Can India Isolate Pakistan?

Spearhead Analysis – 20.03.2017

By Shirin Naseer
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

In September of last year, India switched gears on its Pakistan policy; moving from the occasional military offences, PM Modi directed diplomatic ammunition towards Pakistan. The objective was made lucid: from this point on, India was going to work towards the ‘grand isolation’ of its eastern neighbor.

Essentially, 2016 was all about India trying to encircle and isolate Pakistan, but failing to garner enough support to make substantial impact.

Presently, India’s ‘isolate Pakistan’ strategy is quivering; far from helping India de-hyphenate itself from Pakistan, Delhi’s strategy is obstructing India’s other foreign policy objective of accomplishing a ‘great power status’.

In case of a future conflict, India has significantly constrained its available options. The hard-line stance advocated by PM Modi now compels the state to always respond aggressively. Militarily a confrontational attitude towards Pakistan can be dangerous because of the presence of nuclear weapons. Not only that, but such a policy stance also gives strength to anti-India elements in Pakistan. Such a policy position for India then is self-defeating because it raises concerns internationally, pairing India and Pakistan together– something that India would surely rather avoid. 

Added to this, despite what India had hoped with Trump, his pronounced Islamophobia and his anti-Muslim campaign rhetoric, the US has refused to board Modi’s bandwagon. Instead, from what is revealed through a read-out of Trump’s chat with PM Nawaz Sharif, what we seem to have is a US president eager to extend ties with Pakistan.

Less than a month after Modi made his campaign known internationally, it failed to gain momentum.

The Russian representative, Zamir Kabulov, at the Heart of Asia conference in Amritsar slighted both India and Afghanistan for what appeared to be a coordinated attempt to corner Pakistan on the issue of terrorism. Kabulov went further ahead and praised Pakistan’s foreign policy advisor Sartaj Aziz’s speech, and emphasized the stakes each party has in resolving such a critical issue—reminding everyone present that international diplomacy cannot work if it is reduced to the expression of personal prejudices as policy.

Though no country questions New Delhi’s right to punish cross-border terrorism—even Pakistan’s long-term ally China has been quietly advising Pakistan on getting its house-jihadists under control, no ally of Pakistan has gone as far as publicly criticizing the country.

Instead, China and Russia, as well as Iran, are courting closer relations to Pakistan.

The Iranian President Hasan Rouhani’s two visits in quick succession and Russia’s growing closeness with Pakistan in the fields of defense and energy along with its endorsement to take Pakistan into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has been welcomed by Pakistan.

The Chief of General Staff Pakistan Army attended the recent Russian Military Day reception in Islamabad and the Russian Ambassador to Pakistan called on the Chief of Army Staff in Rawalpindi. There are other signs of warming relations between Russia and Pakistan and there is the possibility of Pakistan acquiring weapon systems from Russia.

Politically and economically, it is even harder to isolate Pakistan now that it enjoys strong links with China.

Recently, Pakistan was hit by a fresh wave of security threats to the extent that a new counter-terrorism campaign, Operation Radd ul-Fasaad, was initiated. Amidst tight security, the successful conduct of the ECO summit and the holding of the PSL final demonstrated that Pakistan can deliver on its regional and international hosting duties. 

The 13th Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) Summit in Islamabad was an important milestone in Pakistan’s foreign policy. World leaders from all ten member states gathered to pledge expansion of trade, connectivity and economic relations in the region. The plans for enhancing connectivity in the ECO region are convergent with China’s One-Belt-One-Road project. Once CPEC is fully functional, a greater number of transit routes will be made available for the enhancement of trade among the ECO members. Pakistan has already offered its ports and routes for trade purposes. 

Iran, Central Asian States, Russia, Germany, Afghanistan, Great Britain and France have all expressed a willingness to join CPEC. The economic impact of CPEC is visible in the progressive trend registered in Pakistan’s macroeconomic indicators. Moreover, successive reports of the international financial institutions (IFIs) note Pakistan as an important economic player, increasing the appeal of Pakistan as an investment-worthy country. 

At the five-nation BRICS summit, held in Goa, attempts to have member states agree with Modi’s characterization of Pakistan as the “mother-ship of terrorism” failed to get attending countries on board. Pakistan is fast emerging as a strong economy with a growing potential of becoming a foreign investment destination.

Recently, Pakistan also successfully hosted a multinational AMAN-2017 naval exercise in the Arabian Sea off the coast of Karachi, in which more than 35 countries took part, including navies of 12 countries: Australia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Maldives, Pakistan, Russia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, UK and USA, while envoys from 31 countries also observed the exercise.

Relations between Pakistan and India, and between Pakistan and Afghanistan, are volatile, to say the least– as is evidenced by raids and firing across shared unsettled borders. Modi’s policy to isolate and stigmatize Pakistan is not pragmatic given the current times. For Delhi, the first step has to be opening dialogue and engaging Islamabad to reduce Pakistan’s sense of insecurity. Confidence building measures must be put into play in order to reduce Pakistan’s reliance on nuclear weapons. India should review its policies in order to better serve its dream of great power status. Of course, this will involve letting go of India’s other dream to punish and isolate Pakistan.  As long as Delhi’s policies are shadowed by a looming “Pakistan problem” the latter dream will continue to take precedence over achieving the former.