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Cold, calculated, consistent: India's Pakistan policy needs a political consensus, stop crossing electoral swords with it
Cold, calculated, consistent: India's Pakistan policy needs a political consensus, stop crossing electoral swords with it avatar

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India’s deputy consul general in New York was arrested and maltreated by the Americans in December 2013 leading to anger in the country. Four years later, the Pakistanis behaved appallingly with Kulbhushan Jadhav’s mother and wife. On this occasion too, the people reacted with rage. However, there was one crucial difference: in the former case no one conflated American conduct with India’s internal policies such as its treatment of suspects but in the latter instance some commentators raised the country’s, especially the present government’s, treatment of the minorities.

Why should any criticism of Pakistan invite a reflexive response of turning the spotlight on India itself? For that matter why should a political party’s members’ contacts with Pakistanis, in or out of office, be co-related to its attitudes and policies towards any section or group of the Indian people? The answer lies in history both remote and recent. This makes the Pakistan relationship suffused with both negative and positive emotion, including nostalgia, and traverse the domain of foreign policy deep into the realm of domestic politics and social attitudes.

Seven decades after Independence it is time to drain the Pakistan relationship of emotion, break its ties with the Indian state’s conduct towards the minorities, particularly the Muslims, and, move away decisively from the legacies of Partition.

Illustration: Uday Deb

Only then will the country succeed in crafting a cold and consistent Pakistan policy based purely on the realities of that country and its enduring hostile approach to India. Only then, also, will a Trump tweet as the recent one berating Pakistan and his decision to hold back an assistance tranche elicit realistic assessment and not delight at Pakistani discomfiture. This will also contribute to the country’s social harmony for the fact is, that fringe elements apart, no social or religious group, except in some measure in J&K, roots for Pakistan.

It will not be easy to achieve an emotionless approach towards Pakistan. Almost always relationships with neighbours have degrees of religious, linguistic, ethnic and cultural commonalities; these intrude in varying measure in the formulation and execution of policy. India’s Sri Lanka policy bears this burden too but Pakistan stands on a different footing altogether for it raises feelings all through the country, although to different degrees in different regions.

As a product of the two-nation theory Pakistan is founded on the principle that Hindus and Muslims constitute separate and antagonistic nations. India correctly rejected the proposition that religion should be the exclusive basis of nationhood. Thus, the founding principles of the two countries are entirely different.

Often this fundamental fact is overlooked even by those who have had long professional and personal interaction with Pakistanis. The warm and fuzzy and ‘they are like us’ feelings generated by a single exposure to exuberant embraces are not only misleading but also often offensive to those who deliberately chose to walk away, denying affinities. These feelings should not influence policy; nor, the notion that the demand for Pakistan was only Jinnah’s negotiating tactic and the ‘blame’ for Partition must lie with the Congress leadership is hollow revisionism.

Realism does not connote that humanitarian gestures, such as granting medical visas, have no place in policy. These are rooted in the traditional ethos of India and a dilution of tradition will diminish us as a people. Hence, it must become routine despite justifiable popular anger at Pakistani terrorism which leads to spontaneous demands to curtail friendly gestures.

Continuing Pakistani terrorism such as the recent JeM attack at Pulwama has to be taken as a strategic challenge and not a matter of political management to assuage popular sentiment. People-to-people contact is useful but its operations have to consider security implications. Divided families have paid a high emotional price through the decades but that has been an inevitable, if sad, outcome of Partition. The patriotism of those who chose to remain in India and of their descendants should not be questioned. Their desire to maintain contacts with family members across the border is natural, deserving sympathy.

National controversies and contentions on the direction of the development of India’s political and social cultures have to be settled entirely domestically. In doing so constitutional values which also derive from and are compatible with the ancient Indian intellectual tradition of free thought and expression have to be the guide. The outward forms, texture and vocabulary of public culture cannot but bear the imprint of changing times and political control. This cannot be imposed on the private practices of social groups, nor can it ever justify violence. Certainly, references to Pakistan have no place in this discourse at any time, especially during elections.

The challenges arising out of India’s western neighbourhood are increasing because of the new consolidation of Sino-Pak ties, making the Pakistan relationship almost a subset of its China relationship.

Cold calculation demands acknowledging the reality that the Pakistani army’s implacable hostility may be calibrated but will not end for it arises out of the country’s founding principle. The army is the principal centre of power and that too will not change, charming statements of the army chief notwithstanding. The Pakistan army will always be China’s willing pawn.

A political consensus around India’s Pakistan policy needs to be worked out. That too requires that it not be looked through the prism of Indian electoral politics. In J&K which looms large in the bilateral relationship, Pakistan’s intrusiveness has to be eliminated as a first step. Nothing else will work.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author's own.

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