The Indian leadership has tended to adopt a belligerent and hawkish posture against Pakistan in the recent past, and the joint communiqué issued following the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the United States mentioned Pakistan by name as sponsoring cross border terrorism and demanded that Islamabad take action against UN listed terrorist groups believed to be operating under its patronage. While the Foreign Office criticized the US-Indian joint communiqué blaming Pakistan for sponsoring cross border terrorism, the Inter-Service Public Relations (ISPR) spokesman in a recently held briefing uttered not a single word against Raj Nath’s threats to absorb Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir in its fold, nor condemned the Indo-US joint communiqué issued following Modi’s visit to America. The DG ISPR’s silence on Narendra Modi’s assertion that Pakistan will crumble under its own weight was also conspicuous.
As the power gap between India and Pakistan is broadening with each passing day, the level of confidence that the Indian leadership has in dealing with its western neighbor is growing. That reality compelled the Indian Minister of External Affairs Jay Shankar in claiming after the SCO meeting in Goa that “Pakistan’s credibility is shrinking faster than its declining foreign exchange reserves.” One can smell the arrogance from the tone of Indian leadership when they refer to Pakistan, but ground realities reflect that New Delhi has a vision to emerge as the world’s number one economy in the coming decades and simply doesn’t care about Islamabad anymore.
“You cannot have an elite that takes advantage of very cheap and uneducated labor when it comes to making money, and when it is time to party, it is found in London, and when it's time to buy things it is in Dubai, and when it's time to buy property it invests in Dubai or Europe or New York. The elite needs to decide if they want a country or not."
How can Pakistan, the 44th largest economy, match India, which is now the world’s fifth largest economy and expects to assume the coveted 3rd position in the next four years? When India is ahead of Pakistan in its economy’s growth rate, remittances, foreign direct investment, per capita income, IT exports, education, science and technology, how can one expect New Delhi to take Islamabad seriously. In the arena of governance, rule of law and modernization of infrastructure, India is far ahead of Pakistan. Whereas five decades ago, the performance of Pakistan in economic growth rate, per capita income, value of rupee verses US dollar, foreign exchange reserves was undoubtedly better than India. It means that India’s focus on improving its economic indicators and modernization of its infrastructure, and the failed leadership of Pakistan in the last three decades has widened the gap between the economies of the two countries.
A former UNDP Director Marc-André Franche, in an interview given to Business Recorder newspaper way back on August 29, 2016, rightly analyzed how the elites of Pakistan ruined their country in the following words: “You cannot have an elite that takes advantage of very cheap and uneducated labor when it comes to making money, and when it is time to party, it is found in London, and when it's time to buy things it is in Dubai, and when it's time to buy property it invests in Dubai or Europe or New York. The elite needs to decide if they want a country or not. The media is one of the pillars of democracy and the media has to educate the public. Unfortunately, the level of dependence of the government on military authorities, and the degree by which a lot of media in this country is manipulated by powerful sources, are sources of erosion of democracy and erosion of the institutions that are the foundations of this country.”
When the focus of the security establishment and coalition government in Pakistan is to cut the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and its Chairman former Prime Minister Imran Khan down to size and using state energies to silence media and judiciary, how one can expect the country to concentrate on issues regarding the economy, governance and rule of law? Such apathy was reflected in the press briefing of DG ISPR when he talked about the events of 9th May and blamed a political party, obviously the PTI, of conspiring against the country whereas he failed to respond to the threats of Raj Nath, Modi and anti-Pakistan references made in the Indo-U.S joint communiqué following America’s visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. A non-serious attitude on part of the coalition government on growing challenges of national security has only intensified after Modi’s visit to the US, and will continue to further marginalize Pakistan at the international level.
