed up with rule by the dynasts, backing him.

In the political chess game in Pakistan, if government power is the king piece, the Pakistan army—as the guardian of the Pakistan ideology and the central prop of any civilian dispensation—is the queen piece that can manoeuvre any which way to ensure its interests are safeguarded. This translates into the Pakistan military getting its customary 16 percent share of the budget. Except last year, the national debt soared to 95 percent of GDP and 85 percent of the budget was apportioned to servicing it. This situation has been a long time developing and is expected to worsen, leaving little for the army—the reason why the Pakistani military brass, General Qamar Javed Bajwa being the latest, have discounted India as a threat; a position that undermines the Pakistan army’s raison d’etre. But Shehbaz reassured the Pakistan army by tying peace with India to the Kashmir dispute resolution. The withdrawal of the army’s support on account of Imran’s alienating the US led to his downfall.

But Pakistan’s straitened circumstances mean that war with India is unthinkable. Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the right moves by calling for peace and a joint effort to resolve development issues. He can go further in his response to the moderation shown by GHQ, Pakistan, in recent years—prompt release of Wing Commander Abhinandan, non-reaction to the misfired Brahmos missile—by more fully orienting the Indian military China-wards. The redeployment of the I Corps, the army’s leading armoured strike formation, to the east is a beginning and, hopefully, will eventuate in a single armoured corps for Pakistan contingencies and the shifting of two strike corps worth of manpower and war materiel to raise two additional offensive mountain corps for the China front. Because one thing is certain—India cannot anymore afford to be delusional and prepare for a “two-front war”.

Fighting the far superior Chinese People’s Liberation Army in all domains, candidly speaking, is beyond the capacity of the Indian armed forces into the mid-term future, and why addressing this deficit should be India’s principal military concern and task hereon. It is a mission India should have embarked on post-1971 Bangladesh War when Pakistan was reduced and the minuscule threat it originally posed became non-existent. But political inertia and vested interests of various combat arms ensured the Indian government and military stayed stuck in the past.

Whatever the consequences for Pakistan, Prime Minister Shehbaz will be inclined, as his older brother Nawaz Sharif was, to open the border, resume trade, and negotiate the Kashmir issue through the backchannel. It had won for Nawaz Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s trust and the memorable bus trip to Lahore, a promising peace process torpedoed by General Pervez Musharraf’s 1999 Kargil misadventure.

To encourage Shehbaz to proceed along mutually beneficial lines, Prime Minister Modi should consider opening billion-dollar credit lines for Islamabad to offtake Indian manufactures and agricultural commodities to tide things over. Billion-dollar Indian credits are working in Sri Lanka to distance Colombo from Beijing, and could help to wean Pakistan away from China.  It would display Modi’s Chanakyan foresight, set India and Pakistan on a course of irreversible peace, and put him, along with Shehbaz, in the running for the Nobel Peace Prize.                                                                                                  


Published in The Sunday Standard, Sunday, April 17, 2022 at

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.
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30 Responses to Pak on the boil: Time for Modi to display Chanakyan foresight

  1. Gaurav Tyagi says:

    Even if Modi were to follow the advice given in this column. A section of the Pakistani deep state will engineer a sabotaging act in India to torpedo the whole process.

    Going to Pakistan and visiting Jinnah’s grave proved to be the Waterloo moment for Advani.

    Modi won’t commit harakiri by pursuing the unattainable mirage of friendship with Pakistan.

  2. By email:
    Sun, 17 Apr at 12:03 pm
    Mr Karnad,

    When you wrote “… Fighting the far superior Chinese People’s Liberation Army in all domains, candidly speaking, is beyond the capacity of the Indian armed forces ..”, gave an impression that you understand the situation but when you wrote ” ..Billion-dollar Indian credits are working in Sri Lanka to distance Colombo from Beijing, and could help to wean Pakistan away from China….” made you look as if you do not really understand the situation and are confused.

    Not only, militarily, but India has also fallen at least 50 years behind China in all sectors including the economy. Just study the trade between China and India. India can not compete with China and take away Sri Lanka or Pakistan by providing financial support. India can of course be friendly with both Pakistan and Sri Lanka without competing with China. That would be a bit of more realistic advice

  3. Max says:

    If he had Chanakyan foresight, he would have displayed it in past 8 years.

