Opinion: Modi’s Achilles heel

WEB DESK: Last week the subcontinent witnessed an unprecedented unfolding of saber rattling and beating of the war drums, in response to the September 18 Uri attacks on an Indian brigade camp.

India was quick in accusing Pakistan of sponsoring the attack and its media went on a rampage to whip up war hysteria.

The Indian government clearly aimed to sideline the Kashmiri intifada by putting Pakistan in the dock and in the process also reassure its jingoistic voters. The Hindutva-driven BJP backed up by its mother party the RSS took the leadership role and started the ball rolling by a ‘jaw for a tooth’ call to the people that in turn prompted the media tirade to teach Pakistan a lesson it could never forget.

Pictures of movement of Indian Bofor guns to the LOC and in response monitoring of the LOC by Pakistani F-16s sent a global visual message of action and reaction. Modi went into a huddle with his forces chiefs to put teeth on his threat of punishing Pakistan. All options from hot pursuit to taking out the “terrorists” camp in Pakistan, to invading the country at the time and place of its choice were discussed. Pakistan’s unambiguous response to reply in a befitting manner was loud and clear. Nothing was left to the imagination.

Indian discussions centered on the thresholds that would unleash mutually assured destruction (MAD) and whether India could survive MAD. The Pakistan side assured that there would be tit for tat for anything under the thresholds and invasion of Pakistan by Indian conventional might would trigger the use of tactical nuclear weapons. The logic of massive first strikes and second strikes were bandied about as a celebration of the destructive capacity of each country. In the end the nuclear deterrence won the battle of words and nerves.

This round of saber rattling had its origin in the brutal murder on July 8th of Burhan Wani the revolutionary young icon of Kashmiri resistance to Indian rule. The 22-year-old Burhan Wani had captured the imagination of the youth of Kashmir. His killing in an encounter with Indian occupation forces unleashed the long festering frustration and rage of Kashmiri people repressed by the heavy handed Indian occupation. Since the historic funeral of Wani, the Indian army has savagely killed over a hundred unarmed Kashmiris, blinded hundreds of protesters with pallet guns and injured thousands in the curfew ridden Kashmir valley. The Indian people are still in a state of denial of the alienation of the Kashmiri people to the seventy years of Indian occupation.

Just four days before Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was to address the General Assembly on September 21, the Uri attack put India Pakistan on a course of collision. Though the speech was rather mild in condemning India’s strategy of destabilising Pakistan he raised the right of self determination of the people of Kashmir in line with UN Security Council resolutions. This was followed by acrimonious rebuttals from India, the war of words escalated and the bang was heard all across the world. The death of Burhan Wani became the catalyst once again for highlighting the Kashmir dispute as the most dangerous nuclear flashpoint of the world.

In India, while Modi was consulting with his forces chiefs for teaching Pakistan a historic lesson, the hotels of the capital Delhi were swarming with foreign tourists and foreign investors. One Leading Indian newspaper revealed that notable amongst the many foreign investors was Dalian Wanda, a Chinese real estate giant, whose team was in town for negotiating safe passage through the Indian red tape for a $10 billion investment package. A French energy giant EDF was in town seeking permissions for a $2 billion power project investment. The paper also highlighted the opinion for strategic restraint in face of the rising war phobia with nuclear Pakistan. In this environment, saner minds must have wondered how long the war of words would continue and when the damage to the investment flows in India would start to mount.

Tourism and investment would be the first casualties from the growing war hysteria. The stock market had stayed steady but escalating tensions could trigger a flight from the major bourses of the country. The Indian media’s war drums resounding in hotels, offices, shopping malls and homes across India must have had a chilling impact and would have cut short visits of many. It must have tarnished the image of shining India as emails would have been exchanged between embassies and their governments, MNCs local offices and head offices abroad, all explaining the security of local set-ups and personnel. Many potential investors must have wondered whether it was wise to invest in a perpetual nuclear flashpoint. Modi’s dream of putting the Indian economy in the top three economies of the world by 2030 was in real danger of being jeopardised.

Last year according to the UNCTAD data India attracted $40 billion in foreign investment compared to the less than one billion in Pakistan and over $140 billion in China. In his race for modernising India’s economy, Modi is banking on foreign investment to play a major role. He has recently introduced a raft of reforms to ease the historic barriers hindering foreign investment in India and has boasted that his reforms have made India economically the most open country in the world. His 2030economic targets are critically dependent on becoming the largest recipient of foreign investment in the world.

The foolish BJP policies of aggression and discrimination against the minorities in general and Indian Muslims in particular, culminating in the beef related lynching of ordinary poor citizens, the repression in Kashmir and attempts to destabilise and isolate Pakistan have backfired. Boycotting the Saarc prime ministers’ meeting in Islamabad or threatening a water war on Pakistan only highlights the aggression and bankruptcy of Indian policies, Indian democracy and Indian secularism. It heightens tension in the region when the requirement for development and poverty alleviation is peace.

It is clear Modi’s economic policies are in total contradiction to his Hindutva policy of hatred. The more he ratchets up the venom against Pakistan the more his strategy for unleashing Indian economic miracles receive fatal buffeting. This contradiction is the real Achilles heel of Modi. In a perverse manner it is dawning on Modi that If India wants to achieve its economic targets, it has to have real peace within its borders and a nuclear armed Pakistan. His proactive Hindutva agenda has handed over the keys of Indian economic success in the hands of the young and restless in Kashmir. Any future 22-year-old Burhan Wani can scuttle India’s plans for economic Grandeur.

The only way for Modi to pull his chestnuts out from the fire now rests with defusing the unrest in Kashmir, rebuilding the relationship with Pakistan and cooling the nuclear flashpoint. In this asymmetric war between two nuclear powers India has tried many bellicose options. It has tried to covertly destabilise Pakistan but in the process it knows that it can be easily destabilised itself. It is trying to isolate Pakistan in the international arena but even if it succeeds it cannot bring peace to India. It has threatened Pakistan with Cold Start but it has belatedly learnt that it would certainly lead to MAD.

The only long-term viable option for Modi to win a race against poverty and impoverishment lies in securing peace with Pakistan and Kashmiris. This will require both India and Pakistan to go back to where they left in the composite dialogue in 2007. To ensure this outcome Pakistan has to pursue a four-pronged strategy in dealing with Modi’s India. 1) It must continue to be a steadfast and loud voice of Kashmiri intifada in the world, 2) It must continue to expose the brutality of Modi’s Hindutva policies in conflict with global norms, 3) it must continue to be prepared to face and frustrate the destabilisation policies of India and 4) keep the door open for a resumption of a meaningful dialogue. We are back to square one, leadership is now needed from Modi’s India. Can he be the Richard Nixon of India?

(The writer is a former Finance Minister)

Source: Business Recorder