Recognising the shift in Pakistan’s India policy

An Editorial for the Express Tribune

The silver lining of the current Pakistan-India stand-off is that Pakistan’s Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif remains committed to his visionary policy of making progress in peacebuilding with our traditional rival. PM Sharif has been consistent about his resolve to build bridges with India and bolster economic cooperation between the two countries and in a gesture of goodwill, his government  has taken the right decision to release 365 Indian prisoners, which include 340 fishermen and 25 crewmembers of Indian vessels. Prior to the 2013 elections, PM Sharif made exceptionally bold statements on moving forward with the peace process. In particular, he assured India that Pakistani soil will not be used against India. This was a tacit message that earlier cases of Pakistani militants’ carrying out terrorist attacks in India would be addressed by his regime.

The recent escalation at the Line of Control (LoC) started when five Indian soldiers were killed. Initially, the Indian government claimed that the attackers were militants dressed in the Pakistan Army uniform. However, within days, the official stance changed and once again the Pakistan Army was blamed. Since then, the two sides have indulged in reckless behaviour by firing at each other, resulting in the death and injuries of soldiers on both sides. The public opinion in India, fuelled by irresponsible sections of the media, is restive and unforgiving. This has jeopardised the future of composite dialogue as well as the potential of the two prime ministers meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in September. At the heart of the matter is the asymmetry between the domestic approaches to the peace process in both countries. In Pakistan, there is a near-consensus that peace has to be secured. The army has deferred to this growing public mood. As PM Sharif said in his interview given to the UK’S Telegraph a few days ago, India-bashing is out of fashion in Pakistan. The elections of 2013 and even the by-elections completed on August 22 did not mention India as an issue. In fact, the by-elections took place amid heightened tensions and not a single party or its candidate made an issue of it.

Conversely, in India, there is a split within the political society. The opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has drummed up passions against Pakistan, putting even more pressure on the Indian PM who has been keen to improve relations with Pakistan. Similarly, the civil society and media are divided on their approach towards Pakistan and the future trajectory of relations. This is a critical issue that the Indian leadership has to address. Another worrying development in recent years has been the increased influence of the Indian Army in setting the parameters of what is doable in the policy domain.

Meanwhile, the internal shift in Pakistan sadly goes unnoticed where conventional wisdom prevails. The Indian mindset holds that the Pakistan Army and the ISI control everything and civilian noises are of little value. This is changing and like all organic policy shifts, it will take time. India will have to support this process rather than thwart it by supporting the elements in Pakistan, which benefit from perpetual conflict with the neighbour.

The boldest of suggestions by PM Sharif, once again stated during the Telegraph interview, relates to the mutually agreed defence expenditure cuts by India and Pakistan. This is a serious issue and India must not squander this moment as part of its unstated policy of ‘strategic indifference’ towards Pakistan. In the meantime, PM Sharif should tackle the non-state actors, who wish to decimate the Pakistani state and also cause a major crisis through terror attacks inside India. By taking charge of security and foreign policies, PM Sharif must work towards dismantling the militants’ network. In the short term, prosecuting those involved in the Mumbai attacks of 2008 would be the most urgent step. This is the time to reverse the disastrous policies of the past.

  • Nikhil Singh

    Lemme begin by saying I loved ur book on Delhi, and glad to be on ur blog. Excuse my sms lingo. About the Indo PaK thing. As a Mumbaikar i wud have voted a nuclear obliteration of the subcontinent after the Taj Attack [notice i say both Subcontinent obliteration].

    So personally speaking I have come a long way, I m friends with ppl from Pak on twitter [couldn’t have imagined] and I m glad for it.

    The broader consensus in India is that Pak society has indeed changed in it’s anti India stance as they now face the same demons they had unleashed on us.

    But the broader question is do we trust the leadership and the “powers that be” ? The answer is a quick NO , no brainer there, and no It’s not NDTV OR BJP propaganda. Just see the number of flip flops the “powers that be” have done on Afgan, Kashmir, India, Jihad, US, Baloch, Democracy, Press…The narative that Pakistan is a compulsive liar is not a hard sell, except for the blondes in State Department.

    Why is the onus placed on us to not derail the peace process after a non state actor creates a crisis , why isnt the onus on Pak to reign in or atleast PROSECUTE the non state actors. Clearly you have a bad record of it even domestically [Musharraf attacker is free]. But i can’t be expected to be the understanding types EVEN in the face of crisis.

    Now what you Sir [and i m a fan] are saying is to take that leap of Faith. The sceptic answer is WHY Should I ? You say , because else the civil society will fall in d hands of fundamentalists. Notice the similarity in the narrative with President Zardari to Clinton [or was it the US Ambassador] “Should pakistan fall in the hands of Jihadis it is a bad NEWS for the civilized world. Just as the Ambassador was aghast at the blackmail, SO ARE WE.

    So a sceptic non CONgress voter like me, who believes India should indeed be a land of multiple faiths [should you think all BJP voters are communal] believes you is yet not too enthusiastic for the peace process.

    You don’t need a HAWK to convince me that the same Pak society once strong after cleansing itself of TTP and BLA will NOT get back at it’s old friend India. We are sold on that story long time back, Mumbai was the straw that broke the Camel’s back.

    I think the Mumbai attacks were indeed an event of far reaching impact, it converted peaceniks and otherwise SECULAR guys like me into an ETERNAL sceptic.

    So no, we don’t want to empower or strengthen our neighbor, and give them a chance to emerge out of the crisis stronger, why should we? Peace Dividend will indeed be good for all of us but if the past is any indicator chances of it hurting us is more. Raza Rumis will be sidelined in the name of Uleema.

