Is Modi’s belligerence and disproportionate use of force against Pakistan response or strategy? Or part of a deeper malaise gripping India in which Hindutva has morphed from being a deviation from an alleged secular norm into a mainstream ideology that is setting the national agenda? Accordingly, is Modi pursuing ‘another Mahabharat’ which risks nuclear confrontation? Or is he conducting a populist diversion to avoid the political and electoral costs of real structural reforms?

How should Pakistan respond? There are the usual red lines no sovereign and independent country can disregard. But they constitute limits, not strategy or policy. Pakistan’s response to security challenges should not lose sight of the longer-term perspective. Otherwise, India’s greater size and international influence will always count against it. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s national policies have seldom had longer-term coherence mainly because it has been prevented from developing democratic and responsible governance. No military ruler of Pakistan is positively remembered.

Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence does not provide an equaliser vis-à-vis India except in extremis. This allows India to gain from limited conflicts and confrontations such as have recently occurred. India’s superior conventional military strength and international image enable it to raise the ante in such situations without incurring significant diplomatic costs. Pakistan does not have this liberty. Modi wishes to convert this advantage into a Kashmir settlement on his terms. If Pakistan’s decision-making can become more democratic, responsible and transparent this will not happen.

Nawaz Sharif is being advised not to take any initiative to meet Modi or explore possibilities for the resumption of an agenda-based dialogue. He has been badly bruised by recent political developments and feels vulnerable to charges of weakness vis-à-vis India. He appears so risk-averse he will not even pursue his own preferred policies. This reduces his credibility at home and abroad. Accordingly, the advice given him is wrong. It neither enhances Pakistan’s diplomatic nor military options. Instead, it compromises Pakistan’s development prospects which would certainly diminish in an environment of active hostility with India.


The two countries should cease to categorise each other as an ‘enemy’.


Former foreign secretary, Riaz Mohammad Khan, has written “None of the disputes and problems that bedevil relations between the two countries are ideological or inherently intractable; they are essentially political and, thereby, resolvable”. Accordingly, the only conditions for movement are political will and reciprocity. But reciprocity should not rule out initiatives, especially in critical times. Nevertheless, they do need to be reciprocated in order to sustain the necessary political will for movement on ‘intractable’ issues.

The adverse environmental impact of the Siachen stalemate through an accelerated melting of the glacier on millions of people in both countries and the implications of water disputes, water scarcity and possible crop failures are potentially greater threats to peace than the unresolved Kashmir dispute. Both countries have a huge stake in more rationally handling these issues.

There is, of course, no reason to bow to Indian intimidation and intransigence or abandon principled and legitimate positions as a condition for structured dialogue. But there is very much an argument for adopting longer perspectives. Indian provocations, short of crossing red lines, should not be allowed to derail strategies for a more predictable and sustainable relationship with a difficult and larger neighbour.

Pakistan will need to eschew its own provocations. Its denials and counter-arguments carry little international credibility because of its international isolation. This has to change if it is to garner greater international understanding for its policy positions.

Ultimately, these strategies will not work if India refuses to accord priority to improving relations with Pakistan and seeking negotiated and mutually acceptable solutions to issues that can further ‘bedevil’ the relationship. Modi does not appear to be a likely partner in such an endeavour. Hopefully, this is not a given. Many in Pakistan compare him unfavourably with Vajpayee forgetting that Vajpayee finally accused Pakistan of ‘stabbing him in the back’ in Kargil shortly after Lahore.

Moreover, this happened on Nawaz Sharif’s watch. The mutual perception barrier is real. It has to be overcome. Both prime ministers will need to demonstrate they are up to the task of normalisation and reconciliation. Accordingly, Pakistan should not forego any opportunity to make a beginning.

The Shimla Agreement envisages the establishment of durable peace “without prejudice to the recognised position of either side”. This ‘recognises’ Pakistan’s position regarding the relevance of UN resolutions, which in any case cannot be superseded by a bilateral agreement. On this basis, ensuring uninterrupted and productive dialogue is a joint leadership obligation and responsibility. A better international image of Pakistan’s policies will help in dealing with any Indian intransigence in this regard. Far-sighted leadership based on commonsense, imagination and commitment can overcome adverse ‘initial conditions’ and ‘intractable’ differences. This attitude should inform public opinion in both countries. Accordingly, the media of both countries should refrain from promoting zero-sum attitudes.

Within these parameters a whole range of agreed, interrupted and postponed measures need to be consistently implemented. Line of Control/Working Boundary flare-ups can and should be avoided. Political leadership and military command structures must ensure this. Personal understanding and trust, based on frequent contact, needs to develop between the prime ministers. Preparations for an exchange of visits should be priority. These should help restore the LoC ceasefire and change the history of sterile exchanges on unresolved issues. The two countries should cease to categorise each other as an ‘enemy’.

The back-channel talks in 2004-06 produced a document for an interim solution. The contents remain controversial. But as Riaz Mohammad Khan rightly observes, if there is to be a Kashmir settlement acceptable to all the parties, including the Kashmiris, it will need to include elements that were addressed in the back channel. They should be revisited, possibly in a more open format, provided both prime ministers and credible representatives of Kashmiri opinion publicly commit themselves to the process.

A bilaterally negotiated final settlement would require an agreed modality for Kashmiri participation and approval. If and when achieved, the settlement could be embodied in a unanimously adopted UN Security Council resolution superseding existing resolutions.

The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.