Modi's plans against Pakistan are not good for the region

Phone calls by Narendra Modi to Nawaz Sharif, Hasina Wajid and Ashraf Ghani on June 16 notwithstanding, there is little doubt that if an encircle-Pakistan plan ever existed, its execution is nearly complete – at least as of now – pushing the prospects for resumption of a normal India-Pakistan dialogue further away. The string of statements from Modi, his foreign and defense ministers, as well as Ajit Doval, the former spymaster and now the national security advisor, in the last three weeks, the vitriolic Pakistan-bashing in Kabul, and the continued demonization of Pakistan in Dhaka reflect a well-knit string of fire around Pakistan. This encirclement – if planned the way it appears today – does not bode well for the south Asian region, with a fragile Afghanistan still caught up in the vicious cycle of the religiously-driven insurgency. Unfortunately, Afghanistan has upstaged Kashmir and emerged as the critical link in what could be called the triangle of tribulation consisting of India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan – a region currently being stoked by the nationalist Modi, ably supported by an intelligence mindset.

Coincidentally, Modi’s Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina Wajid minces no words and spares no opportunity in demonizing Pakistan. Her narrative revolves around Pakistan-bashing – wherever and whenever possible. And this fits into nationalist Indians’ recipe on how to deal with Pakistan.

“We all have to remain vigilant so that those Pakistani collaborators (Khaleda Zia’s BNP) can’t get back to power, kill people and play with the fate of the masses,” the prime minister told a discussion organized to commemorate the “Martyred Intellectuals Day” on December 14.

In February 2014, Doval had practically outlined what we see today – in the 10th Nani Palkhivala Memorial Lecture to Indian students at SASTRA University. Ajit Doval advocated the use of what he termed a “defensive offensive mode”, a “fourth generation war” which would bypass the deterrence posed by Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, to attack Pakistan’s vulnerabilities. “It can be economic, internal security, political, their isolation internationally, or exposing their terrorist activities, or defeating their policies in Afghanistan, making it difficult for them to manage internal political balance or internal security.”

Now consider what Indian defense minister Manohar Parrikar said during his May 22 talk at Delhi: “There are certain things that I obviously cannot discuss here. But if there is any country, planning something against my country, we will definitely take some pro-active steps,” he said. What was he holding back, curious minds would ask.

How would one interpret the revelations (unearthed by the Hindustan Times in October 2013) about the existence of a Technical Services Division (TSD) created by an ex Indian Army Chief General VK Singh in 2008? Its main aim had been to combat “the rising trend of state-sponsored terrorism by the ISI” and the unit thus developed contacts across the Line of Control in a bid to infiltrate the inner circle of Hafiz Saeed, the maverick chief of the outlawed Lashkare Taiba (LeT).

And next door in Kabul, the Indian reservations on an NDS-ISI deal resonated in a political storm that it almost toppled President Ashraf Ghani, who not only had to postpone his visit to Doha, Qatar for possible peace talks with Taliban but also had to replace the NDS deputy to neutralize the vicious opposition to the MoU.

A string of leaks of non-papers by Kabul insiders also upset the tedious and fledgling reconciliation process; the papers – apparently well-thought out Pakistani-American-Afghan effort - contained demands on Pakistan for more action against terrorist havens in Waziristan.

It was embarrassing both for Pakistan and President Ghani, whom many are meanwhile dubbing as the Pakistani agent. The leaks and the controversy discomforted US officials too, who saw the act as a blatant attempt to undermine efforts to revive and push the reconciliation dialogue.

Does the John Kerry phone call to Nawaz Sharif on June 16, followed by Modi’s brief telephone conversations with Sharif, Ms Wajid and Ghani, mean damage-control? Perhaps.

Ironically, and fortunately for Pakistan, Mr Modi and his colleagues have indeed done a great service in uniting a) the political leadership from all shades, and b) brought the civilian and military leadership closer than ever before.

The vibes in south Asia are pretty clear now; a nationalist, jingoistic and intelligence-led mindset in New Delhi has turned Afghanistan into the centerpiece of its policy on Pakistan. Regardless of how they position themselves henceforth, the world should not be surprised if the current simmering tensions blew into armed hostilities – even if limited. The mindset presently at helm of affairs in New Delhi by default offers the lethal recipe for the specter of a possible escalation.