    • Deepak says:

      @Max,Modi is neither Chankya nor Chandragupta.He is just another ordinary politician with gifted oratory skill which made him celebrity.In a country where celebrities are worshiped like demi gods ignoring all their negatives it is no surprise that Modi emerged as a messiah for a common man to get rid of corrupt and anti Hindu opposition.

  4. Ayush says:

    @ Himukala
    Can’t agree more with you.Militarily speaking,we are not only technologically but also intellectually behind the PLA by 50 years.Just have a look at what our No.1 TV general GD Bakshi said a few days ago.He claims that India being a “gandhian” country has refused to induct more soldiers since the past two years.He adds that Indias two main problems -CT ops and mountain warfare are “manpower intensive” .He cites the example of Rus-UKR war .According to him, RUS has been unable to deliver the death blow due to “lack of manpower”.His views resonate with more than 95% of our community of CT experts cum “generals”.While these guys talk about of “manpower intensive” warfare. PLA talks about “informationized”,”intelligentized”,”system’s destruction warfare”. Army HQrs must conduct a internal survey and sack all two/three stars who don’t understand PLAs warfare.Otherwise, we are right on track for an Op desert storm like national humiliation.A snap Megaton TN test would be a good start.

  5. Amit says:


    Realism 101 would dictate that India should make peace with Pakistan and focus on China – agree that a two front war is something India cannot afford to realise. But realism 102 also dictates that an 80 pound gorilla cannot needle an 800 pound one and expect no consequences. Just look at what happened to Ukraine (the situation is not as comparable as you don’t have America and NATO like support for Pakistan, but the US has kind of kept Pakistan entertained as it is in their interests against China too).

    You also have conveniently forgotten to mention the issue of terror and the Pakistan army’s role in perpetuating it, not withstanding the radicalisation of the Army and Pakistani society. More over, there is the issue of the CPEC, which is a security threat to India, and which Pakistan has promoted without factoring in India’s interests.

    Be that as it may, if you believe that the conventional armed threat from Pakistan is minimal, India could refocus another strike Corp to China and see how Pakistan reacts (it has already done so with one strike Corp). India has to have a graded response to Pakistan. Any further movement by India on the relationship has to be reciprocal with significant verifiable reduction in terror support. Any economic relief should be based on reciprocal concessions on CPEC. I am sure India is doing something similar with Sri Lanka – there are no free lunches Professor. The entire reason that the Pakistani army is making conciliatory noises is because of India’s punitive response to it, and their terrible economic state.

    Pakistan is no peacenik nation. And India’s response to it has been no less Chanakyan than you propose it should be. Maybe India can try out Realism 101 to see how Pakistan behaves, but realism 102 should lurk right behind. The stick has to be made of steel for Pakistan.

    • BSAN says:

      Prof, what you suggest is an option with an assumption that the propaganda fed to Pak citizens since years have not had any effect. The ground reality in Pak has changed as compare to what we had in 90’s when Imran Khan had won the world cup and there was more moderate mindset. More pragmatic approach would be to let Pak continue on its trajectory, however as an nation we should reorient our focus towards China.

      • BSAN@ — Have always maintained that Muslims in Pakistan have, over the decades, become a different people than Indians, and Indian Muslims in particular. The problem is how to deal with an army that has weaponized the differences? Here is where I have suggested economic links, trade, access to the Indian market and to Indian capital would be incentives to the army-headed Pakistan Establishment to tamp down on religious extremism and anti-Indian ideology.

  6. Gaurav Tyagi says:

    Two Indian politicians openly called Pulwama attack an inside job or false flag operation;

    There is no smoke without fire. Why didn’t Modi government took action against them for such statements?

    The friendly fixed match of Pulwama was neither the first or the last false flag operation. Such acts benefit the establishment of both India as well as Pakistan.

    There is therefore no incentive for India and Pakistan to normalize relations between them.

  7. nileshko says:

    It’s one thing to lower the threat ranking of pakistan and quiet another to make it out to be something that it’s not and never going to be. Pakistan will continue to be wielded as a weapon to destabilize India by both US and China. Rapprochement, therefore, should solely be based on cutting Indian losses and not on any delusions about Pakistani aims or its geostrategic use to others.

