Volume 5, No. 12, December 2023
Editor: Rashed Rahman
It is a great privilege to be invited to speak to the Centre for Aerospace and Security Studies (CASS). I shall make some very brief but frank introductory remarks and then respond to the four questions put to me by CASS.
First of all, I wish to state that only governments that have international credibility can have foreign policy or diplomatic options. Accordingly, Pakistan must first emerge from its current worst ever constitutional, political and economic crisis because a failing state cannot have a successful foreign policy, no matter how brilliant its diplomats may be.
As for India’s coming elections, it has a vast, diverse and largely poor population that is primarily concerned with the usual range of domestic issues at the local, state and national levels. Foreign policy, as in other countries including Pakistan, is relatively an elite intelligentia concern in India. Nevertheless, for many Indians, Pakistan is an exception because it is seen more as a national security concern than a foreign policy concern. This is largely because of (a) the Kashmir dispute that has led to several conflicts between the two countries and (b) Pakistan’s nuclear weapons capability, which is exclusively aimed at deterring India. Pakistan is also a strategic ally of China, a country India regards as its primary adversary, if not enemy, that humiliated it in 1962 and which, in alliance with Pakistan, has so far largely prevented India from establishing its hegemony in its own backyard. Modi’s RSS Hindutva ideology, moreover, portrays Pakistan as justification for the persecution of India’s Muslim minority, which electorally goes down very well with its Hindu majority. Accordingly, conflict or tension with Pakistan paved the way for Modi’s landslide electoral win in the aftermath of Pulwama and Balakot in 2019, and is likely to do so again in 2024 in the aftermath of his illegal but domestically very popular annexation of Occupied Jammu and Kashmir.
CASS Question 1: How will Modi play the security card against Pakistan in the run up to the 2024 national elections?
He will continue India’s mantra that “terror and talks with Pakistan cannot go together.” India will blame Pakistan for Kashmiri freedom fighter attacks on Indian occupation forces in India Occupied Kashmir and exploit any disaffection in Gilgit-Baltistan and other parts of Pakistan. It will seek to restore Pakistan to the grey list of FATF, thereby undermining its IMF programme, which could dangerously accelerate inflation, poverty and political instability in Pakistan. India may then allege Pakistan is a dangerously unstable nuclear weapons country that needs to be defanged to avoid nuclear catastrophe. It will also seek to undermine the proposed Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) plan of cooperation between Pakistan and the Gulf countries through its considerable investment leverage and political influence in these countries. It will also try to tighten Pakistan’s two-front situation by stepping up economic and other cooperation with Afghanistan to reduce Pakistan’s diplomatic leverage there. Through such pressures India will seek Gulf, US and international support to compel Pakistan to do the following: (i) progressively recognise the territorial status quo in Jammu and Kashmir; (ii) stop raising the issue of Jammu and Kashmir in the UN and other international forums; (iii) enter into talks with India for a final settlement of Jammu and Kashmir without making a reversal of the illegal August 5, 2019 Indian annexation of the disputed territory a precondition; (iv) enter into a No War Pact with India without making a Kashmir settlement a precondition; (v) begin dismantling its nuclear weapons capability since India would be an ‘elder brother’ rather than an ‘enemy’, and (vi) similarly begin loosening its CPEC, military and strategic ties with China.
India will have US and NATO support in this endeavour. Some commentators say this would be in accord with the so-called Bajwa Doctrine regarding future relations with India. This would effectively terminate Pakistan’s strategic partnership with China, which has been the lynchpin of its security, foreign and economic connectivity policy.
In return for the above India may offer trade, investment, joint ventures, tourism and travel concessions to Pakistan. In this way India will seek to convince public opinion in Pakistan – especially the so-called Lahore and Karachi middle class liberal intelligentsia – that as India-Pakistan relations improve within the context of Indian Subcontinental hegemony, Hindutva hostility towards Pakistan and the Indian Muslim community will begin to subside. While India may seek to weaken the raison d’etre or ideology of Pakistan among Pakistani liberal elites as a diplomatic strategy, it will not wish to reabsorb Pakistan as that would make it politically impossible to control, persecute and discriminate against a possible Muslim minority of over 700 million (including the Muslims of India and Bangladesh.) Such a colossal Muslim community would make a Hindu Rashtra an impossible dream and thereby undermine the fascist attraction of the RSS, the communal appeal of Hindutva, and the political future of Modi.
CASS Question 2: What diplomatic strategies can Pakistan employ to pre-empt Indian escalation in the lead-up to its 2024 elections?
Given our current political, economic, governance, law and order and international image situation, pre-empting Indian escalation is not a task for diplomacy. It is a task for good governance, i.e. governance in the interests of 90 percent of the people of Pakistan instead of in the interests of the four percent economic, political, social, religious and military elites.
CASS Question 3: What has the global response been to past events and what will be its role in the 2024 Indian election period?
By and large, the western political and security community did not support Pakistan in the aftermath of Pulwama and Balakot and the ensuing brief air conflict between India and Pakistan. Nor has it supported Pakistan after India’s illegal annexation of India Occupied Kashmir despite two Genocide Alerts issued by Genocide Watch as a result of the brutal Indian crackdown and lockdown in the Valley and condemnation of India’s actions by western human rights organisations. This has been due to Pakistan’s image as a failing state in contrast to India’s image as an emerging superpower boasting the third largest economy and market in the world as well as its impressive science and technology achievements. Moreover, western criticisms of the human rights travesties of Modi, the RSS and Hindutva do not translate into strained relations with India because of the false perception that constitutional democracy is not being aborted. In this regard, please read Arundhati Roy’s latest interview with Al Jazeera on the G-20 Summit in Delhi.
However, regarding Pakistan, the western perception is that constitutional democracy is being aborted by the military and its political surrogates who are unwilling to face a free, fair and internationally monitored election. While the governments of the US and its NATO allies may not seriously object to the violation of the constitutional and democratic process, including widespread human rights violations and media censorship in Pakistan, western public opinion is much less cynical or tolerant, and western governments cannot ignore western public opinion, including parliamentary legislation, especially with regard to countries where there are no countervailing political, economic and strategic considerations as is currently the case with Pakistan.
Accordingly, among the international community, and particularly in the west, there will be the usual fascination with, and news coverage of, the so-called ‘largest democratic electoral exercise in the world’ in India.
CASS Question 4: How can Pakistan highlight concerns about India’s misuse of the security card against Pakistan for electoral gains?
Any such effort will be unavailing as long as Pakistan is perceived as a failing state that is sliding into another military takeover in which human rights and media freedoms are routinely curtailed, and the economy and political process are in a tailspin. As long as this perception is not changed – and this can only be accomplished through good governance and all it entails, including radical structural change – India’s repeated use of the security card against Pakistan during its electoral campaign will be internationally noted, and largely ignored.
To conclude, this is a very bleak assessment of a very bleak situation. But it is not a hopeless assessment as long as the will and intent to serve Pakistan and its suffering people overcome political stratagems to dominate and exploit them.
The speaker is a retired diplomat.