    So it is in India’s best interest to wait it out, let Pak fight it out, let us be a mute spectators in the Grand Leela [Divine Play] of Pakistan and Jihad. Should they win [which they should] it would be an almost fatal win and hence a weakened neighbor who will have no option but to pursue peace from a position of weakness [I know i sound horrible but its better to be alive than be sounding poetic]

    Long story short [and IF I HAVE NOT ALREADY LOST U]

    1: We believe Pak has changed
    2: Should we pursue Peace with Pak ? NOT YET [Let them burn a little bit more, let them face the existential crisis they created]. Let the TTP crisis play out by itself.

    • mudifer

      Well Beleive or not Pakistan has Grown up and its tine for India before its too late. India’s Pak phobia is the only hurdle in its progress.
      Dont persue peace talks with Pak.. Just tell what chances are you left with ?? Pakistan has gone through worst now its back to healing. And If Pak is forced to shift to Old policy its definitely India who is not going to like it at all. Indian think tanks sometimes appear to be wholly Insane who dont have little knowhow of current ongoings.Pakistan is still hard as Rock, so waiting till it gets weaker will bring nothing. Indua’s seems frustrated as Pakistan is a Undeniable and Inconquerable resistance in India’s way to dominate in SA.
      ISI is focussed on Afghanistan and RAW is counting on everything to deatabilize Pak by supporting BLA and you expect ISI would not take you on as it gets free from western borders of country. India simply needs to Grow up.

      • Nikhil Singh

        Phobia is a strong word , we have a Phobia of China , pak is not a phobia [no offense], hurdle to India,s progress is Corruption by SECULAR parties not Pak skepticism.

        If we don’t pursue peace with Pak the option left is to defend my boarder of insurgents, Kashmiris will die as they are since 9Os and we will have few bomb blasts but we will Move On with vigor as we hav done in the 9Os. So NO, peace is not the only option , being neutral and indifferent to Pak is a better option [Plz note that I m not saying enmity with PAK, just advocating INDIFFERENCE AT GOVT/INSTITUTIONAL LEVEL].

        Iqbal bhai , with all due respect, ur not healing at all, there is no political consensus YET as to how to deal with TTP and the likes, that WAR hasn’t even started! It is, as of now, a Unilateral War, waged by TTP and ignored by PAK Political class.

        Pak is not the last hurdle in South East Asia [Khush Rehne k liye yeah khayal accha hai Galib] INDIAN ECONOMY will be the criteria , as it has always been around the world. China is a power because of it,s economy and so will India . We have to be a great Economy, Pak is a non entity in our quest for respectability around the world [even in MIDDLE EAST and Muslim World].

        Iqbal ur average Indian doesn’t expect ISI to be a friend, we expect RAW to reply in the same language as ISI and with the same Govt immunity. That day will be sad becoz n eye for n eye makes d world blind, but will be a good lesson in deterrence to the western attention seeking, self destructive entity called Pakistan. It will harm us indeed but I would rather bet on it than going on a RIDE with Pakistan into the unknown with an open heart.

  • mudifer

    Hello Sir !! Its always intereating to hear your views and read your blogs. But i find myself more of a critic to you. Sir having mention Infiltration in kashmir, Mumbai attacks, India soldier’s deaths etc you must have not forgotton Indian involvement in Balochistan and their established support to BLA, Continuous violation of LoC in which Pak army has lost officers of Captain and Major ranks in last two days.
    Sir very humbly I would kine to disagree with you over your view that Nawaz sharif has to take action against militants

  • mudifer


    Pakistan has not gone so far ever for the sake of dialogue as it has gone now. Now ball is in India’s cort. I fully beleive this is a limited time offer if India doesn’t respond +vely, Pak policy makers would be under extreme pressure to have a second look. And especially after USA leaves Afghanistan this year Pak policy shift might not remain as soft as it is now. And I am afraid If India continues to be Stubborn, Pak may change policy and India faces intense trouble in Kashmir and Afghanistan. India needs to behave before things get out of hand. PM pakistan wont be able to resist Hardliners for long in this case.
    Pakistan can never trust India. In India militants and Fundamentalists are in power, Govts dont dare gi against them. Pak arrested Hafiz saeed and he was released by Court due to insufficient evidence. Has India ever arrested Bal Thakray or those involved in Babri mosque incident ??. And India has a developed a habbit of accusing Pakistan for each and every thing -ve happens in India. Most funny was once they accused ISI for leaving Peagons in india for Spying. We must stop being Stupid. India’s rupee has gine to 65 from 61 in two days against US dollar, 90 % population living below poverty line.
    I conclude saying “Pakistan already has, Now India`s turn to grow up as soon as possible”.

    • Nikhil Singh

      The above comment is riddled with misinformation and Khushfehmi/Galatfehmi. So it’s hard to engage in a dialogue on the above comment, It is a Juvenile proclaimation that INTENSE disturbance in Kashmir n Afgan …..all i will say is how has that approach worked out for u ? phir say kar le ….. self goal maarna koi iss aawaam say seekhay !!!

  • jo jeeta wohi sikandar

    Civilians can’t even implement MFN not to talk about anything else.
    It has been 9 months since legislation was passed.
    Don’t tell me they are waiting for higher authority.

    Did Pakistan implement visa for 60 years old at the border?

    Let the fighting start in Afghanistan where Pak army dressed in jihadi outfits
    will have to come and Indians will lay a trap for them.
    Pakistan Politicians can claim we didn’t order that.

    More BS from pakistani liberals especially head of Jinnah institute
    which openly advocates take over of Afghanistan by Pakistan.



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