Bottomline | Two’s a Company

Between India and Pakistan, there is no room for a third party

Pravin Sawhney

This piece has been inspired by the interview of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who recently visited India. Advocating a multilateral dialogue on Kashmir, Erdogan, to India’s chagrin, also favoured the inclusion of both India and Pakistan in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

Since peace with Pakistan is one of the themes of the recent book, Dragon on Our Doorstep, written by me and my colleague Ghazala Wahab, I feel compelled to share a few thoughts with those who might not have read the book.

There is little gainsaying that India needs peace to translate its enormous potential for the economic upliftment of its people. What comes in the way is its gross overestimation of itself; that it is China’s rival in Asia and Pakistan is little match to us. What was perhaps true in the Eighties is not so now. China is politically, economically, technologically, and militarily — all essential ingredients of hard power — strides ahead of India. Moreover, the border dispute with China is India’s Achilles Heel where Beijing is legally and militarily much stronger.

It is certain that the US, whatever its relationship with India, will not come to India’s help against China. India will have to stand up to China by itself. And Pakistan, which is now Beijing’s partner rather than its lackey, is neither a military pushover, nor globally isolated as India claims.

Since China and Pakistan give importance to military power as an essential component of their foreign policies, India must find a peaceful answer to the two military lines (Line of Actual Control and the Line of Control) that it has with them. A resolution of these alone will ensure India’s rise in Asia. Between the two lines, it will be easier to resolve the one with Pakistan, since it, unlike China, is keen to settle it. Once the LC is resolved, many positive options will open up for India. It could consider finding common ground, in whole or parts, between its Act East policy and China’s Belt and Road project which is set to transform the global geo-strategic map. If that happens, China would have little reason to not settle the border dispute, and might even end its support to insurgents in the Northeast. Taking a high moral ground, India could even nudge China to find answer to its Tibet problem.

Moreover, once the LC with Pakistan is settled, SAARC would realise its full potential; bypassing Pakistan to connect with other neighbours is neither a good nor a workable strategy. Settling the LC, however, does not mean that everything with Pakistan would suddenly be hunky-dory. While the Pakistan Army would still maintain its primacy in its country’s foreign policy and its defence preparedness (against India), two good things could happen. One, India and Pakistan are likely to consider arms reduction and military confidence building measures favourably. And two, Islamabad would get more leeway in its foreign and trade policies with India. Moreover, India’s smaller neighbours which play India against China and Pakistan to derive maximum benefits from them would do less of it.

To accomplish the above, India would need to do two critical things: settle the Kashmir issue, and build own military power. A multilateral approach to the Kashmir resolution is unnecessary when plenty has already been accomplished bilaterally through the 2003-2007 backdoor diplomacy. However, given its ideological compulsions, this will not be easy for the Modi government. What needs to be remembered is that: (a) war is not an option with Pakistan (b) delay in settlement of the Kashmir issue will only delay India’s rise, and (c) with time, positions on both sides will harden further making the resolution even more difficult. Importantly, India will need to talk with General Headquarters, Rawalpindi for the Kashmir settlement, and the two National Security Advisors provide the route for that.

India will also need to develop military power that it lacks. This requires urgent military reforms, five of which are: (a) formal involvement of the political leadership in military policy-making; (b) genuine joint-ness at both strategic and operational levels of war; (c) integration of military power in India’s foreign policy, and military to become a part of diplomacy; (d) seamless transition of conventional and nuclear war plans; and (e) building indigenous defence industry by treating public and private sector entities equally as one national industrial complex, and by investing in research and development.

The above military reforms are essential since the armed forces, especially the army, seems to be getting politicised. The case in point is the inclusion of ‘surgical strikes’ as a response to terror provocations (by Pakistan) in the recently released joint doctrine of the Indian armed forces. Including, what at present, is a political gimmick in a war-fighting doctrine does not speak much for the military leadership. Surgical strikes will become militarily relevant only when the adversary is deterred by it, and that requires a credible conventional war-fighting capability, which India lacks. Moreover, why disclose the surgical strike option by mentioning it in the doctrine?