Modi has to put his own house in order first

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F Z Khan

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s recent visit to New Delhi, to attend Narendra Modi’s oath-taking ceremony, has been seen by many as “a step in the right direction. It presented Mr Sharif an opportunity to establish early contact with the man who will rule India for the next five years.” However, in Dr Maleeha Lodhi’s assessment, no resumption of dialogue between the two countries was announced; no recommitment was made to the broad-based peace process; no effort was made to articulate and reflect Pakistan’s priorities and concerns in the PM’s only public pronouncement after his meeting with Modi; no mention of Kashmir was made in the prime ministerial statement; and no meeting was arranged with the APHC leaders as it happened to be a norm in the past.

On the one hand the appointment of high-powered national security team – Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Defence Minister Arun Jaitley, DoNER Minister Gen (ex-COAS) V K Singh, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, and National Security Advisor Ajiy Dowal, RAW’s former bureau chief – alarms to Modi government’s intent on pursuing a “muscular” foreign policy. Three major developments – one, the announcement to repeal Article 370 that gives special status to the state of Jammu & Kashmir; two, the recent violent rape incidents in the Gujarat state on the pattern of 2002 incidents which to Muslims massacre and claimed more than 2,000 lives, as well as the writ petitions filed in the Indian courts to seek ban on Fajr Azan; and three, the reported plan to deprive both Pakistan and Bangladesh of their water shares – add to the impression of his antagonist designs. The unprecedented decision, notes Praveen Swami, suggests that Modi plans to sharpen India’s military teeth; the 2014-2015 interim budget allocated the armed forces Rs 2.24b, but just Rs 895.88m of that is available for capital expenditure, leaving the forces’ acquisition program floundering. The deficits are stark. The IAF has only 34 squadrons while “it needs 50 to fight a two-front war. Its navy’s accident-hit submarine fleet is shrinking and its army has critical deficits from anti-tank missiles and howitzers to assault rifles. Modi has to decide on critical acquisitions left hanging by Manmohan government: a $1.5b deal for attack and $1b for heavy-lift helicopters, $885m for desperately-needed 155mm howitzers. The biggest pending acquisition is for 126 French Rafale fighters worth $15b.”

On psychological front Indians are facing a number of serious issues for which professionals, counselors, psychiatrists and physicists are trying to identify the vulnerable individuals as organizing stress management workshops. This is because desertions are being observed within its armed forces and especially the IAF where pilots are leaving the services for their own good reasons. This has declined the morale of Indian army. On the other hand the Pakistan army is now after fighting a long sub conventional war emerging a well trained battle hardened force, for whom fighting a conventional war on eastern border should not be a big deal.

India under Modi is therefore tempting to cash in on its participation in Brasilia in July for the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa BRICS summit; the UNGA in September; Nay Pyi Taw in October for the ASEAN summit; and the G-20 meet of major economies in Brisbane. Moreover a high level Chinese visit to New Delhi is scheduled mid June. Frequent raise in India’s defence budget therefore suggests to justifying Pakistan’s not so frequent defence budget increase to a level of at least lesser compatibility.

But going by all this is not an easy task. Already, at the very outset, the appointments of retired officials have generated controversies across India, especially that of Nripendra Misra, a former Telecom Regulatory Authority chairman, as PM’s Principal Secretary, and Ajit Dowal’s as security advisor. “He can’t do it under the Indian constitution” for which he got issued an ordinance from the President. His HRD Minister Smriti Irani is under fire for forged educational qualification papers submitted for the election nomination. Likewise repealing Article 370 is likely to prove as undoable given the inflammatory mood in the disputed J&K. CM Omar Abdullah and PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti have warned that any such attempt would be akin to opening up the issues that are “to do with the ratification of accession”. In other words, before looking through his glass house to the other side of the border, Modi will have to set its own house in order.

And above all, showing hostile postures to neighbouring countries, especially Pakistan, would not help serve Mr Modi’s priority agenda of economy and governance. Pakistan will surely look for a constructive engagement with the BJP government and to building a sustainable basis for normalization, but “not on a partial or single-track agenda while casting aside contentious issues.” Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will have to deal with Modi sarkar keeping in view all this, besides a likely dangerous change in Kabul, after the second round of elections in Afghanistan.

Sensing the severity, seriousness and sensitivity of the situation on both eastern and western sides, Pakistan’s leadership has seemingly taken major policy decisions: one, to eliminate the menace of terrorism come what may, and two, to manage and organize all kind of resources, economy, governance and defence by opening to other countries than relying on the allied or friendly countries. It is obvious that Pakistan has been fighting the war against since 9/11, 2001. It played the front line ally role and sacrificed more than 62,000 people including army jawans and officers; and lost over one trillion dollars, Rs 1.06 billion alone in last one year. What went wrong was that the Americans since then have not given a single useful weapon to be able to effectively use it against the terrorists. It only gave the so-called Coalition Support Fund (CSF) – a sort of rent – and not only put an embargo on weapons’ sale but also stopped the weapon-manufacturing countries from selling arms to Pakistan.

The gears, writes Marya Mufty, that the terrorists used were far more sophisticated than those of the uniformed personnel of Pakistan army. Yet, there had been stepped up pressure from Washington to “do more” and go and operate in North Waziristan or elsewhere. Even now when Americans have swapped the Taliban prisoners with its only one prisoner, the US is opposed to Nawaz Sharif’s idea of talking to Taliban. Highly intriguingly this apparent American war has now been made Pakistan’s war, which the country has a firm resolve to fight to the finish at all costs. For that Gen Raheel Sharif needs weapons, arms and ammunition. “Pakistan has bought a squadron of F-16s from Qatar and the lifting of embargo on arms sale and deliveries by Russia to Pakistan is a welcome development. Pakistan is negotiating the sale of a number of Mi-35 attack helicopters. Gen Raheel is in China and obviously he would discuss mutual cooperation in order to fight out terrorism once and for all.”

(The writer is security analyst and freelance columnist. He can be reached at fzkhann@yahoo.com)