Assessing India’s ‘Ignore Pakistan’ Strategy
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Assessing India’s ‘Ignore Pakistan’ Strategy

By Dr. Nanda Kishor and Vibhav Kandlur

Assessing India’s ‘Ignore Pakistan’ Strategy

Feliks Gross once famously said ‘even a decision not to have any relation with a state is also foreign policy’. There appears to be a trend emerging similar to the quote by Feliks with regard to India-Pakistan relations. The bitterness of partition between India and Pakistan and then the subsequent issue of Kashmir has almost made these two nations ‘eternal enemies’. Post-2000, both India and Pakistan have witnessed a state of no peace, no war. Having witnessed Pakistan using asymmetric methods to fight against India, there appears to be a tectonic shift in India’s foreign policy towards Pakistan in the Modi era.

What initially started with the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif’s visit to New Delhi during Modi’s oath-taking ceremony in 2014 took a downward turn when India attempted to not only isolate Pakistan at the international stage but also maintained a strategy of non-engagement unless Pakistan ceases to use cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. This policy became a priority when terrorists attacked the Pathankot Air Base, just a few days after Modi made a surprise stopover at Islamabad to attend Nawaz Sharif’s granddaughter’s wedding. Even as Imran Khan came to power, Pakistan began to employ several tactics to derail India’s efforts by degrading its diplomatic ties with the latter, expulsion and recalling emissaries, suspend bilateral trade and resort to information warfare spearheaded by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR). India has not completely moved ahead with its strategy of non-engagement as non-engagement and ignoring are two different things but has used other methods to pressurize Pakistan. Prior to 2014, the governments in India had either fought conventional wars or tried escalating the conflict to a conventional level. Pakistan, after the Kargil defeat, has never allowed the escalation of the conflict to a conventional level. The Indian troops would line up in the borders followed by tension and then international players request both the countries to restore peace was a normal procedure. This has changed during the Modi era and the present dispensation in India thinks to act and punish the perpetrators on one hand and on the other convey a strong message to Pakistan to stop terrorism emanating from its soil or face no relation with India. At a point after the Uri attack, India even warned that blood and water cannot flow together regarding the Indus Waters Treaty as the preamble of the treaty says that it is based on goodwill. This came as a rude shock for Pakistan as in no previous instance India had responded to Pakistan this strong. After all, this action was a reflection of the domestic demand but with a certain amount of rationality.

On many grounds, Pakistan’s arguments on India’s internal matters like the abrogation of Article 370 hold no basis because they did not recognize the special status all these years. Apart from seeking Chinese assistance, Pakistan has very limited options in tackling India and has found so in the form of Turkey and Malaysia. India would have to be cautious as Pakistan may try to use its proxies on the ground to create problems in Jammu and Kashmir. Modi’s muscular approach through surgical strikes in the post-Uri scenario and the airstrikes in Balakot following the suicide bomb attack on CRPF convoy in Pulwama indicates that India has shifted its gear, in line with the ‘offensive-defense’ strategy proposed by India’s National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval.

Amidst hostile relations between India-Pakistan, the Kartarpur Corridor was opined to be a confidence-building measure between the two countries. However, the construction of the Corridor faced roadblocks following the attack in Pulwama and the return attack on Balakot by India. Discourses on the threat to India’s national security continue to dominate even as the Kartarpur Corridor has been inaugurated, with the fears of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) resurrecting the Khalistan movement. Chief Minister of Punjab and a leader from the opposition party in India dubbed "Kartapur Gesture" by Pakistan of expressing its nefarious intent. The successive jolts from India have worked heavily on the Pakistani establishment. It has forced the Pakistan Army to make critical changes within the country. Earlier, the army appointed a little-known officer named Lt. Gen Faiz Hameed as the Director-General of ISI perhaps to funnel out moles within the establishment. The extension granted to Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa as the Chief of Army Staff for the next three years raises fears of more attacks on security forces in India. The ongoing protests on the Citizenship Amendment Act in India has provided a fertile ground for Pakistan to make their agenda clear. Over the course of a month, Imran Khan and the military officers like Maj. Gen Asif Ghafoor, former DG of ISPR sent multiple tweets on the CAA inciting the protestors on social media with trends like “beginning of the end…”, raising doubts on Pakistan’s role in the riots. However, Pakistan also faced the brunt of criticisms after fringe elements attacked Nankana Sahib Gurudwara, triggering protests amongst Sikhs in Punjab and also became a focal point for the supporters of CAA to press for its implementation.

There was a fear in India among the policymakers on what if this muscular strategy towards Pakistan is viewed as a negative approach by nations across the world. The Modi government has successfully handled this pressure and it has also made few countries to speak for India. This perhaps speaks volumes of India’s enhanced skills in foreign policy to get certain things in its favor in the international arena through diplomacy. The Kulbhushan Jadhav case provided an impetus for India and its arguments at the ICJ. India has carefully handled the Jadhav case not to play into Pakistan’s hand despite Pakistan’s effort to project itself as a victim of spying and supporting anti-Pakistan groups in Baluchistan and elsewhere by India. After the abrogation of Art.370, pertaining to the State of Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan expelled Indian High Commissioner Ajay Bisaria by downgrading diplomatic ties with India on 7 August 2019. To rub the salt on the wound, Narendra Modi was honored with the 'Order of Zayed', the UAE's highest civilian award despite Pakistan’s effort to internationalize the issue. Unfortunately, several countries did not buy Pakistan’s argument and ended up calling it India’s internal matter. Another blow to Pakistan was through the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). India’s then Minister for External Affairs Ms. Sushma Swaraj was invited to be the guest of honor and Pakistan threatened to boycott the event but none of the participating parties showed solidarity or sympathy towards Pakistan. This is a sign of growing India in its international stature.

2019 was an eventful year for India as far as its strategy towards Pakistan is concerned and it would be curious to see what 2020 has in store. Pakistan’s actions of not punishing terrorist organizations have been internationally condemned. India has very little to lose from not having cordial relations with Pakistan as Pakistan would continue to use asymmetric conflicts as a means to destabilize India. India’s “Ignore Pakistan” strategy is invariably helping the Indian government to cater to the domestic demands on the one hand, and on the other, India has been able to muster support for its actions towards Pakistan which many of the previous governments feared to do. Are there any specific losses that India has to incur?. Probably the answer is no. Apart from the minimal trade it has, there has never been an instance of normalcy being restored to see the full economic potential between the countries. The other fear is the escalation of asymmetric conflict between India-Pakistan. The violence and cross border terrorism would not end even if India tries using confidence-building measures. This has been an experience when benevolent gestures were displayed by statesmanlike Nehru and Atal Bihari Vajpayee towards Pakistan to restore normalcy. The no peace no war was a reality, is a reality and would be a reality with regard to India-Pakistan relations. Pakistan’s bleed India with a thousand cuts is a policy and peace can be restored for the prosperity of the people in both the countries only when Pakistan would be governed by a civilian authority but not by multiple agencies of the State running parallel governments.

About the Authors:

Dr. Nanda Kishor (ORCID: 0000-0002-2024-100X) teaches Geopolitics and International Relations at Manipal Academy of Higher Education. His area of interest is West Asia and South Asia.

Vibhav Kandlur (ORCID: 0000-0003-0550-1288is a Post Graduate Research Scholar in the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations at Manipal Academy of Higher Education. His area of interest is Geopolitics of South Asia with a special reference to Pakistan and Counter-Terrorism.

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