This weekend, as External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj finalises her speech to the United Nations General Assembly, she will have the unhappy task of choosing the words with which to address one of the ugliest times in the India-Pakistan engagement. Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s speech on Kashmir, delivered this week, was arguably the most inflammatory ever delivered by a Pakistani leader. It hailed slain terrorist Burhan Wani, who, assault rifle in hand, called for a global caliphate. He made no reference to India’s concerns on terrorism, nor his own promise, publicly made in January, to act against the perpetrators of the Pathankot Air Force base attack. Instead, the speech argued India-Pakistan normalisation was impossible without agreement on Kashmir, and went on to call for United Nations intervention. He even suggested Pakistan would continue to expand its nuclear arsenal in response to India’s conventional superiority, a programme that defies rational explanation and is causing concern across the world.
For many, it will be hard to reconcile this Nawaz Sharif with the one Prime Minister Narendra Modi staked so much political capital on, flying to visit him in December to the dismay of his own hawkish constituency. Swaraj herself was greeted with affection when she visited the Sharif country home. The sad truth, however, is that Pakistan’s external policy is shaped by its generals. Army chief General Raheel Sharif, who is reported to have helped draft his prime minister’s speech, believes hostility with India is a strategic imperative. In the army’s view, it unites the country around the army, and cements the reconciliation between the state and its estranged jihadist proxies. Though short-sighted, this thinking is entrenched; Indian policy will have to contend with the fact that it will not change.
How, then, must India proceed? For one, it is important not to get embroiled in the kind of verbal brawling recent days have seen. This rewards Pakistan’s hawks, allowing them to proclaim to their followers that they have taken on India’s Hindu nationalists. Dignified silence will serve India’s ends better, signalling to the world that it is an emerging power with a true global agenda that can deal with its neighbourhood unaided. New Delhi should also make clear it is open for dialogue, laying out what it seeks on security issues, from terrorism to nuclear risk reduction; the blame for intransigence should not lie at India’s door. Finally, India must push forward the investments in intelligence, domestic counter-terrorism capacity and military capability that were brought on the agenda after 26/11, only to be then neglected by successive governments. Living with a neighbour like Pakistan is not easy — but shouting insults and threats across the garden fence will not bring peace.