My Report Debate II: Balakot Strike Sent a Strong Message to Pak

(Pushpak Kumar Roy’s essay is among the Top 10 of the My Report Debate II. Participants were asked the question: How to fix the India-Pakistan relationship – Jaadu ki jhappi or surgical strike?)

The Indo-Pak relations management must be split into two large domains – the social and the political. Although commentators refrain from putting it in such blunt terms, the inconvenient truth is that at the social level, the Indo-Pak relations is Hindu-Muslim relations writ large.

In other words, Hindus are considered 'naturally' Indian and Muslims 'naturally' Pakistani. Hence the best way to mitigate mutual antipathy from Indian and Pakistani minds is to ensure inter-communal harmony within India. Not only does it reinforce the idea of India as an inclusive state with equal substantive rights, privileges, and opportunities for all kinds of citizens, but it also defeats the idea of two-nation theory, makes India culturally attractive to the average Pakistani, and puts pressure on the Pakistani state to treat it's own minorities fairly.

We ought to bear in mind that Pakistan is an ideological state committed to the idea of two-nation theory. It carries a self-image of the 'citadel/defender of Islam'. So every time the Muslim minority's interest is harmed in any manner within India, it gives leverage to Pakistan to play upon India's social cleavages.

People-to-people contact must be made as easy as possible from the Indian side, independent of the nature of ongoing Indo-Pak state-level relations which fluctuates like the Sensex.

Let as many Pakistanis get a first-hand experience of India as possible. That will effectively counter the Pakistani state-propaganda that 'Hindu India' is fundamentally different from Islamic Pakistan.

On the other hand, when it comes to state-to-state engagement, India ought to bargain for friendship from a position of generosity and strength. India being the larger power, must be generous in aiding Pakistan in times of crises – economic or ecological.

India should send a signal that she accepts Pakistan’s right to exist. India must also try to bring Pakistan on board as many Third World fora as possible because both are post-colonial and developing nations dealing with broadly similar issues of inequities of global power and global economic distribution.

Secondly, the Pakistani establishment has been playing the brinkmanship game by keeping armed engagement with India at the sub-conventional level. India must engage with Pakistan at the level where it has a natural advantage, i.e. conventional war. So the Indian state must exhibit explicit willingness to escalate any provocation (like a 26/11 attack or Parliament attack) to the conventional level. The scenario of two nuclear armed powers engaging in a conventional war should deter the weaker power more than the stronger one.

However, it is India that has been restraining from escalation so far whenever there is a provocation.

So the decision to strike inside the Pakistani territory as a response to Pulwama attack was the right strategic move. Although the intended physical targets may have been missed, what the Balakot strikes have achieved in substantive terms is that it has sent a signal to the Pakistani 'establishment' that India wouldn't have qualms about escalation if Pak-sponsored actors carry out any further attacks on India.

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