OVER the past several months, there has been a steady, disturbing rhythm of war drums emanating from New Delhi. India’s top civil and military leaders have been making irresponsible statements where Pakistan is concerned, publicly rattling sabres mainly for domestic consumption — and vitiating the atmosphere in South Asia as a result.
On Tuesday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi while speaking at a gathering made the arrogant boast that his country could defeat Pakistan in a matter of days. Earlier, the Indian army chief had said that his troops could occupy Azad Kashmir if the Indian parliament asked them to do so. His predecessor — who is currently serving as chief of defence staff — made equally toxic remarks regarding Pakistan. It would be naive to assume that these are all coincidences; quite clearly, the Indian establishment has attained a threatening posture and such signalling from the top is designed to bully and browbeat this country.
Firstly, the Indian leadership should not be under any illusions. Pakistan can and will defend itself in the face of any adventurism; last year’s Balakot episode and its aftermath have proven as much. However, as this country’s leadership has made quite clear on numerous occasions, Pakistan desires peace in the region and has thus responded to Indian provocations with restraint. Unfortunately, even on a popular level in India the dominant narrative is a hyper-nationalist one — fuelled by a bigoted ruling elite and a mostly venomous media — with a section of that country’s citizens baying for this country’s blood. By comparison, the average Pakistani has shown little desire for conflict, preferring a more mature handling of regional crises, though the public mood is likely to harden if Indian jingoism and threats continue.
Earlier, it was perceived that the BJP, staying true to its Hindutva roots, was demonising Pakistan as an election gimmick to win over its traditional constituency, the Hindu hard right. However, now it seems that the Indian establishment is continuing its Pakistan-bashing to divert attention from its domestic troubles. There has been considerable resistance within India from right-thinking members of all communities to New Delhi’s xenophobic attempts to disenfranchise India’s Muslims through legal means.
The harsh rhetoric against this country from Mr Modi and company appears to be designed to reassure his fan base that he remains ‘tough’ on Pakistan. However, such warmongering can have dangerous implications for regional peace, and Pakistan’s restraint and measured behaviour should not be taken as a weakness. The international community, particularly those states who hold up India as a ‘model’ democracy, need to play a more active role in communicating to their friends in New Delhi that combustible statements can fuel actual hostilities. Pakistan wants peace, but it will not stand idly by as a bullying neighbour continues to threaten its sovereignty and dismiss all attempts at dialogue.
Published in Dawn, January 31st, 2020