During her speech at the UN General Assembly (UNGA), Sushma Swaraj, India’s external affairs minister, devoted approximately half her speech on Pakistan. This has been the norm over the years. Is this because Pak dominates Indian political space or is it to satisfy Indian audiences, who expected her to raise issues concerning Pak forcefully, remains a mute question? Could it also be in preparation of 2019 for if she had not raised Pak, the government would have been criticized for ignoring the sacrifices of its soldiers?
In either case, Pak does not deserve such attention, as nothing will change. Kashmir has only been discussed between India and Pak in the UNGA while being ignored by the world body.The world has accepted it as a bilateral issue, with only Pak thinking otherwise. The comments by the UN Human Rights commissioner on Kashmir was even ignored by the UN Secretary General during his recent visit to India where he distanced himself from the report stating that such bodies were ‘autonomous’ with ‘independent mandates.’
Pak remains the only country with whom India has been unable to have a concrete foreign policy. The flip-flop on the meeting between the two foreign ministers is a clear indicator. Prior to either accepting or rejecting, India should have assessed the environment, rather than jumped in acceptance. It could have easily stated that the scenario was not ripe for a meeting and it could be considered later.
The celebration of the surgical strikes, apart from the political dimension of projecting the strong stance of the government was again displaying the importance of Pak in the Indian domestic political sphere. Two nations divided on religious grounds can never be friends is certain, more so if three wars and Kargil have been fought, all in favour of India.
Neighbours cannot be chosen neither can their alliances be controlled, as relations between Pak and China indicates. India has for decades been aware of Pak’s attempts to ferment trouble in Kashmir. It is not a new phenomenon. Similarly, despite its growing relations with China and an accepted truce, India is aware why China backs Pak to the hilt. For China, supporting the Pak army is a low-cost option of keeping Indian security concerns from being biased towards it. Further, apart from dividing Indian military resources, it also impacts the Indian budget.
Simultaneously, India as a nation is seeking to expand beyond its shores, creating alliances even within South Asiawhich have bypassed Pak (BIMSTEC) while growing in stature economically and militarily. India is aware that while most nations rush to embrace it and sign multiple deals involving economic and security cooperation, few dare to even visit Pak, as nothing substantial would flow.Therefore, logically India should have gone beyond the Pak fixation.
Incidents along the international border and Line of Control have been regular. Ceasefire violations, infiltration and targeting posts and villages have been on for decades. While the Indian army is capable of handling these as also hitting back hard, the national leadership should accept this as a daily occurrence and move forward. For the Indian army, such actions are routine. The nation has always stood by the army and its sacrifices, hence does not need to be reminded by events like ‘ParakramParv’.
India’s efforts at isolating Pak has well succeeded. It has put the fear of God in Pak, that if it attempts to target any populated centre, it would be dubbed a terrorist nation. The world is aware of Pak’s support to terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan and India. Further, their top leadership remains aware that India can strike, hence would always seek to keep the level of violence in Kashmir below Indian threshold of tolerance. This is another reason for India to move beyond the Pak fixation.
In every form of comparison, Pak is nowhere on India’s horizon. It is struggling to prevent itself from falling in a debt trap, is unable to even invite other nations to participate in sporting events internally and has only China to bank on for diplomatic support and military largesse. India has developed into a formidable power, both economic and military and is now extending its reach well beyond its shores. While Pak has foreign exchange reserves to barely cover two months of exports, totalling around 9 Billion USD and sells buffaloes and cars to bolster its economy, India contributes to the development of other nations in the region and its foreign exchange reserves stand at over USD 450 Billion.
The only way by which the Pak army and polity can hold a nation on the verge of splintering together is by projecting an anti-India stance and blaming India for every ill. Thus, India baiting is the norm. This alongside complete control over the media has ensured that Indian versions would be ignored, as recently happened in the helicopter ferrying the POK CM flying into the Indian airspace and subsequent Indian firing. In every case,in Pak media,it would be India which is the aggressor and supporter of terrorism within Pak.
The Pak public remains ignorant of the fact that the TTP (Pakistan Taliban) was created by their misguided attack on the Lal Masjid in 2007 and the Baluch uprising is due to their own army’s highhanded approach to the region. To divert attention to their own failures, the Pak propaganda machine blames India for the rise of the TTP and the Baluch movement.
The Pak foreign minister even blamed India for the attack on the army school in Peshawar. The picture painted over 70 years, including in Pak school books is that Kashmir belongs to Pak and India is the aggressor, unwilling to accept UN resolutions. Hence, peace between the two will always remain an illusion.
This reality exists in the thinking of Indian leaders, however to score local brownie points, Pak continues to occupy a central position in the Indian political space. The Indian public too is being fed this narrative, whereas the reality remains that Pak is just a pin prick on the side and could be ignored as India leaps forward in stature and development. This picture painting is being further compounded by celebrating events like surgical strikes and browbeating Indian stance.
Despite the US suffering casualties in Afghanistan, no US President has ever considered Afghanistan or Pakistan as an important element in his international addresses. It is time for India to change track and ignore Pak. The national leadership needs to project India as a growing power and overcome its Pak fixation.
The author is Major General (retd)