The Modi Maneuver

Spearhead Analysis – 28.12.2015

The Modi ManeuverOn his way back from visits to Russia and Afghanistan Mr Modi made a surprise short stopover in Lahore, Pakistan ostensibly to greet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on his birthday and his granddaughters wedding. For the Pakistani Prime Minister this was a family event at their family home and the family was there to extend full hospitality to their honored guest. Mr Modi, of course, was accompanied by the large delegation that was part of his visit to Moscow for the 16th Annual Summit Meeting and to Kabul to inaugurate the Afghan Parliament building financed by India. Notwithstanding speculation that this surprise visit was an orchestrated and planned event through intermediaries the fact is that this proves that Mr Modi is very much his own man and that he is confident that he can handle the entrenched Indian bureaucratic mindset and any domestic implications of his actions and policies. This visit also underscores Mr Modi’s penchant for a personal relationship with the leaders with whom he interacts—the Japanese and US leaders are examples– and now it seems he is out to charm Pakistan’s Prime Minister. In the process he has focused attention on the elected leader to elected leader relationship in democracies that can override obstacles created by others.

It would be naïve to think that the issues between India and Pakistan are about to be resolved or that some kind of game changing event has taken place. It would, however be foolish to not acknowledge that such contacts do make a significant impact on the overall environment in which India and Pakistan have to interact. Both the US and China have appreciated the meeting as a positive development. The media in India and Pakistan has gone into the inevitable analyses by experts with the predictable emphasis on the ‘real’ issues between the two countries. Think tanks, particularly the well funded western think tanks that thrive on India-Pakistan hostility may be disappointed because their favorite scenario of some kind of nuclear holocaust in South Asia starts looking unlikely. This meeting between the two countries is not an isolated event. It comes after their brief interaction in Ufa and the Indian foreign ministers visit to Islamabad for the Afghanistan focused Heart of Asia conference and the decision to start a comprehensive dialogue between the two countries with the first meeting to be held mid-January 2016. The bottom line that emerges from all this is that India and Pakistan must do what they think is in their national interest and a process for this has begun with maturity being shown by the leadership on both sides.

There are fears being voiced that Mr Modi wants to get real close to the US and that India and the US are acting in concert to somehow derail the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) plan that both are not comfortable with. It is being said that the original Modi plan of confrontation and conflict with Pakistan having failed the charm and woo approach is being tried. None of this makes sense because so far Pakistan does not know what is on offer for it to even consider alternatives. Pakistan is firmly committed to the CPEC and its relationship with China is a given. Pakistan is in no doubt that in South Asia the US has placed its strategic bets on India but it is also clear about its own geopolitical centrality in an environment that will exist for several years. For Pakistan and China the Pakistan-US relationship is not at the cost of their own relationship or their relationships with others—India, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan for example. For Pakistan the CPEC does not close other options as is clear from its interest and participation in projects like TAPI (Turkmenistan, Afghanistan Pakistan India pipe line) and others. Pakistan is not in any kind of arms race with India and understands that its deterrence has to be dynamic. Pakistan also understands that India as a sovereign nation has the right to do what it wants but it is also fully aware of the dangers of asymmetry beyond an acceptable limit. Pakistan is acting to forge a bilateral relationship with Afghanistan so that common threats are jointly addressed. The outcome of the recent visit by Pakistan’s Army Chief is a clear indication of Pakistan’s politico-military resolve and also a signal that the military and the political government are acting in concert to give Pakistan a great future.

(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to a single individual)