Warning: Use under close adult supervision
Interestingly, as Sanghvi’s article reveals, the most voluble critics of the Indian government’s perceived preoccupation with Pakistan are Indians themselves (which is a good thing). According to this line of argument, with Pakistan taking up much of the India’s diplomatic bandwidth, it finds itself with little time and room to further its interests, both in its immediate neighbourhood and in the wider world. Further, it suggests that India must pay less attention to Pakistan and hopefully, translate the spare time to profit vis-a-vis its relations with everyone else.
Antithesis and self-proclaimed nemesis
But the point is Pakistan cannot be ignored — it has devoted itself to countering India at every possible opportunity. Its involvement in destabilising India through sponsorship of cross-border terrorism in Punjab, Kashmir and the North-East are just the tip of the iceberg. Its possession of nuclear weapons and threat to use it as an umbrella for conventional war (Kargil) already poses a chronic existential threat. Its policy to hold regional social and economic development subsidiary to its territorial ambitions over Kashmir has not changed. Most importantly, although much has been made of Pakistan’s alliace with the United States, it has long been, and firmly remains, China’s ‘soft satellite’. From the Karakoram highway, to Gwadar Port, to Aksai Chin, to nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, the Pakistan-China nexus remains India’s most serious geo-strategic challenge. In other words, there is enough in this quarter to keep the Indian foreign policy establishment awake at night.
But how does this preoccupation manifest itself in actual policy? Unfortunately, not quite sufficiently enough. That is because it is restricted to attempts to explain its righteousness and seize the moral high-ground. That’s all very well, but that’s not quite the end of the story. Deliberate irrationalism is not a significant part of India’s foreign policy.
Flexing not strutting
Deliberate irrationalism involves giving an impression that in certain extreme conditions, a country will respond way out of proportion to the actual provocation. The most common example of this is the manner in which China retaliates when other countries even marginally scale up their engagement with Taiwan. The US invasion of Afghanistan in response to 9/11 is another case in point. Operation Parakram, when India mobilised troops to its border with Pakistan in response to the attack on its parliament is, arguably, an example of its only recent use by India. Therefore, threatening an irrational response, and being prepared to carry it out is a powerful tool of foreign policy.
Indeed, given the lack of too many options, there is a strong case for India to employ deliberate irrationalism in its immediate neighbourhood, including with Pakistan — to signal that there are some limits beyond which India will be really, really, upset.
One argument against this tactic is that it is costly. But this does not automatically mean that it is counterproductive. If executed properly, a ‘costly’ exercise in irrationalism can be converted into a long term investment in deterrance.
So how does this relate to the preoccupation with Pakistan? India allowed Pakistan to be dragged out of the international doghouse way too early. It may have suited American foreign policy to label Musharraf white, but India was wrong to give him the benefit of long proven doubts. There remains a case to isolate Pakistan until it rids itself of its military dictatorship and separatism in Kashmir. India must consider using irrationalism should the trend of mollycoddling Musharraf continue to its disadvantage.