Modi stands to gain a lot with his anti-Pakistan rhetoric
In his first interview this year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed that he had successfully managed to isolate Pakistan in the global arena, even as he rejected the resumption of talks with Pakistan anytime soon. “It will be a huge mistake to believe that Pakistan will mend its ways after a war. It will take a lot of time...” he said.
Modi’s pugnacious remarks have not come as a surprise. With the parliamentary elections months away, the Indian leader has upped the ante against Pakistan in order to galvanize his right-wing support base by whipping up nationalist sentiments. He appears to be under pressure after the ruling BJP lost control over three critical states — in the state elections held last month — thereby diminishing the prospects of the party returning to power in the center.
Anti-Pakistan comments, therefore, come handy for Modi in an effort to regain his shrinking support base. Just like it did in the past, the BJP will certainly use the sentiment to try and win votes, particularly in the Hindu belt.
Modi’s latest remarks have dashed whatever little hope there was of tensions easing between the two nuclear-armed nations. It is evident that India is not willing to show any flexibility. A narrow window of opportunity was lost when India rejected Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s offer to hold talks on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session in September last year. Modi’s government has also not responded positively to several unilateral, confidence-building measures taken by Imran Khan’s government, including the opening of the Kartarpur corridor which, when operational, would allow Sikh pilgrims to visit their holiest site without a visa.
Modi’s controversial remarks came as tension along the Line of Control (LOC) — dividing the two sides of the disputed former princely state of Kashmir — has escalated. As the exchange of fire intensified, Pakistan claimed to have shot down two Indian drones on its side of the border. There is growing concern in Islamabad that there is a possibility of escalation in violence along the LoC before the polls, especially considering the recent threat issued by the Indian army chief.
It is hard to believe that the international community has the same appetite for conflagration in one of the world’s most combustible regions. It is apparent that Modi has grossly miscalculated that he can manage the diplomatic fallout of an escalation because India today stands at a much better place in the world.
Modi’s belligerent remarks — which many Pakistani officials describe as a blatant threat — has also reinforced the view that his administration intends to divert the attention from the worsening human rights situation in Kashmir. The situation is getting completely out of control after New Delhi imposed direct rule in the disputed state. Despite brutal repression, the Indian army has failed to contain the mass uprising in the area.
Modi, in his interview, also referred to the “surgical strike” which the Indian forces claimed to have conducted on alleged Pakistani militant camps across the LOC in September 2016. The Indian military officials had also alleged that the disputed strike had killed dozens of militants. Even though Pakistan rejected the claims, the Modi administration declared that the preventive strikes along the LoC demonstrated its aggressive approach. This, according to some Indian analysts, redefines its nuclear threshold.
Since coming to power in 2013, Modi has pursued a strategy which some analysts describe as a ‘vertical and horizontal escalation’. He apparently sought to encircle and bleed Pakistan by intensifying cross-border covert operations while keeping the option of military strikes open.
In fact, the Modi government has sought to redefine the idea of ‘no escalation beyond’ the nuclear threshold. This strategy has certainly not worked. His claim to have isolated Pakistan on the international forums seems incredulous, too. Modi’s remarks reflect a sense of frustration over India’s failure to bring Pakistan under pressure through both covert and overt operations.
Any military escalation before the elections will potentially be a costly gamble by the Indian leader who is known for his insatiable appetite of taking risks. Such ‘reckless’ action could easily spiral out of control and turn into a full-blown military confrontation. The underlying calculation of Modi’s escalation is that India can afford this brinkmanship given the country’s growing global influence. However, it is hard to believe that the international community has the same appetite for conflagration in one of the world’s most combustible regions. It is apparent that Modi has grossly miscalculated that he can manage the diplomatic fallout of an escalation because India today stands at a much better place in the world.
– Zahid Hussain is an award-winning journalist and author. He is a former scholar at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholar, USA, and a visiting fellow at Wolfson College, University of Cambridge, and at the Stimson Center in Washington DC. He is author of Frontline Pakistan: The struggle with militant Islam (Columbia university press) and The Scorpion’s tail: The relentless rise of Islamic militants in Pakistan (Simon and Schuster, NY). Frontline Pakistan was the book of the year (2007) by the WSJ.