ISSN 2330-717X

India’s Pakistan Policy: Realism Not Idealism Should Predominate – Analysis


By Dr Subhash Kapila

“It is becoming increasingly clear to the members of the US Congress that Pakistan is a failed state and no amount of US aid money will change that. Pakistan’s future will remain bleak and marred by political violence” — US Congressman Danna Rohrabacher, Chairman US House Foreign Affairs Oversight and Investigation Committee. April 2012 in a letter to Pakistan Prime Minister

Pakistan President Zardari’s recent ‘spiritual visit’ to India and luncheon meeting with Indian Prime Minister enroute to Ajmer Sharif has been overhyped in India as some new leaf being turned over in India-Pakistan relations. It was a ‘spiritual visit’ with no divine revelations of Sufi blessings that the stains in the entire fabric of trust-deficit relations between India and its contentious neighbour stand washed away.

Pakistan - India Relations
Pakistan - India Relations

Contextually, the security environment in the Indian Sub-Continent stands adversely changed by Pakistan facilitating China’s obtrusive military presence in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and opposite the Siachen Sector. Pakistan itself is gripped with political and military uncertainties as the grim forecast above reflects. India needs to discard its idealistic lenses and adopt hard-headed “realism” in its policy formulations on Pakistan.

Political suggestions have emerged in the Indian media that to enable a visit by Dr Manmohan Singh to Pakistan, India should redouble efforts to come up with workable proposals on Siachen and Sir Creek which could be acceptable to Pakistan and substantiate the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Pakistan by signing an agreement on these two primarily military issues. The Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Pakistan can then be hailed as a path breaking ‘peace achievement’.

India’s foreign policy on Pakistan and China should not and cannot be determined by idealistic impulses or political expediency factors. India’s Pakistan policy needs to be primarily determined by “Realism” and not delusionary “Idealism”.

Idealism has been the hallmark of India’s foreign policy all these years with peace at any cost with Pakistan from the Gujral Doctrine, the Lahore Yatra, to the Havana Declaration, to Sharm-al-Sheikh Declaration and further to the contrived clamour now by the establishment that Dr Manmohan Singh should pay a visit to Pakistan by this year end. More starkly put this ‘idealism label’ was a political fig-leaf to shroud Indian political infirmities of giving-in to US pressures on Pakistan till recently and to the Indian political leadership’s own strategic timidity and strategic culture-deficit.

Realism predominating India’s Pakistan policy does not entail war-mongering or adopting political and military coercive approaches towards Pakistan. Realism in India’s Pakistan policy entails that while peace may and should be the end objective it is not at the cost of bartering away India’s national security and military advantages like the revived but once again the policy establishment’s contrived symphony on demilitarisation of the Siachin Sector and the Saltoro Ridge..

Realism in India’s Pakistan policy would further entail that India’s policy establishment does not disregard the historical pattern of Pakistan’s state behaviour, the mind sets of the Pakistan Army Generals and the lessons of the past decade of unrestrained major Pakistani terrorist attacks in the Indian heartland.

Realism in India’s Pakistan policy also implies that while pursuing peace with Pakistan, India concurrently and in tandem makes it patently obvious that India desires “normalisation of relations” with Pakistan as distinct from “peace at any cost” dictated by Pakistan’s erstwhile strategic patrons and echoed by India’s bleeding hearts.

“Peace at any cost” denotes or connotes that India is negotiating with Pakistan from a position of weakness or in desperation or under duress of external pressures.

“Normalisation of relations” with Pakistan carries the message to the other side and the international community that India despite its weighty leverages of power and economic strength still desires and aims for good-neighbourliness with Pakistan.

Realism in India’s Pakistan policy also dictates that India’s policy establishment recognize that India’s past approaches for normalisation of relations with Pakistan basically failed because of Pakistan’s obduracy that military issues like Kashmir, Siachin Sir Creek etc. be first resolved before normalisation can be achieved. This has been evident from the Neemrana Dialogues 1992 and other Track II dialogues in Bangkok, Dubai, Islamabad etc. and extending to official dialogues as part of the Composite Dialogue process.

Both India and Pakistan more specifically must recognise the reality that the above paths have led to nowhere and that with the changed geopolitics of the Indian Sub-Continent, Pakistan cannot drive home its earlier advantages of being the regional ‘spoiler state’ or the blackmailing factor of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons arsenal or preying on fears of the Indian establishment of a Talibanised Pakistan or United States pressures on India in its favour.

Realism in India’s Pakistan policy would dictate that India drastically transform its policy approaches towards Pakistan and lay down new markers based on hard-headed realism in keeping with the strategic changes brought by Pakistan facilitating Chinese military presence in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, Pakistan’s likely strategic and military moves in the run-up to US exit from Afghanistan in 2014 and the possibility of a US military intervention in Pakistan.

India’s Pakistan policy needs to be transformed and based on hard-headed realism determined by India’s national security interests and Indian Army’s military imperatives and advice. When it comes to Pakistan and China policy formulations of India’s foreign policy, it should incorporate Indian Army recommendations without reservation or their editing.

India’s policy planners need to recognise that India’s’ foreign policy on Pakistan cannot be based on diplomatic readings only as the issues that Pakistan contends adversarially with India are primarily dominated by military considerations. Kashmir, Siachin issue, Sir Creek etc. are not political issues as all of them are determined by Pakistan Army dictates.

