Why India can’t win a diplomatic war against Pakistan

Madhusudhana Rao S

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Madhusudhana Rao S

General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, the sixth President of Pakistan from 1978 to 1988, is remembered for his ruthless rule of his country under martial law he declared in 1977 after a coup in which the civilian government of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was overthrown. The dictator is also remembered for sending the former head of government to gallows in 1979 on charges –widely believed to be fictitious — of attempted murder and religious fanaticism. He died in a plane crash in 1988. The cause of air crash is still a matter of speculation and a topic for conspiracy theories.

What’s relevant today in Indian context was a joke that used to make rounds when Zia was at the peak of his political-military power. The joke goes something like this: Zia had a big farm which he could not run because of his preoccupation with plots to pull down the Bhutto government. So, he gave it to a farmer to cultivate the land on profit-sharing basis. In the first year, the farmer raised potato crop. When the General went to his farm, he saw sacks of potatoes waiting for shipment to market. Zia told the farmer that under the deal whatever was grown below the ground was his and the rest was farmer’s.

Realizing he was cheated, the farmer had decided to change his strategy. The following year, the farmer sowed corn and when the crop was about to be harvested, the General descended on his farm and congratulated the farmer on growing such a wonderful crop. With a flourish, the strong man offered the farmer that he would reverse the previous year’s decision. This time, whatever was grown below the ground was the farmer’s and the yield above was the General’s.

Thinking he lost twice, the farmer decided to beat the General in his own game. This time, he zeroed in on mango crop and planted many trees. After some years, the farmers’ efforts started yielding rich fruits. When they were ripe, Gen Zia came down and exclaimed at the juicy reap. The military ruler told the farmer that he would have what was hanging in the air as part of his share!

The story might be apocryphal. But it mirrors the mindset of the Pak military-civil establishment which tries to hoodwink others to suit its agenda and narrative. The ongoing Indo-Pak war of words gives an insight into lies and half-truths being dished out by the civilian-military establishment. Whatever India does on the diplomatic front to prove Pakistan’s culpability in cross-border terrorism, Islamabad confronts New Delhi with Zia-sque arguments.

Ever since the Uri attack on September 18, 2016, the Indian government has launched an all-out war against Pakistan at the diplomatic level with the sole purpose of isolating the hostile neighbour. Indeed, it’s a climb-down for Narendra Modi who had professed action instead of words in tackling Pakistan before being sworn as the Prime Minister.

Why has he chosen a peace offensive when Pakistan is beating war drums and trying to turn the tables on this country? Analyses differ widely: A war is  fraught with risks and it hits the economic development and the chances are a limited-scale conflict or punitive measures such as surgical strikes on militant camps on the other side of the border could escalate into a bigger conflict with the possibility of China indirectly supporting its ‘all-weather friend’ to decelerate India’s growth. As it is often reported in the media, all options are on the table and it is up to the government to pick the right option at the right time. At the moment, the government has opted for an all-out no-holds barred diplomatic offensive against the Nawaz Sharif government.

From Kashmir to Kerala and at the United National General Assembly, from Prime Minister Modi to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had delivered thundering speeches berating Pakistan, its role in training jihadists and sending them across the border to kill civilians and army men and spawn unrest in the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir.

No doubt, Modi’s rhetoric, his attempt to draw a fine line between the people and the government of Pakistan, reiteration of peaceful co-existence, quotable quotes like “blood and water can’t flow together” (on revision of Indus Water Treaty) were impressive. Equally striking were Sushma Swaraj’s  rebuttals of Pak allegations at the UN. They are all music to Indian ears. But are these ‘exposes’ opened anyone’s eyes on the other side of the border? For that matter, how many countries have publicly condemned Pakistan, despite India showing proof of Pak complicity in Uri and Pathankot attacks?

But for a move in US Congress to label Pakistan ‘a state sponsor of terrorism,’ we have not heard denouncements from anywhere else. What this silent attitude signals is since Indo-Pak problems are bilateral, they have to be resolved by themselves.

But Pakistan attributes the prevailing tensions, including the militant activity, to the Kashmir dispute and tries to internationalize the issue at every given opportunity. India, on the other hand, tries to convince the world leaders how the Pakistani state apparatus has been using Kashmir row as a smokescreen to train terrorists and waging a proxy war against India. The gist of Indian leaders and representatives’ speeches at the current UN session points out to this.

With the two countries firming up their respective positions on almost all contentious issues and Modi promising us some unspecified retributive action against Pakistan, it looks the die is cast. In the proverbial carrot-and-stick policy, Modi hasn’t gotten anything in return from his Pak counterpart for offering carrots. Even after a spike in cross-border terrorist raids and blatant attacks on two army bases this year, Modi is hesitant to wield a stick for obvious reasons. So, he is left with no other option but to tighten the screws on the arch enemy. Among the measures being contemplated is a thorough review of Indus Water Treaty which is said to benefit Pakistan more than India. Next to come up for a relook is the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status given to that country a decade ago. Incidentally, Pakistan has not reciprocated even after 10 years.

Such steps may look punitive but in reality they will not hurt Pakistan as China and oil-rich Arab nations can shore up Islamabad with liberal economic aid. International isolation of Pakistan is the main target of the Indian Government and Delhi would like to see it declared as a pariah state. Even if we win our diplomatic battle, which is unlikely, the focus should be more on strengthening our internal and border security, intelligence gathering and launching a multi-pronged strategy to bring peace to the troubled Kashmir Valley. Since Pakistan knows how to bleed us, we should not expose our soft belly to it.

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