    There’s also a need for detente with China to give India enough space to develop technologically, economically and militarily. Open hostilities will be detrimental to Indian strategic objectives, and will tie India down to a conflict it can not win, resulting in India becoming a pawn in someone else’s game.
    This is the time for putting our heads down and quietly strengthening ourselves.

  8. Deepak says:

    Sir , I do not think billion-dollar credit line to Pakistan will change the jihadi mindset of Pak army.They will use India and later betray once Pakistan’s economy improves. India should focus on further destabilizing Pakistan for a USSR like collapse.

    • Gaurav Tyagi says:

      @Deepak- Agreed but instead of destabilizing, why not launch an all out offensive on Pakistan aka Russia-Ukraine and reclaim the whole of POK besides liberating Balochistan.

      Modi would become the ‘Hindu He Man’ and would remain PM till he is alive besides the whole of Indian opposition would be decimated for the next five decades at least.

      Imran Khan is back to the pavilion. The present ‘Khichdii’ government of Pakistan is under huge financial pressure.

      Army of Pakistan is only good for minting money through corrupt practices besides bullying Pakistani politicians. It has never won any war against India.

      This is the best opportunity for India to retake POK when the whole world is busy watching Russia-Ukraine conflict.

      Indian establishment should stop fixing games with Pakistan, play a real match and permanently take care of at least one border problem.

      • Gaurav@ — You believe that while India goes about taking POK China, with so much strategic leverage to lose, will do nothing?

      • Deepak says:

        @Gavrav, Modi will remain Prime minister till he wants(doubtful he ll retire by 75 age limit of BJP) even without taking POK back due to TINA factor.Why he is going to take the risk of a war. Modi is already a ‘Hindu He Man’ for the common man for his tokenism job and Hindu phobia of opposition led by a Retard.
        Modi lacks the guts when the time arrives to show real leadership as we have seen how he has surrendered to jihadi goons of Mamta after Bengal election result,surrender to Tikait and gang for their blackmail,surrender before Shaheenbagh protesters.
        Do not expect Modi to add any territory to India ,at max he ll do some action on Pakistan during election season.

      • Amit says:

        I don’t think overt warfare is a good strategy for India. Koota Yudha, as the Professor has called it in the past, is the way to go. While India must have sticks in its Pakistan policy, it should also have carrots, which is the genuine build up of trade if Pakistan gives up on the CPEC (or agrees to joint patrolling by Indian security forces).

        Pakistan needs to realise that it is likely that India will become a true great power within the next ten years. So it will have two great powers as it’s neighbours and a third the US, lurking in the background. This actually gives Pakistan more choice as it can play politics with three powers and potentially Russia too. However, this also gives more leverage to India against China, as Pakistan has now an additional choice with India (the difference from the past is that India is a true economic giant unlike in the past when Pakistan had a better per capita income compared to India – so India has more to offer than in the past).

        But if Pakistan does not change its trigger happy ways with India, India should continue to support covert warfare in Pakistan to continuously weaken it. And see if Pakistan can handle the economic and security stresses. Overt warfare is risky business and can lead to lose lose situations. Of course India should build its military might to handle a two front situation, but more as a deterrence strategy than actual war fighting.

  9. Itanium says:

    @Prof B. Karnad Pakistan is a country that broke off indian supermass due to idealogical reasons. That makes it an idealogical adversary. You cant use trade tools to pacify an idealogical enmity.

    It was actually failure of Indian founders and Indian empire builders to foresee the long term threat this breakaway state caused. Had it been part of India, the internal stability could have been imposed! – but now India has to deal with a nuclear state that is connected to China.

    There is unfortunately no way other than military matching and playing the sub-threshold game.

    • Itanium@ — Re: Pakistan, Indians begin to froth at the mouth for no good reason. Ideological acuteness cannot make up for lack of size and resources. After 70 some years, Pak army has also realized its limitations and will come around if offered the proverbial deal “it cannot refuse”. Such a deal can be a mix of economic and other incentives and a fig leaf of a Kashmir solution that Musharraf had accepted.

      • Itanium says:

        Prof @Bharat Karnad – It is a mistake to assume the world is full of rational actors.

        The Pak leadership might be fully competent and “rational”, but they have to pacify and answer a hopelessly undereducated and largely “irrational” masses.

        They cannot make “rational” choices on behalf of “irrational” actors.