The myth that is being propagated in Pakistan and by some in India is that India and Pakistan under Musharraf came “tantalising close” to a settlement on these issues needs to be politically and strategically debunked.

India needs to declare boldly that it intends to place new markers in place for ‘normalisation of relations” with Pakistan altering the hackneyed and unproductive negotiation mechanisms currently in place, namely the Composite Dialogue, Track II diplomacy centred on intractable issues like Kashmir, Siachin, Sir Creek , back-channel diplomacy by Special Envoys and subtle interventions by external patrons of Pakistan.

India should firmly lay down the marker that henceforth India –Pakistan Dialogues whether official or Track II would no longer dwell on political and military issues. India would henceforth dwell and lay priority on India- Pakistan Dialogues focused on economic and trade relations, cultural exchanges and educational exchanges. All political and military issues would be placed on the back-burner for a period of 10 years as disputes left overs by history and to be settled by future generations.

Let Pakistan reject the above approach so that both Pakistan’s external patrons and India’s peace-chattering classes can see for themselves the true intentions of the Pakistani establishment in the normalisation of India-Pakistan relations

Reverting to the Indian Prime Ministers proposed visit t Pakistan being currently advocated it can be asserted that such a visit is “strategically inadvisable” for a multitude of reasons.

Domestic political dynamics in both countries are stacked heavily against Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Pakistan. Indian public opinion is incensed that Pakistan has made no recompense for Mumbai26/11, refusal to hand over Hafiz Saeed and watching daily visuals of Hafiz Saeed spewing vituperative venom against India feely on Pakistani streets

In Pakistan, President Zardari has no control over Pakistan’s India policy which is still under control of Pakistan Army. President Zardari does not control the Pakistani streets and public opinion. The Pakistani streets are controlled by Hafiz Saeed and other Jihadi organizations under control of Pakistan Army. What a sight it would be that during the Indian Prime Minister’s proposed visit to Pakistan, the Pakistani streets are flooded with Hafiz Saeed controlled masses spewing venom against India?

India’s foreign policy planners advising the Indian Prime Minister to visit Pakistan should recall that Pakistan has been resisting putting economic and trade relations in the forefront right since the Neemrana Dialogues of 1992. They kept insisting that the ‘political basket’ and ‘military basket’ be tackled first. The reasons are not far to discern. Simply put, according priority to trade and economics generates widespread people-to-people contacts and understanding. Also and more importantly, the Pakistan Army cannot put hurdles in trade relations expansion on the grounds of national security and preying on people’s fears. Surely they cannot project to Pakistani people that increased trade with India and more people’s contacts would endanger Pakistan’s security.

Such an approach could eventually pave the way for gradual erosion of the trust-deficit that plagues India and Pakistan at the apex levels and in years to come open up more vistas which could render redundant the divisive issues that haunt Indian and Pakistan policy makers. The average Pakistanis viewing the benefits of Pakistan economy plugged-in to a vibrant Indian economy may themselves, despite the rabble-rousers like Hafiz Saeed, bring unbearable pressure on their governing establishment to evolve Pakistan into a ‘normal neighbour’ of India.

Prime Ministerial visits to Pakistan by an Indian PM get overhyped and raise political expectations to undeliverable levels. Such Indian PM visits to Pakistan also put pressures on beleaguered Pakistani civilian governments to play to the gallery of the Pakistan Army-Jihadi organisations nexus and unrealistically stiffen their approaches and demands.

Realistically therefore, the Indian Prime Minister should not contemplate any visit to Pakistan in 2012-2013 and thereby not retard the progress being made in economic and trade relations These can be fostered and built up by visits of Ministers of Commerce, bureaucrats and powerful businessmen and industrialists delegations. The India Prime Minister does not have to visit Pakistan for that purpose.

The political and security environments in both countries and the political uncertainties that hover on both sides of the border do not lend themselves to a visit by the Indian Prime Minister to Pakistan politically substantial and politically worthwhile when both governing establishments are readying themselves to the prospects of power changes in 2013-2014.

Finally, if for nothing else, the Indian Prime Minister’s advisers should pay heed to the projection made on Pakistan at responsible US political levels quoted above. This itself should prompt them to give up all thoughts of an Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Pakistan.

(The author is an International Relations and Strategic Affairs analyst. He is Consultant, Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. Email:[email protected])

Click here to have Eurasia Review's newsletter delivered via RSS, as an email newsletter, via mobile or on your personal news page.


SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.

One thought on “India’s Pakistan Policy: Realism Not Idealism Should Predominate – Analysis

  • May 11, 2012 at 2:49 am

    My hope is that Indian foreign policy functionaries read this article. My fear is that they will not or that having read it, they will not understand it. If, as everyone seems to be saying, that Indo-Pak relations should follow the Indo-China track, then trade should be emphasized while political issues are dealt with slowly over the years. Indo-China will soon approach $100 Billion per year even though China occupies Indian lands. Indo-Pak trade could also blossom while Pak occupies Indian lands. India needs to create circumstances where peace with India is seen by Pakistanis as in Pakistan’s best intests.


Leave a Reply to JJJackxon Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.