As Narendra Modi’s rise to the prime ministerial slot is appearing increasingly certain, the hawkish lobby in India is working overtime to come out with all sorts of ideas related to foreign policy, especially its Pakistan and China content. While the pressure is building, Modi is struggling to shed his earlier impression of a hardliner demagogue and project his image as a pragmatic statesman. So far, he has declined to carry forth his party’s resolution to abandon the ‘No first use’ option from the Indian nuclear doctrine. Reportedly he has also sent an emissary to Pakistan to convey certain assurances like restoration of composite dialogue.

Apart from some cosmetic changes to give an impression that he is implementing his electoral rhetoric, Modi is not likely to have requisite strategic space to execute a bold course correction, or a radical change in Indian foreign and national security policies towards Pakistan. Whether existing policies offer the best option has been a point of perpetual debate in India. Hawks argue that Indian foreign policy is weak and accommodating, too risk-averse and lacking in self-confidence. Others argue that India is unsure of what it wants to achieve, and consequently its policy is reactive at operational levels. Both these assessments are overstatements.

Nevertheless, India’s Pakistan policy has flaws and ensuing weakness is not an outcome of a docile policy per se; rather, it is the upshot of paradoxes within Indian foreign policy—especially those emerging out of gaps between articulations and implementation. Ghandian non-violence and Nehruvian realism; declaring China a principal enemy and doing over $100 billion per annum trade with it; professing nuclear non-proliferation and considering massive retaliation in case a tactical nuclear weapon is used; projecting non-alignment while being part of strong military and non-military alignments and treaties are some of the glaring policy contradictions that induce resident weaknesses in Indian foreign policy. Over time, these limitations have led to capacity issues in the context of crisis management. During the time of crisis Indian policy echelons are overwhelmed by public opinion, political expediencies and options are dictated by mob-mentality rather than statesmanship.

Now there is also a talk that India must move beyond its allegiance to the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and dismount the disarmament bandwagon. In statecraft, non-alignment has traditionally been a myth and a fallacy. In reality India has never gone beyond lip service to non-alignment. This terminology alongside supportive talk about disarmament has generally been used as a mask to cover-up India’s partisan and arms race related objectives. Revoking of non-alignment would, indeed, mean that Indian foreign policy has come of age.

In continuation of its pursuits of arrogance, India is now demanding NDMA as a pre-requisite to resume trade talks with Pakistan. Theoretically, India accorded MFN status to Pakistan in 1996. Practically, India neither has the will nor the intent to implement it. Non-traffic barriers, hidden costs embedded in its six-digit code bar, and issues related to the quality and standards make India an import hostile country—especially in the context of Pakistani goods. Moreover, in the international framework also, India bags the maximum number of violations of the WTO, and is the most notorious violator of WTO. In its latest offer, India has promised a reduction in the 30-45% tariff on textiles to 5%; whereas Pakistan is pushing for duty free access for textiles, similar to what India had given to Bangladesh in 2011. Last week, Pakistan’s senate recommended that the government should exclude agriculture while granting MFN status to India, and negotiate this sector under a special arrangement. This is due to heavy direct and indirect subsidies provided to its agriculture sector by India.

Proposals are afloat in India that Modi-led government should reject any hurried dialogue with Pakistan and exclude Kashmir and Siachen from any future structured agenda. Demagogues also argue against any back-channel contacts unless Pakistan publicly speaks of its willingness to compromise with India.

Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif while addressing the concluding session of ‘Envoys Conference’ at the Foreign Office has said that his government’s priorities were to safeguard national interest, and build a peaceful neighbourhood. On relations with India, Sharif said Pakistan remained committed to seeking peaceful resolutions to all disputes through sustained dialogue. He said the central emphasis had been on building a “peaceful neighbourhood,” and he had pursued a policy of constructive engagement with all neighbours. Pakistan remains ready to take two steps to greet a hand extended in friendship.”

Modi in an interview published by Times of India on May 05 said that foreign policy cannot be conducted by having a confrontational approach with neighbouring countries. “We don’t want a confrontational approach with neighbours or for that matter with any other country.” He said India “continues to face the onslaught of terrorism emanating out of the soil of Pakistan. The first step in building any meaningful relation with Pakistan has to be Pakistan taking effective and demonstrable action against the terror networks operating from its soil.” However, I think the people in Pakistan increasingly want to strengthen the democratic institutions in Pakistan”.

Predictions about a radical change in India’s foreign policy are unrealistic. There isn’t much playing space in India’s policy towards Pakistan. Modi carries the baggage of a hardliner and being at least an ex-member of RRS cadres, by default, he is not likely to take softer (read realistic) stances on most issues between India and Pakistan. At the same time, there is not much he could add to make his talk about Pakistan tougher. His past rhetoric has consumed all the space.

In the broader perspective, implications of Indian policy adjustments could be: India would defend its interests more vigorously; worry less about international opinion and de-scale the moral overtones of foreign policy; develop requisite military capability to pursue a more robust foreign policy; accelerate ongoing strategic programmes and keep a low profile with regards to nuclear disarmament.

In material terms, there is no on ongoing concession from India to Pakistan that Modi could withdraw. Composite dialogue is suspended, water distribution related matters are routinely ending up with third party for ajudication. Indian military force modernization and capacity enhancement programme is well under way. The only area in which Modi could show his toughness is the nuclear doctrinal pitch. He may officially embrace the well known fact that India no-longer wishes to abide by ‘No first use obligation’; this would invoke strong reactions from the international community. Knowing well that India never had intent to adhere to ‘no first use’, Pakistan has long ago factored this aspect in its strategic calculus.

Hence, the ascendance of Modi to prime ministerial slot will not make much of a difference for Pakistan, however there is a cautionary note. His crisis management capabilities may not be as sound as those of his predecessors; he may act first and think later.

The writer is a freelance columnist.

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