Will BJP’s Hard Approach to Pakistan Work?


Pakistan experts in India’s media can be divided into two broad groups. The first are those who are seen by the other side as “soft”. They advocate constant dialogue with Pakistan’s government under all conditions. They think the military-politician rift in Pakistan is real and this rift affects India. It is in India’s interest, according to them, to ensure that Pakistan’s politicians are on the side of peace and progress. This means remaining engaged with them even when there is an irritant, such as the Pakistan high commissioner’s talks with Kashmiri individuals and groups. This means remaining engaged when there is a genuine outrage, like the attacks by Lashkar e Taiba in Mumbai.

The second group is seen by the other side as “hard”. It consists of those who think of Pakistan’s polity as monolithic. Their belief is that Pakistan’s army will always dominate opinion and policy towards India. In this framework, the Pakistani politician is either complicit or irrelevant, and the assumption is that Pakistan will be permanently hostile towards India. Since this is the case, we should ignore Pakistan when we can, teach it a lesson when possible and avoid engagement at all times because there is no real benefit. There are many in the media who support this framework, which applauds India for not engaging Pakistan.

In the last two decades, the second group has dominated the thinking of India’s establishment, and with a couple of exceptions (most notably in the terms of the Punjabis IK Gujral and Manmohan Singh) India has not had leaders who thought in “soft” terms.

 Progress under Manmohan

Manmohan Singh was soft and thought that India would benefit from getting Pakistan out of its hair by engaging with it. He began the process and instituted talks in 2012 that are the best possible framework for progress according to many of the “soft” school. Had he been in power, India would have been able to make very good progress on the Pakistan and Kashmir front, in the opinion of the soft-liners. Since this school of thought has more or less been defeated in the polls, India must now tackle Pakistan before it seeks to reach out to the rest of the world. In case it chooses not to, as Modi has done, it must always be confronted with Pakistan and its leadership at such summits as South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation.

The Bharatiya Janata Party has been hard in its approach, though this has not produced positive results. In fact it can be said that the BJP policies have worked against Indian interests in some ways.Atal Bihari Vajpayee is thought to have been soft towards Pakistan till he was betrayed at Kargil. But the fact is that India weaponised its nuclear programme under Vajpayee, because his thinking was from the “hard” school. It must be admitted that the second series of Pokhran explosions under Vajpayee has brought no real dividend to India. In fact, the opposite. It forced Pakistan to weaponise immediately and cost India the advantage it had in conventional terms.

Under this nuclear umbrella, militant mischief continued till it was ended by President Pervez Musharraf. The data supports this. Fatalities in Kashmir fell from 4,507 in 2001 to 117 in 2012 of whom 84 were militants. The total numbers of those killed last year was 181 and this year 147. These are the lowest fatality numbers since 1990. This means that militant violence in Kashmir is all but over. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said strong words condemning those who allow terrorism, but the fact is that Pakistan-backed violence against India has more or less ended. Unless we assume that all Kashmiri violence originates from Pakistan, we must accept that such levels will remain till we resolve the matter politically.

Hard-school Modi

Modi, who is the leader of the “hard” school of thinking, broke off talks with Pakistan without thinking his steps through, in my opinion. He said tough things about Pakistan but last week he was embarrassedly forced to shake hands with an enemy Nawaz Sharif despite his decision on breaking off talks. But why was he forced? Because this was inevitable, as some had predicted, since Modi’s policy was neither here nor there. It was merely posturing. Acting tough and inflexible when this was not affordable and impractical. What benefit has this sulking brought us Indians?

Nobody in the BJP and none of its “hard” supporters in the media can explain this. Defence minister Arun Jaitley claimed he taught Pakistan a lesson through killing more of its civilians in border shelling than they killed ours. Assuming this was a lesson, and many Indians will disagree with this, can he guarantee that the shelling has ended forever? If he cannot, what was the point to not talking to Pakistan and to try and work instead towards cooling things when they become heated?

The “hard” school of thinking has nothing substantial to offer and this has become clear over the last 20 years. The facts show this. India is not strong enough to muscle its way over Pakistan because the BJP has made the subcontinent a nuclear battleground. India refuses to have international mediation on Kashmir, and, at least at the moment, India will not talk to Pakistan. This situation will change and it is going to have to be India and the hard group that will have to bend.

Aakar Patel is a widely published Indian journalist and columnist and the editor and translator of ‘Why I write: Essays by Saadat Hasan Manto,’ published by Westland, 2014. His book, India, Low Trust Society, will be published by Random House. This first appeared in scroll.in


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