Mr Modi’s signature Indo-Pak initiative - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Sunday 25 September 2016

Mr Modi’s signature Indo-Pak initiative


By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 26th Sept 16

In a nuanced and careful speech on Saturday that had components of both pragmatism and jingoism, Prime Minister Narendra Modi skilfully created a narrative for deflecting war hysteria in India, redefining the burgeoning confrontation with Pakistan in terms of a Lagaan-style contest for eliminating poverty, illiteracy and deprivation in the two countries.

In Lagaan, a Hindi-language, Oscar-nominated 2001 motion picture, a land tax dispute between pre-independence British administrators and residents of a small, central Indian village was settled through a cricket match between the two sides (the Indians won!). On Saturday, with an inflamed India looking to Mr Modi for his first statement after Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba jihadis killed 18 Indian soldiers in Uri, Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) Mr Modi appropriated former Pakistani premier Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s threat of a 1,000-year war with India, challenging Pakistan to a 1000-year war to whittle away poverty, illiteracy and child mortality.

Mr Modi’s speech, delivered to a Bharatiya Janata Party gathering in Kozhikode, was a masterly balancing act. With the national temper at fever-pitch after Uri and the media resounding with anti-Pakistan warmongering --- such as BJP leader Ram Madhav’s threat to extract a jaw for every tooth --- Mr Modi had to placate public anger in India, while simultaneously defusing a situation that could only escalate if India extracted vengeance through cross-border military strikes on terrorist infrastructure or the Pakistani Army (numerous Indian commentators see little difference between the two). As it turned out, Mr Modi delivered a carefully crafted message that favoured peace, while delivering enough tough talk to placate Indian anger.

Mr Modi led, as expected, with a frontal attack on Pakistan for being the global leader in exporting terrorism. He followed up by apparently repeating, but actually toning down the promise of retaliation he had delivered just after the Uri attack. On that day he had tweeted: “I assure the nation that those behind this despicable attack will not go unpunished”, raising widespread expectations of retaliatory military action. On Saturday, he thundered: “The sacrifice of our 18 soldiers will not be forgotten. We will ensure that the international community works to isolate you.” This suggested that working to make Pakistan an international pariah would be sufficient retribution. For those in Pakistan who carefully parse the New Delhi tealeaves, the juxtaposition of cause and effect was significant, “the sacrifice of 18 soldiers” being the cause; and “the isolation of Pakistan” being the effect. Nor did the PM mention or endorse his military’s earlier threat to retaliate at “a time and place of [its] own choosing”.

Mr Modi’s layered messaging will take time to be clearly understood within Pakistan. Given the prevailing climate of confrontation, even the moderate English-language media in Pakistan interpreted the speech in the light of the threats it contains, not the outreach. The headlines in Daily Times say: “Modi vows campaign to ‘isolate’ Pakistan”. Dawn headlined: “Modi says India will work to ‘isolate’ Pakistan internationally”. Only the relatively sophisticated Express Tribune headlined its coverage: “India backs off after frenzied war rhetoric”. Pakistani audiences would also be keenly attuned to Mr Modi’s taunts about unrest in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK), Gilgit-Baltistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan, so not much can be expected in terms of immediate win-over. Only when the dust settles on the current confrontation will the Pakistani media and the populace take note of the Indian PM’s ground breaking outreach. Towards that day, Mr Modi differentiated between Pakistan’s leaders and the people of that country; a radical departure from New Delhi’s customary lumping together of Pakistan’s political class, the public and even its terrorists. But the most important component of Mr Modi’s speech was to de-escalate current tensions. Policy analysts in Rawalpindi (Pakistan Army headquarters) will immediately note that the battle Mr Modi is talking up is not military, but a long-term developmental campaign relating to the uplift of the masses.

When Mr Modi borrowed the inspiring phraseology of one of his predecessors, Atal Behari Vajpayee, about dealing with Kashmir in the ambit of “insaaniyat, jamhooriyat aur Kashmiriyat” (humanism, democracy and Kashmir’s syncretic culture), it carried little conviction, making Mr Modi seem like a peacock in borrowed feathers. But his rousing call from Kozhikode --- “I want to tell the people of Pakistan. We are ready to fight you, if you have the courage. Come, we'll fight poverty in our country and you fight in yours. Let's see who eradicates poverty first” --- could become his signature initiative in India-Pakistan relations.

This depends on whether and how Mr Modi instrumentalises this rhetoric to resurrect India-Pakistan relations, which are currently in the deepest freeze since the 26/11 Mumbai strikes. Sceptics are already declaring that the Pakistani deep state --- the military-bureaucratic syndicate that call the shots in that country --- does not particularly care about development. That, however, is an outdated argument. With Washington’s funding to Islamabad becoming increasingly conditional and New Big Brother China far less munificent than Uncle Sam, the Pakistani establishment recognises fully that a sickly and under-developed economy can no longer afford a military that is capable of warding off India.

As the contours of Mr Modi’s new direction come more clearly into view, he will face flak from opposition parties for back-tracking on his strident campaign rhetoric about how toughly he would handle Pakistan, and about what a strong PM he would be in contrast to Manmohan Singh. The Congress Party will heckle him for citing India in his speech as a globally-respected, well-developed state that “exports software to the world while [Pakistan’s] leaders export terrorism”; with this modern India presumably having been built during the “60 years of Congress misrule” that Mr Modi routinely slams. Even so, the PM has done well to de-escalate the current crisis. It makes little sense to confront Pakistan, for benefits that are not readily apparent, only because of a hard line taken earlier.

