India’s Saffron king


Narendra Modi has done it again. If recent state elections in Uttar Pradesh are anything to go by, he is here to stay. For the time being, at least, Pakistan would do well to become accustomed to the idea. From the beginning of the Modi premiership, Indo-Pak relations have been more than a little bumpy. His decision, shortly after coming to power, to dash over to Kabul to attend Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s inauguration ceremony meant Islamabad viewed him with suspicion from the very start. Two years later came a small victory for Pakistan with deepening economic links to China.
We can expect more of the same, especially in terms of both powers continuing to jockey for regional influence while courting different players to outmanoeuvre each other. Such as India’s successful wooing of Iran to develop the Chabahar port, close to the Iranian-Pakistani border. The deal was signed the same year that the economic corridor with China became partially operational with the official opening of the Gwadar port project. China is said to have quietly warned India against potential sabotage. In return, Beijing has started bandying around the term “Pakistan-occupied” Kashmir.
Despite Modi’s impromptu visit to Pakistan in 2015 — which saw our prime minister breach all protocol and go personally to the airport to receive him — India, under his stewardship, has engaged in what may be described as an overall more aggressive foreign policy towards Pakistan. Most notable has been the way the Indian premier is relentlessly seeking to recapture the narrative on Kashmir. Deflecting widespread and documented evidence of human rights abuses in Indian-held Kashmir, he has opted to ‘internationalise’ the Balochistan issue with his framing of the Baloch separatist groups as freedom fighters.
Pakistan, for its part, has faced problems in reining in the militant groups that continue to launch cross-border attacks from within its borders. Indeed, just a week after Modi’s surprise Lahore visit, Jaish-e-Mohammad militants attacked an Indian Air Force base in Pathankot. Nevertheless, things are looking up. At the beginning of the year, Pakistan arrested Hafiz Saeed, head of Jamaatud Dawa — the rebranded jihad outfit Lashkar-e-Tayabba — believed to be behind the Mumbai attacks. Whatever led to the timing, whether the arrival of a new COAS or a new American president played a pivotal role — the move can only be a good thing in terms of pushing forward with the Indo-Pak bilateral relationship.