Recent Indian shelling across the Line of Control and the Working Boundary has brought home once again the enduring threat that India poses to Pakistan’s security. There are both short-term and long-term factors behind India’s hostility towards Pakistan. In the short-term, the election of Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister of India was generally expected to lead to the hardening of India’s position on all issues relating to Pakistan because of his membership of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an extremist militant organization committed to Hindutva or the revival of Hindu nationalism. This was particularly so because of Narendra Modi’s own record of antipathy towards Pakistan and the Muslims in India. His anti-Pakistan bias had been at display during the election campaign. Earlier, he was blamed for the large scale massacre of Muslims in Gujrat in 2002 when he was the chief minister of the state.

In May, when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met with Narendra Modi on the occasion of the latter’s oath taking, Pakistan was asked to “abide by its commitment to prevent its territory and the territory under its control from being used for terrorism against India.” There was no commitment for the immediate resumption of a structured and comprehensive bilateral dialogue. The two leaders merely asked their foreign secretaries to discuss the modalities for the resumption of the bilateral dialogue.

The planned meeting of the foreign secretaries of the two countries was cancelled by India because of the meeting of the Pakistan High Commissioner in New Delhi with Kashmiri leaders even though such contacts had taken place in the past without any adverse reaction from India. India has, thus, virtually blocked the bilateral dialogue process unless Pakistan follows the dictated line on such issues as Kashmir and terrorism. When Nawaz Sharif made a forceful reference to Kashmir in his address to the UN General Assembly last month, Narendra Modi not only objected, but also stated that the resumption of the bilateral dialogue depended on the creation of an appropriate environment by Pakistan. Prolonged and unprovoked shelling by Indian forces across the LoC and the Working Boundary, to which Pakistani forces have replied in a befitting manner, is another reflection of the more assertive Indian posture on Pakistan-related issues under Narendra Modi.

Pakistan’s response to Indian firing has been measured and well-balanced. A statement issued after a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on National Security held last week under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif emphasized Pakistan’s desire for peace and resumption of bilateral dialogue with India. At the same time, it underscored Pakistan’s resolve to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity. It expressed full confidence in the ability of the Pakistan armed forces to counter effectively any act of aggression against Pakistan’s security. It also noted with concern the harmful effect of any escalation of the current tense situation on the bilateral relations and prospects of regional cooperation.

Since any further escalation of the current clashes across the LoC and the Working Boundary would not serve the interests of either India or Pakistan, they will gradually subside as wiser counsel prevails on both sides. But the long-term factors bedeviling Pakistan-India relations will continue to cast their shadows in the years to come. Perhaps the most important factor affecting the long-term prospects of Pakistan-India relations, besides the Kashmir dispute, are India’s hegemonic designs in South Asia. Indian strategists openly speak about India’s desire to achieve primacy and a veto power over the actions of outside powers in South Asia as noted by Zbigniew Brzezinski in his latest book, “Strategic Vision”. India’s pursuit of hegemony in South Asia carries the seeds of enduring tensions between Pakistan and India. These tensions will see their ups and downs but will never disappear completely as long as Pakistan refuses to play a subservient role to India.

It is unlikely that India will be dissuaded from pursuing its hegemonic policies in South Asia just by expressions of friendliness on our part as some of our politicians, analysts and opinion makers seem to think. What India wants instead, is submissiveness on the part of Pakistan. It will use the full weight of its growing power and every trick of the trade to achieve this goal. The Indian strategy for dealing with Pakistan has political, military, economic and cultural dimensions. Since Pakistan has acquired a nuclear deterrent, India is not in a position to inflict a conclusive defeat on Pakistan for bringing it down on its knees. Indian strategy, therefore, would focus on political, economic and cultural means to overcome Pakistan’s opposition to its hegemonic designs in South Asia. It is on these fronts that Pakistan must strengthen its position vis-à-vis India.

We would be able to do so if we are able to achieve internal political stability, maintain our cultural identity, and increase our economic strength relative to India while maintaining a credible deterrent at the lowest level of armaments and armed forces. India would like Pakistan to fritter away its resources on the excessive build up of its military machine while leaving the economic sector, and thereby the country as a whole, in a weak and vulnerable condition. We should counter Indian designs by according the highest priority to the goal of rapid economic development in our national strategy both in terms of the allocation of national resources and improving the efficiency of our economic management. The aim of the Indian cultural invasion of Pakistan launched through Pakistan’s electronic and print media, some misguided NGO’s, and the soft power of the Indian film industry, is to convince our people that Pakistan and India culturally are the same. The propagation of this line of thought strikes at the very roots of Pakistan’s ideology and the rationale for its establishment. The goal of this propaganda campaign is to break the will of the people of Pakistan to resist India’s hegemonic designs. We should counter this cultural offensive through a carefully crafted educational and cultural strategy of our own. Finally, we should strengthen the democratic system and provide good governance to the people to enhance internal domestic political stability.

Our diplomacy should focus on defusing tensions with India to reduce the risk of a major armed conflict and enable us to divert our resources from the military to the urgent task of economic development. We should avoid adventurism and provocation in the management of our relations with India while maintaining a firm principled position on major Pakistan-India disputes like Kashmir in accordance with the relevant UN resolutions and international agreements. Economic cooperation with India must take place on a mutually beneficial basis. We must strengthen our strategic partnership with China and friendly relations with Iran, Turkey, and Afghanistan to balance India’s power advantage over us. We should also build bridges of understanding with Russia while developing cooperation with Central Asian Republics both bilaterally and within the framework of the Economic Cooperation Organization. Despite the growing American tilt towards India as reflected during Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Washington, we should try to strengthen friendly relations with this super power because of the convergence of the national interests of Pakistan and the US in many areas.

The writer is a retired ambassador and the president of the Lahore Council for World Affairs.