Anti-Modi sceptics are already voicing fear that domestic politics might induce the PM to balance his conciliation of Pakistan by doubling down on domestic intolerance and galvanising campaigns like the beef ban and love jihad, perceived as anti-Muslim. It is incumbent on Modi to alleviate these fears. Finally, Pakistan can be managed only up to a point; beyond that remains in the hands of that country’s unpredictable leaders. What Mr Modi does have full control over is his management of Kashmir and the initiating of a calibrated, all-of-government campaign to defuse tensions and address long-standing problems in that state. That would not just solve a major internal problem for New Delhi, but snatch away from Pakistan its most potent instrument for meddling in India.


  1. So, this is a signature initiative? Trumps me, surely. Is not a comment on Modi, but on us millions Indians who find him such a 'nuanced leader'. We deserve him and only him.

  2. It was foolish of us to have expected that this government will finally opt for military option after years of diplomacy which have yielded no results. What we forgot was that this is the same BJP government under whose rule Parliament attack and Kandahar happened.
    It was wrong for us to believe that this time it would be different under Modi. Indian politicians are spineless and will always remain so. The only person which comes to my mind is Indira Gandhi. If she would have been present things would have been different. She was the only 'Mard' in all these 'Jnanis'.

    Regret giving my vote to Modi. Will have to rectify this mistake in next general elections.

    1. What do you have to say now, my friend........ How does the crow taste ?????

    2. Are you eating your words yet?

  3. Complete bunkum is Modi's speech. Does he expect the Pakistani's to play ball with his call for a 1000 year war on poverty? As far as the pakis are concerned they already have their 1000 year 1000 cuts war with India and they are implementing it. Pakistani establishment is run by managers of violence and this will only validate their view of India as a pusillanimous state. Lack of a response that does not hurt the pakistani deep state is appeasement and that will only beget more adventurism.

  4. The traitor in you must be very happy ajai
    You got a chance to up your rant one more step against Modi and BJP govt
    Whilst I'm disssappointed with one more spineless govt
    I wonder why army and ex army men don't express their displeasure
    Do they only rant about orop , post retirement benefits, pay commissions not to forget taking political sides and blasting democratically elected government at every silly opportunity and forgetting that doing so is causing more harm than external threats

  5. If Ajai has a message in his post, I've failed to see it. 'Layered communication', 'nuanced leadership' has gone overboard. Reduced tension? Are we here to reduce tension or to use it to move the struggle between Pak and India from covert, proxy wars (which favours Pak) to overt, conventional violence (which favours India). I look at it quite simply - should we be allowing the status quo to remain so? If we say that this is little price to pay for stability which is necessary for a better economy, I'll understand but not agree. But is this what Ajai is saying? Am not sure. And, of course, I do not agree.

  6. The Trouble with our readers Col. is that even when things are chewed and fed they still don't understand. I'm sure as a person who has been in the Olive Green, you know well that going on a full fledged or a cross boarder retaliation at this time is neither a respect to the military which needs to be structured further to take these kind of threats, hope this happens soon nor is there any gain in falling into Pakistan's trap ( this situation is a trap as Pakistan does not care about it's people and it's more like a game of Age of empire's where the basic Aim is to go to war with what ever you can extract from your economy and plunder the neighboring country with hook or crook). People fail to see that the PM made his speech after the discussion with the military leaders and in any case the sacrifice of our soldiers will not go invain if will continue our development cycle and give a free hand to the forces at the boarder IB or Loc.

    When will people learn that real wars are won by building yourself to be stronger and winning even the weak, so that Soldiers at the front feel and made stronger.

    May good sense prevail. For the military response, you will not see it over the covers but will happen anyways, this I know for sure from what I know of the military.

    God Bless the strength in us.

  7. The layered message given out by Mr Modi has been analyzed very aptly.Mr Modi has segregated the gen public from the weak political leadership and their military masters sending out messages to each of them.. The acme of statesmanship is to achieve your aim without having to resort to flex your muscle. A wonderful speech.

  8. What does the nation say about this and what about Congress! for fearing a Anrmy Coup all it's life.

    The physc that was built into the party and so the sad state of no co-ordination between the forces and so the resources. What about basic and then blame the present govt and not delivering. Can we get through this without the approval of the Bureaucracy, like they did in the 7th pay commission, have they spent money on things needed for self and office keep up, joined to paint a wall that looks shabby in a local govt hospital or toilet ( long long ask), still they need to get better salary at common man's expense, at least deliver on what you are supposed to do, than doing anything extra for the country, like the Armed forces.

    How many of them contributed their one days salary to the Prime Ministers relief fund, but I always hear about citizens who did and also the Armed forces themselves who were in the thick of action. From their actual domain till the natural disasters.


  9. If the Boston Tea Party would have happened on his watch, perhaps his mandate would be to 'drink more tea', to harm British supply. In fact, pledging to 'extract' our rightful share of Indus Waters treaty NOW - only shows how poor our grasp is of bilateral treaties, when we are letting not just Western (Indus, Jhelum, Chenab), of which we can avail 20%, but all of Eastern rivers (Sutlej, Beas, Ravi)- fixing that is attempting to fix a 56-year old flaw - it does not compare to loss of 18 boys on his watch.

  10. Modi is boxed in he doesn't have an option with respect to the Uni massacre,

  11. Mr Shukla, an analyst does not have to predict. Your assumption that Modi had dropped the strike option turned out to be totally wrong. It also shows what a master strategist Modi is. He has fooled the entire lot of defence/ politico 'analysts' who have made a lucrative profession of circulating falsehood. very eager to see what more stuff Modi has up his sleeve for the enemies outside and within India.

  12. Well wrong so many time yet you feel analytical??

  13. Raj ...Nam to suna hoga2 October 2016 at 03:51

    you still in shock that the strategic restraint era is over?? tsk tsk tsk...seems the government is moving faster than you can imagine Shukla !!!

  14. what a pigshit analyst...hahaha...

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