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Nitin Pai: The necessary art of ignoring Pakistan

Pakistan does not matter much to India's growth. A bigger, stronger and more open Indian economy will transform our ties with that country

Nitin Pai 

Nitin Pai

Although the evidence is not conclusive at this time, the modus operandi and initial findings from GPS sets retrieved from the terrorists who attacked Dina Nagar in Punjab's Gurdaspur district on Monday suggest they came from Pakistan.

The exact location apart, that the terrorist attack took place at all is hardly a surprise. The Pakistani army has been raising the level of violence along the Line of Control (LoC) and international border for the last several months, in parallel with its gaining a handle in Afghanistan. It is likely, though, that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's decision to revive the dialogue process with the Nawaz Sharif government was the immediate trigger for the Pakistan's military establishment to stage some high-profile terror theatre.

Pakistan's generals have challenged Modi: will he bite the bullet and continue with the dialogue process he initiated at Ufa last month, or retaliate forcefully as his personality and earlier speeches indicate? If he chooses to continue engagement despite the provocation, he risks both losing credibility at home and the next provocation from across the border. If he decides to respond with force, he will be distracted from the unprecedented opportunity he has to transform the Indian economy. This is not a pleasant dilemma for Mr Modi. It is also an expected consequence of his unexpected overture to Sharif.

There is a little bit of space between these options that the Modi government ought to explore: New Delhi should announce further investments in preventing cross-border infiltration and connecting the Border Security Force, state police, intelligence agencies and the army onto a common counter-infiltration and quick reaction grid. The government should order security forces along the border and the LoC to be on higher alert, with more intensive and aggressive patrolling. Mr Modi should also disengage personally from the India-Pakistan dialogue and delegate it to the National Security Advisor and the Foreign Secretary. In any case, Pakistan does not warrant the Prime Minister's personal attention.

That does not mean that Mr Modi should not concern himself with our Pakistan policy. He should. Our most effective Pakistan policy is eight per cent economic growth and eight per cent social capital growth. In other words, Mr Modi should focus on dismantling the straitjacket that still envelops our economic life and on improving the trust among Indians of different faiths, castes, ethnicities and geographies. Do this on a sustained basis and the power of compound interest will put so much distance between India and Pakistan that solutions on our terms become more likely (and even if they do not, we still win because our people will be much better off).

Similarly, our social capital is important and is the reason why Pakistan's military leaders repeatedly fail. Almost exactly 60 years ago, they infiltrated troops (disguised, as usual, as locals) into Jammu and Kashmir and carried out terrorist attacks hoping to stoke a rebellion. They failed. Among the other mistakes they made, they underestimated our social capital. This week's attack on Gurdaspur might be an attempt to do something similar. If Pakistani online propaganda is anything to go by, they might have calculated that the attack will catalyse pro-Khalistan groups to engage in violence.

There has been enough political churning in Punjab's politics that could give them such an impression, not least if they have also been encouraging it. Unless politicians in our country indulge in monumental folly, the hopes in Rawalpindi and Islamabad will be dashed again. The community at Dina Nagar braved gunfire to set up a langar to feed the police forces battling the terrorists. A courageous bus driver saved scores of lives. Two alert railwaymen uncovered a bomb that might have exploded under a train. This is the heroism and the underlying social capital that allows India to defeat the designs of its adversaries. It might sound mushy and reminiscent of patriotic newsreels, but it has gotten us through far worse times.

Every Indian Prime Minister is attracted to the business of resolving our problems with Pakistan. This is a laudable sentiment. However, our strategic establishment has not presented them with analytical frameworks, which allow them to understand what they are getting into. Pakistan is not one geopolitical entity, but two: the nominal Pakistan government (which Sharif heads) and the military-jihadi complex that controls everything. The latter consists of the armed forces, militant groups, organised crime syndicates, media groups, many businesses and segments of the bureaucracy.

The army keeps the balance between its militant groups focussed on Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. As the ongoing Pakistani army operation in Waziristan and Karachi, and Wednesday's killing of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi leader Malik Ishaq show, the generals can prune their thorn-bushes when they want to. What they cannot do, however, is take on all three types of militants at the same time. This is part of the reason why anti-India militants are stepping up their act. Another reason is that Pakistan's generals are feeling more optimistic about an Afghan settlement on their terms, and more confident about their regained pre-eminence in Pakistani politics. They see Indian attempts to strike deals with Sharif as a threat to their dominance and act to nip these in the bud. Broken ceasefires and fedayeen attacks follow.

It is unnecessary for Mr Modi to get involved in this mess. Pakistan does not matter much to India's growth and development. But a bigger, stronger and more open Indian economy will transform our relations with Pakistan.



The writer is co-founder and director of the Takshashila Institution, an independent think tank and school of public policy

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First Published: Wed, July 29 2015. 21:46 IST
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