      • Itanium@ — In Pakistan, masses follow where the army leads them.

      • Itanium says:

        @Prof Karnad

        “In Pakistan, masses follow where the army leads them”

        If their army ever has to lead their masses right, they would have to first broker peace with India for trade, commerce & security. They would have to eliminate all forms of terrorism inside their territory and hand over governance to civilian govt. They would have to fence up border with Afghanistan and eliminate trouble makers there. They will have to eliminate Chinese debt and cut off its tentacles from wrapping around their country. All of these steps should bring huge economic rewards to large proportions of the population including outsized rewards to the ruling elites.

        But will they do all this? I wouldn’t bet my money on that.

  10. Gaurav Tyagi says:

    @Professor Karnad- I am residing in China since many years. Trust me, China won’t do anything if India decides to militarily reclaim POK.

    China is just a fair weather friend. It won’t fight for anyone including it’s so called ‘Iron brother’ and our neighbor.

    Barking dogs seldom bite. This phrase aptly describes China.

    • Gaurav@ — Not true. China has always been very c;lear about geographic lines of vulnerability beyond which adversaries shouldn’t move. In Korea, it was the Yalu River that Mao had warned US forces not to cross. In the larger Aksai Chin-Ladakh region, it is the Xinjiang Highway that can be kept safe only with the client state of Pakistan occupying Baltistan and the Northern Areas.

      • Gaurav Tyagi says:

        @Professor Karnad- Geopolitics can alter geographical lines of border.

        India can dangle the continuation carrot of CPEC projects to China. It will be enough for the Chinese to stay away from the Indo-Pak conflict.

        Look at the figures of Indo-China trade and compare it with China-Pakistan trade.

  11. Gaurav Tyagi says:

    @Deepak- I agree with your opinion.

    My comment was directed towards the Hindu hardliners of RSS to do something for real instead of just raising slogans in front of mosques.

    • Deepak says:

      @Gavrav, RSS is facing intellectual bankruptcy over the years. They are talking about Hindu Rastra ,Akhanda Bharat for the longest time without having any blue print to achieve this goal. They are following somewhat Gandian philosophy of every Indian is a Hindu which is totally non sense and not acceptable to any community, appeasing muslims with muslim rastriya manch and propagating same DNA theory which doesn’t make any difference on the ground.
      They are not able to help Hindus fighting for equal rights under the constitution by amending the discriminatory articles against the Hindus in the constitution ,freeing temples from government control, unabated conversions by the missionaries, declining Hindu population every decade, fixing the fault lines within Hindu castes and other real issues concerning Hindus.
      Shouting a slogan,giving a speech,holding seminars is not going to help Hindus. Irrelevant RSS has become liability for Hindus as they have occupied that space without doing anything constructively which helps the Hindus.

  12. Email from Major General Dhruv Katoch (Retd)
    Mon, 18 Apr at 10:24 pm

    Dear Bharat,
    Your suggestion of opening a billion dollar credit line to Pakistan is perhaps not taking into account the Pakistani mind set–dominated by a hate of India. I do not see a billion dollars changing that mindset. It will also not alter the China-Pakistan equation.
    Peace will come to the region when Pakistan breaks with the weight of its own contradictions. That may take a decade or more, but that day will come. And it will be good both for the current lot who live in the geographical space that is now Pakistan as well as for South Asia as a whole.
    Maj Gen Dhruv C Katoch, SM, VSM
    Director, India Foundation

    • Dhruv Katoch@ — It is mirror-imaging in India-Pak relations that’s to blame. The infinitely stronger party, India, will lose nothing by breaking this cycle. Besides GHQ, Rawalpindi, are no chumps and realize the limitations imposed by reality whenever they bump into it, which is oftener than they’d wish it to be.

  13. Debanjan Banerjee says:

    Dear Dr Karnad, your proposed initiative to bring Pakistan into the Indian fold is a very welcome gesture. However the reality turned different. 1. India has banned her citizens from travelling to or studying in Pakistan. 2. The poems of Faiz ahmed faiz have been removed from the Indian 10-th and 12-th standard books. 3. India is not even happy about the Kartarpur corridor and would love to close it down under some pretext. So domestic politics has prevented India from following your proposal of becoming normal with Pakistan. What are your thoughts on these recent moves by India?

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