No previous Prime Minister has focussed on the Indus Waters Treaty, MFN, Balochistan or coordinated a boycott of the Saarc summit, leave alone order a surgical strike. These steps taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi since the Kashmir agitation’s present round, and especially after the Uri attack, seem to indicate a re-examination of the foundations of India’s Pakistan’s policy. It would be a pity if they constitute only unrelated tactical measures to deal with the current situation.
As Modi proceeds, it is useful to examine if the underlying principles of the traditional approach towards Pakistan have served India well. Pakistan was created on the basis of faith and on the assumption that Muslim interests would never be secure in a Hindu majority state. It was a logical corollary that India would be considered through the prism of faith; a Hindu country. It was equally inevitable that if a Hindu majority within India was projected to be perpetually antagonistic to a Muslim majority, a Hindu India would be looked on as a permanent threat — and a constant enemy.
Some Pakistani scholars claim Jinnah wanted both countries to cooperate but that proposition ignores the path he chose. Leaked official Pakistan documents such as the Abbotabad Commission Report conclusively show that what should have been anticipated by Indian policy makers came to pass.
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The Kashmir issue provides the clearest example of Pakistan’s faith-based India policy. Pakistan holds that it is the “unfinished agenda of Partition” and wants the state’s Muslim majority areas. However, even if Kashmir is resolved, it’s unlikely Pakistan will give up its basically hostile approach towards India for it is rooted in the fundamental principle of its state’s creation — a perception, though false, of two antagonistic faiths.
The founding fathers of the Republic correctly rejected a theocratic state to mirror Pakistan. However, should this have led those who fashioned Indian foreign policy thereafter to approach Pakistan by overlooking its theological moorings? Was this done partly because of the fear that such an acknowledgement itself would weaken the national enterprise? That a secular India could not premise its policies towards Pakistan on the basis of its inherent hostility? That such an approach would weaken India’s secular fabric? If this is so, it did the greatest disservice to our Muslim co-citizens — for it assumed they had a special interest in Pakistan. This was not warranted. And it led India to positions that ironically pandered to Pakistani prejudices.
This is best seen in India’s acceptance of the Indus Waters Treaty, extraordinarily generous to Pakistan, providing it 80 per cent of the waters, harshest to Jammu and Kashmir. India agreed to it to assuage Pakistani fears of being starved of water. It failed to do so. Indian policy makers never probed the reasons for this failure. Is it because it would throw up inconvenient conclusions about India’s refusal to accept Pakistan for what it is?
Foreign policy must never overlook the fundamental moorings of a state, especially an antagonistic one. This doesn’t imply doors for negotiations should be shut. However, generous concessions must be evaluated to assess if they lead to a dilution of hostility. Often, they reinforce prejudices, as seen in India-Pakistan trade relations. Pakistani studies demonstrate Pakistan would gain far more with a MFN-based trade regime. However, the army disallowed it because of fears that it may not be able to control it — but also because of its prejudicial association of trade and Hindus, it has felt trade is a pressure point against India.
The Indian political and strategic class does not think in religious terms in public policy, including foreign policy. It finds such thinking retrogressive. It offends its sensibilities. But Pakistan does and the refusal to acknowledge that has served India ill. Realism demands Indian policy makers accept Pakistani decision-makers’ thinking arises from fundamentally different motivations from their own.