When the coalition government is jubilant in reaching a staff level agreement with the IMF and securing a loan of $3 billion for the coming nine months, how one can we expect the world to respect Pakistan? It is against this background that Pakistan is unable to effectively respond to growing national security threats from India and the United States. When Pakistan failed to put its own house in order and its state organs are more interested in cracking down against the opposition rather than focusing on improving the economy, governance and the rule of law, the outcome is even more isolation for the country. In this scenario, one can contemplate three major implications of Pakistan’s failure to effectively respond to growing Indian aggressive behavior against its western neighbor. First, the Modi regime will use its growing courtship with the US and its absorption of J&K for securing electoral victory in the 2024 general elections. Using foreign policy gains like assuming the leadership of G20 and SCO will undoubtedly pay dividends for Narendra Modi’s stature in global affairs. Domestically, the strong-arm tactics deployed by BJP will attempt to ensure electoral victory.
Paradoxically, the ‘Shining India’ slogan in the 2004 general elections failed to ensure electoral triumph of the then Prime Minister Atal Vehari Vajpayee, and for 10 years Congress remained in power. This time, the economic performance of BJP and global leverage of Prime Minister Narendra Modi will determine if he gets a third term. Except Jawaharlal Nehru and his daughter Indira Gandhi, no Indian Prime Minister has been able to get a third term. The track record of the BJP in the last ten years is miserable in terms of human rights violations, augmenting communal schisms, particularly the one directed against the Muslim minority. The re-election of Modi will be another nightmare for Pakistan because a strong India under his leadership will surely accentuate our national security predicament.
Second, Pakistan’s fragile economy, governance and rule of law will render substantial confidence to the Indian leadership to exert pressure over the Line of Control. The more Pakistan will sink economically and politically, the more confident the Modi regime will be in implementing its agenda to absorb what it calls “Pakistan Occupied Kashmir,” particularly Gilgit-Baltistan. It may be wishful thinking or a pipedream from New Delhi to absorb 100% of J&K, but it will be certainly in the election manifesto of BJP for the 2024 general elections to get control over GB and AJK. Its ostensible success in absorbing J&K by revoking Articles 370 and 35-A, and holding what it calls a ‘successful’ G20 conference on tourism in Srinagar will certainly motivate people like Modi and Rajnath to move in the direction of occupying GB and AJK.
When the priority of privileged power elites living in comfort zones is to maximize their perks at the expense of the masses, the result is more and more dependence on foreign loans and aid instead of pursuing a policy of self-reliance or homegrown economic growth.
When frustration and depression is rife in Pakistan following a widespread economic meltdown and state crackdown against PTI, some Indian circles are arguing that this is a ripe moment to convince the people of AJK and GB they will be will be better off if they join India. Images of development in Indian controlled J&K will be used by India to create a favorable opinion in GB and AJK. The more the state of Pakistan is weakened economically and politically, the larger the strategic gap between India and Pakistan, and the more confident New Delhi will be. Third, nuclear deterrence will not be a source of protection from India, because it is economic strength, vibrancy and respect earned at the international level which matters more now in protecting and ensuring national security. When the focus of the coalition government and security establishment is to finish the PTI and Imran Khan off, Pakistan’s doesn’t need any external conspiracies or external enemies to damage the country’s national interests.
The only way Pakistan can successfully deal with its national security predicament is by pursuing an inclusive approach in dealing with issues of critical nature. When the PPP and PML-N are more interested in getting their share in the future caretaker set up and then in manipulating the 2023 general elections, Pakistan will crumble because of predictable violence if the two parties try to rig elections through their caretaker proxies. In that situation, India will get an ideal opportunity to give a practical shape to its age-old ambition to seek total control over J&K by instigating its local supporting groups for a merger with India. It will certainly be a doomsday scenario for Pakistan if it loses GB and AJK, but this will be a crisis made by the privileged ruling elites, who in the last 75 years were more interested in suppressing their own people rather than focusing on economic progress, development, good governance, rule of law, accountability, modernization of infrastructure, and the eradication of corruption, nepotism, extremism and terrorism.
When the priority of privileged power elites living in comfort zones is to maximize their perks at the expense of the masses, the result is more and more dependence on foreign loans and aid instead of pursuing a policy of self-reliance or homegrown economic growth. The concealment of truth and to misguide people is always counterproductive. Unless those wielding power are responsible, efficient, honest and intelligent in their way of doing things, the future of Pakistan cannot be different from its past.