An Important Note: I urge the Pakistani foreign policy establishment in Islamabad to study/review this article as the basis of a paradigm shift in the PML-N leadership approach to Indo-Pak relations rather than consider it a brusque criticism of Nawaz Sharif’s government. The fact of the matter is that historically India’s political-military posture towards Pakistan has been belligerent and lately it is diplomatically outright hostile and aggressive. Pakistan needs to devise a diplomatic - military discourse for engagement with India to correct the prevailing imbalance.
The Pakistani Prime Minister’s current strategic approach towards India “Let Us Be Friends On Your Terms” is flawed. First, it is purely and exclusively a “personalized” view of how Pakistan should engage with India. The PM’s claim that he has a public mandate to “befriend” India as he wishes is obviously a misunderstood and misguided notion. Pakistanis, as a whole, would want an Indo-Pak engagement on the basis of equality of nations and not subservient to Indian demands and explicitly expressed endless hostility. Added to this is the IMF conditionalities and the US pressure to accommodate India on exclusive terms.
Second: Islamabad’s foreign policy establishment’s current diplomatic discourse towards India is completely devoid of Realpolitik parameters. In a nation-state system, a neighboring country is not offered an “a la carte” political menu on a single-track one-way diplomatic channel. It is imperative that long-range national interests take precedent over short-term political trade based on vested interests. In this context, balance of political power, mutuality of views on global issues, military parity, balance of trade volume and willingness to partake in conflict resolution on mutual grounds by peaceful political means are some of the most vital conditions, among several other variables, that must be present for a Realpolitik engagement between two nations. Unfortunately the absence of all of the above and the perpetual state of political-military conflicts or the threat of such conflicts between the two nations offer no window of opportunity to engage with India in Realpolitik peaceful coexistence parameters.
Third: It is imperative to completely comprehend an adversary’s historical political conduct. Islamabad’s current strategic approach towards India fails in fully conceptualizing this important factor. For record purposes, let us mention some of India’s past political behavior: It annexed Hyderabad by military force in 1948. India has illegally occupied Kashmir by refusing to accept UN resolutions and has a massive military presence there to suppress the Kashmiri self-determination movement by force and committing brutal atrocities against the Kashmiri people. It militarily intervened in East Pakistan and caused the breakup of its neighboring nation by an act of war to establish its military-political domination. Indira Gandhi, vehemently opposed to the Two-Nation theory, would have invaded West Pakistan at the time had it not been for Nixon-Kissinger’s direct intervention to stop her by a threat of a US reprisal and Indian military’s possible humiliation in such a military adventure.
The question is, given the history of India’s political-military conduct, how has the PML-N leadership and its foreign policy establishment concluded that India is now prepared to establish far reaching and permanently stable cordial political-military relations with Sharif’s Pakistan for an everlasting peaceful coexistence with its neighbors? Indeed, Sharif’s foreign policy managers are politically incorrect in making such irrational assumptions. The interesting and ironic thing is that recent evidence suggests volumes of contradictions to the said presumptions of Sharif’s Indian affairs experts who seem to have conveniently set aside the ground realities of contemporary Indian political-military behavior.
The personally amicable Manmohan Singh, next year to be the outgoing Indian Prime Minister, is not a statesman of a global vision of peace and political moderation in the region or a nonaligned visionary. He is a diehard Indian nationalist who has been steadfastly busy throughout his tenure to cast India into a dominant political military force in the region as well as globally. That is the political legacy that Monmohan Singh wishes to leave behind. As such, permanent and stable Indo-Pak coexistence or a Kashmir resolution are not priorities for Manmohan’s India. Consequently, the Indian Prime Minister has demonized Pakistan as the sole epicenter of global terrorism - the sole center of “evil,” he said, as he lambasted Pakistan last month at the United Nations and during his recent visit to Moscow.
Three questions are vital here: Is this the India that seems willing to respond positively to Islamabad’s recent overtures of friendship? Is this the India that seems eager for constructive political engagement with Pakistan over longstanding disputes such as Kashmir and other serious issues involving Indo-Pakistan disagreements? Is this the India that seems determined to move towards permanent peaceful coexistence and be a partner with its neighbor for lasting regional stability and to work together for mutual prosperity in both countries? Unless one pretends to be completely oblivious to the existing ground realities, the evidence does not point in the above-mentioned directions.
More important questions: Why is Islamabad being deceptive to its own people? What makes Islamabad believe that a Pakistani magic PML-N wand will transform Indian historical political behavior of non-cooperation, hostility and aggression to the romantic lures of Sharif’s call for friendship and lasting peaceful coexistence between the two nations? Is this not a deliberate self-denial of reality and asking oneself to daydream what is not within the realm of possibilities?
My considered opinion is that today’s Islamabad lacks the perception management skills that the Indian Prime Minister is using with absolute brilliance to India’s advantage and to the detrimental impacts on Pakistan’s global image and domestic political credibility .
So what exactly is the perception management that the Indian Prime Minister has so skillfully used at the UN forum and in Moscow to demonize Pakistan as the global terror center? The conceptual definition goes as follows: “… actions to convey and/or deny selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives and objective reasoning.” Manmohan Singh has been doing exactly that to Pakistan’s discredit on a global scale.
The irony of the matter is that PML-N’s Islamabad, instead of taking a proactive approach to counteract Indian propaganda, has been playing on the back foot and has gone defensive in its diplomatic response to India’s exploits of hurting Pakistan’s standing and image in the community of nations. We are being portrayed as outcasts on a global level - thanks to our immediate neighbor’s quest for peaceful coexistence. The fact of the matter is that India has taken advantage of the suffering that this nation has endured for being a partner to the US war on terrorism and India’s over-zealous meddling in Afghan affairs to attain political domination in the region.
What makes the Pakistani Prime Minister offer preferential trade (the most favored nation) to India is something that only the PM himself can explain. In the meantime Islamabad is failing in its diplomatic discourse towards India; failing in its perception management initiatives and failing in the realization that India is not prepared to offer breathing space to Pakistan at any stage in the near future. We must acknowledge the fact that peaceful coexistence and permanent stability of relations between the two nations are remote possibilities as of now.
It is so because Islamabad has made flawed policy decisions so many times - and until Pakistan adopts a bold political military strategic response to India’s “Realpolitik,” we have nobody else to blame but ourselves. In addition, Pakistan has to curb its hasty, cursory ad hoc-ism in its foreign policy-making process.
Will Islamabad do that? I am afraid to imagine the truth!
The writer is UAE-based academic, policy analyst, conflict resolution expert and author of several books on Pakistan and foreign policy issues. He holds a doctorate and a masters degree from Columbia University in New York.