Situationer: Modi’s Hindutva is pushing South Asia into an abyss

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By Asif Durrani

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi warned on Sunday that India was contemplating another adventure against Pakistan and claimed that, based on credible intelligence reports, such an action was likely between 16-20 April. Mr. Qureshi also referred to earlier Indian media reports suggesting that in a recent meeting of the Indian Cabinet Committee on Defence, presided over by Prime Minister Modi, the latter gave green signal for the proposed action. Mr. Modi even reported to have said that he has given the Indian armed forces a “free hand”, implying that they did not need fresh permission to attack Pakistan.

Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua reportedly sensitized the P-5 ambassadors about the Indian intensions. Indian Deputy High Commissioner was also summoned and a demarche made about the possible consequences of Indian action. Some other friendly countries were also kept in the loop.

The Indian spokesman while denying Foreign Minister Qureshi’s claims and calling it as “whipping up war hysteria in the region”, did not explain as to what actions India had taken to de-escalate the tensions with Pakistan. He, however, repeated his rhetoric about terrorism emanating from Pakistan. Certainly, Indian retort to Mr. Qureshi’s concerns hardly offers solace to Pakistan; it is not going to serve the cause of peace in the region.

The most worrying aspect of war hysteria ratchet up by India is that it has become a regular feature in the Indian parliamentary elections, at least past four elections are witness to this dangerous phenomenon. In this rhetoric both BJP and Congress have been equal partners and culprits. However, since 2014 elections, which brought Mr. Narendra Modi into power, anti-Pakistan rhetoric, touching the boundaries of jingoism, became the hallmark of Indian elections. If congress’ Pakistan bashing was aimed at creating scare about Pakistan and appealing voters to rally around the party, the BJP, through its militant arms of RSS and Bajrang Dal, has adopted a xenophobic approach towards Pakistan and Muslims in India. The BJP’s xenophobic approach serves twin purposes; to demonise Pakistan in the country and the world, and to put pressure on the Muslims of India by promoting a psyche of majoritism. Already members of RSS and Bajrang Dal are on the loose to terrorize Muslims; “Cow-Raksha” (cow protection) has become a favourite pretext for the Hindu zealots to terrorize the Muslim population across the country. During the past five years, Muslims are being ghettoized in cities and countryside as they are denied houses in Hindu majority localities; jobs and business opportunities for the Muslims have been squeezed while they are forbidden to perform prayers in public places in the BJP-run states.

The Modi government has created a war hysteria through the pliable media. The post-Pulwama events show that a strong section of Indian media became the ideologue of the Hindutva agenda. Those parties or journalists who questioned the wisdom of raising war hysteria were ostracized; they were even subjected to threats and intimidation. Many objective journalists and sober international media are now unanimous that the pro-Modi media frenzy had put the regional peace in danger and encouraged India to cross the redline and attack Balakot. Although missing targets, Indian attack has set a dangerous precedence in a nuclearized South Asia which can push the region into an abyss. The near-peace that sustained Pakistan-India relations since 1971 has broken and it would require extraordinary efforts to restore the pre-Pulwama status quo.

Second, there is another dangerous trend that has emerged in the Indian politics. Normally, on the eve of elections incumbent governments do not take major decisions. However, Mr. Modi took the decision of attacking Pakistan at a time when he has been presiding over a lame-duck government. This shows that Hindutva psyche has deeply crept into the Indian establishment to succumb to a lame-duck government’s electoral rhetoric and put the national security at stake. The detractors may argue that on national security issues even lame-duck governments can take big decisions. Granted, but there was no incontrovertible evidence which suggested Pakistan’s complicity in the Pulwama incident. Mr. Modi did not exhaust the available diplomatic tools to probe into the Pulwama incident. Instead he used the incident as a pretext to push the two countries to war with disastrous consequences. It is now becoming clear that Balakot attack was meant to boost the sagging popularity of Mr. Modi and according to some surveys he has succeeded to some extent in this regard.

Third, through the Balakot attacks India has tried to create a “new normal” in the India-Pakistan relations which may allow India (and Pakistan) to use conventional weapons as and when needed. In other words, in Balakot attack, India has tested the “deterrence doctrine” in a nuclearized South Asia, which is not only dangerous but may be prone to miscalculations. In the absence of a viable mechanism between the two countries to cater for miscalculations, Indian aggressive designs in the name of “preemptive” or “surgical” strikes would be interpreted by Pakistan as an act of war and evoke a matching response which was demonstrated by Pakistan in the post-Balakot Indian attack.

Sanity demands that Indian establishment should enlighten its political bosses about the dangerous consequences of war mongering and misadventures. Being nuclear powers, both Pakistan and India cannot afford confrontation, not even pinpricks. However, in the absence of a credible understanding between the two countries a small incident in either country can turn into a major conflagration with unintended consequences. It is time for India to give a fresh look to Pakistan’s two decades old proposal of “Strategic Restraint Regime” with three interlocking ingredients: first, nuclear and missile restraint to maintain deterrence stability; second, conventional arms balance; and, third, conflict prevention and conflict resolution. The ball is in India’s court.

 

The writer is former ambassador