Pakistan has always remained a thorn in India’s flesh, right from the time the British carved up the subcontinent as a parting gift, a partitioning that saw much bloodletting and massacres, with estimates of the dead varying from the low 200,000s to the high 2,000,000s. Time healed wounds to the extent that India returned to a semblence of a settling democracy. But right then and there, apart from the bloodshed, there remained some bones of contention between the two – the very first manifesting itself in the erstwhile princely state of Jammu Kashmir, that sat on a fence dithering over accession to one or the other. It was Carpe Diem for Pakistan, which forthright precipitated an invasion within weeks of partition, launching tribal lashkar fromWaziristan to capture the Kashmir Valley. While this act spurred the Maharaja to accede to India, the conflagration blew-up to escalate into a full-fledged war between the two newborn nations. It however remained inconclusive – with the only net result the creation of an artificial line called the LoC – the Actual Control, which has since then been a conflict zone. Raman Swami, veteran journalist and political commentator par-excellence, pens this inciseful analysis of this festering wound for the readers of NRI Achievers. Read on.
It is a sign of the times we live in that the Prime Minister’s speech at the BJP national council meeting in Kozhikode has been all but forgotten. Public memory is so short that the substance and full significance of what Narendra Modi said on September 24 this year is only a vague recollection even for political pundits and social scientists. Kozhikode is remembered only by the headlines – ‘PM sends strong warning to Pakistan’. Without doubt, it is true that Modi did send a strong message to Islamabad and Rawalpindi – that enough was enough and India was on the verge of giving up the doctrine of passive restraint in the face of cross-border terrorism. And with the Indian Army executing ‘surgical strikes’ on militant camps inside Pak-held Kashmir subsequently proved, the Prime Minister was not making empty threats.
However, there was much more in Modi’s Kozhikode address worthy of closer attention and deeper analysis. The initial euphoria over the surgical strikes was good for national morale but already realization is dawning that a single arrow cannot end a war. Far from acting as an effective deterrent to Pakistan’s sponsorship of cross-border terrorism, the indications are that the inflow of more armed intruders has by no means stopped. The deadly grenade attack on a Rashtriya Rifles camp in Baramulla ten days after the surgical strikes tells its own story – Pakistan has not given up its mission of death and destruction.
On the diplomatic front, too, India’s initial success in whipping up global opinion against Islamabad boosted hopes that Pakistan would be isolated internationally and would forced to bow to big power pressure. Unfortunately, the attention of the global community is currently focussed elsewhere – on Syria especially – and South Asia is low down on the priority list. India’s fiery rhetoric at the United Nations General Assembly too is fast receding to become a faint memory.
To tell the truth, the BJP-led government is gradually beginning to realize that perhaps the biggest benefit of the surgical strike exercise has been internal rather than external. It has shored up, to an extent, the image of the Modi that it is willing to strike and not afraid to wound. The earlier doctrine of ‘strategic restraint’ has been replaced by a new posture of ‘offensive defence’. Whether this pays off in the short run or even the medium term remains to be seen. More likely, even the hawks in government will eventually come around to realizing that there is no quick-fix remedy for the festering India-Pakistan problem. As earlier Prime Ministers like Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh knew full well, enduring solutions call for long haul exercises based on visionary statesmanship.
It is in this context that it would worthwhile to take a second look at Narendra Modi’s Kozhikode address. In terms of content, range, depth and innovative ideas, some may even be tempted to regard it as one of Modi’s most thought-provoking speeches since becoming the Prime Minister. Chances are high that future historians will give it a higher rating than what his contemporaries have accorded it. Modi was obviously hampered by the venue and the format. He was forced to pause frequently after every few sentences, in order to allow his words to be translated into the local Malayalam. This prevented him from ascending effortlessly to higher levels of oratory and rhetoric. But this ought to have enhanced the impact of his words, because his script-writer had packed his speech with punchy one-liners and many quotable quotes.
It needs to noted that the Kozhikode address was not about Pakistan per se. It was not about any one subject or any one theme. Narendra Modi had many things on his mind that day – he had many signals to send to many different target audiences. It was, after all, a political party forum. Yet, because the burning issue of the day was the terror-strike at the Uri battalion headquarters, the Prime Minister dwelt on Indo-Pak issues in some detail. What stood out was that Modi’s recipe for ending tensions and promoting good neighbourly relations was strikingly original in many ways.
Arguably the least noticed part of his speech was what seemed to be cajoling, if not actually inciting, the common citizens of Pakistan to launch a kind of “Arab Spring” against their political and military leaders. In what sounded almost like a prophesy, Narendra Modi said: “A day will come when the people of Pakistan will go against their own Government to fight terrorism”.
The Prime Minister said: “Today I am speaking to the people of Pakistan directly. India is ready to fight you. If you have the strength, come forward to fight against poverty and illiteracy. Let us see who wins, who is able to defeat poverty and illiteracy first, Pakistan or India …”
He came out with a rhetorical flourish challenging the young people of Pakistan. He said: “Let us compete to end poverty in our two countries. Let us see who gets there first. Youth of Pakistan, come let us fight. Let’s see who ends unemployment first – India or Pakistan …. Let’s fight against illiteracy. Newborns and pregnant mothers die in both India and Pakistan. Let us see who can save them first …”.
Going further by elaborating on the Arab Spring theme – “People of Pakistan, ask your leaders why although India and Pakistan got freedom in same year, India today exports software and your leaders export terrorism”. Turning his attention to the Pakistan Establishment, the Indian Prime Minister said: “Pakistan, you have PoK, you have Gilgit. You were not able to look after East Pakistan, which is now Bangladesh. You are not able to look after Balochistan, Pakhtoonistan. You are unable to take care of what you have, then why are you after Kashmir, which does not belong to you?”
Inexplicably, very few of these somewhat unconventional remarks have remained part of the national discourse on the Indo-Pak situation. The gist of his remarks was widely reported at that time and quickly forgotten. The bulk of the discussions going on at the present time consists of hype and bravado about the self-proclaimed brilliance of Indian speeches at the UN, the heroism of the soldiers killed in militant attacks and the number of foreign governments who have purportedly labelled Pakistan as a terrorist-friendly State.
In contrast, nobody seems to have taken up Modi’s call for a competitive War against Poverty. Nor has there been any discussion on his rather daring endorsement of the idea of a people’s uprising in Pakistan. An Arab Spring could well be the ideal solution – it would overthrow the present failed system and usher in a new era of genuine democracy, which in turn would hopefully lead to peace with India and prosperity for the 1.7 billion people living in South. Asia.