Surgical Strikes, Balakot & Dialogue: India-Pakistan Ties Under PM Modi

In the last ten years, it is clear that an apparent and principled shift has taken place in India's strategy of dealing with Pakistan. On dealing with India's immediate neighbour, PM Modi in a 2011 interview said, "Pakistan should be given an answer in the language they understand". Under the Modi government, India has witnessed a culmination of both diplomatic and military responses to Pakistan's hostile behaviour.
India-Pakistan Relations Under PM Modi: Surgical Strikes, Balakot & Dialogue

India-Pakistan Relations Under PM Modi: Surgical Strikes, Balakot & Dialogue

New Delhi: During the ongoing Lok Sabha elections, the India-Pakistan relationship has emerged as a key aspect of the Modi-led BJP's campaign. The Modi government is particularly credited for its approach towards Pakistan, often described as "speaking their language". PM Modi, in numerous rallies, has highlighted the contrasting policies between the UPA regime and the 10-year tenure of the NDA government regarding Pakistan. Throughout these years, the Modi government has consistently maintained a tough stance towards the neighbouring country, emphasising that dialogue is not possible until terrorism from across the border ceases.
On dealing with India's immediate neighbour, PM Modi in a 2011 interview said, "Pakistan should be given an answer in the language they understand". Subsequently, India under the Modi government witnessed a culmination of both diplomatic and military responses to Pakistan's hostile behaviour.
Over the past decade, the diplomatic ties between India and Pakistan have consistently been influenced by the political dynamics within each country. During this period, there has been a noticeable and principled shift in India's approach towards dealing with Pakistan. The approach can be characterised as a two-fold resolve that looks to maintain cordial relations, on the one hand, but will strike back or strike pre-emptively whenever necessary.
To gain a comprehensive understanding of the changes in the Government of India's policy, it's essential to examine key issues pertaining to Pakistan and the approach of the Modi government. Whether it's the surgical strike of 2016 or the Balakot airstrike in 2019, the Modi administration has unequivocally stated that India will respond decisively to any threat to its internal security.

Surgical Strikes

In 2016, the government responded to the Uri attack with surgical strikes. Commandos of the army were sent across the Line of Control (LoC) into territory occupied by Pakistan. The commandos carried out the raid less than two weeks after an attack was carried out by four militants on an Indian Army outpost in Uri.
The Uri attack had claimed the lives of 18 Indian defence personnel. The attack was believed to have been orchestrated by terrorists who infiltrated across the Line of Control (LoC) from Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK).
The surgical strike, which India conducted in response, targeted terrorist teams that were planning militant activities and attacks in India. The strikes sent the message that India will not shy away from strict action when necessary, and will respond to instigations and breaches of obligations appropriately. The intention was clarified in the joint statement issued by the MEA and MoD on September 29, 2016. It said:
"It is India’s intention to maintain peace and tranquility in the region, but we can certainly not allow the terrorists to operate across the Line of Control with impunity and attack the citizens of our country."

Balakot Airstrike

A crucial moment in India-Pakistan relations in the past 10 years was the Balakot airstrike response to the 2019 Pulwama attack. The Pulwama attack was one of the deadliest terror attacks in Jammu and Kashmir. 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were killed in the attack orchestrated by the terrorist organisation Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). A suicide bomber caused an explosion using a truck carrying over 100 kg of explosives, a report said.
On February 26, 2019, a group of Mirage 200 fighter jets destroyed a major JeM terrorist camp. The airstrike sent the clear message that India's national security is of supreme importance. Meanwhile, the government's diplomatic response made it clear to Islamabad that its sponsorship of terrorism will not be tolerated.
"The Government of Pakistan had made a solemn commitment in January 2004 not to allow its soil or territory under its control to be used for terrorism against India. We expect that Pakistan lives up to its public commitment and takes follow-up actions to dismantle all JeM and other camps…" India's Foreign Secretary said on the day of the Balakot Airstrike.

Kartarpur Corridor

An important achievement of cooperation between the two countries, the Kartarpur Corridor is a visa-free border crossing that connects Gurudwara Darbar Sahib near Narowal, Pakistan to Gurudwara Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district, India. It allows devotees from India to visit the Gurudwara in Kartarpur, Pakistan. Initially proposed under the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, PM Modi laid the foundation stone before the corridor was completed for the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak. Both PM Modi and Ex-PM of Pakistan Imran Khan viewed this as a positive development towards harmonious relations between the two countries.
In his speech at the inauguration of the corridor, PM Modi thanked Imran Khan for "understanding the sentiments of India".
Regarding the corridor, the then PM of Pakistan Imran Khan said that he hoped this (the corridor inauguration) is only a beginning. "One day, our relations with India will be like they should have been a long time ago," he added.

Cordiality, But No Tolerance Of Misbehaviour

In the first few weeks of the Modi government, the foreign secretary meeting between the two countries were called off in 2014 due to Pakistan having engaged in talks with separatist leaders. India's firm resolve to not tolerate terrorism, even Pakistan's passive support of terrorist activities, was also demonstrated in the cancellation of the meeting of Foreign Ministers in New York due to the 2018 September attack on Indian personnel and Pakistan's alleged glorification of terrorism.
While the government in the last ten years has not been reluctant to respond with force or demand remedial action from Pakistan, it has also gestured its interest in improving and maintaining cordial relations. PM Modi's decision to invite Nawaz Sharif to the swearing-in ceremony exemplified this practice. In another instance, when the PM made a surprise visit and met with Nawaz Sharif in Pakistan, it was viewed as a positive step towards building cordial relations with Pakistan. Pakistani cricketers continue to be excluded from the IPL as a consequence of India's practice of soft power.
The overall message sent by India seems to be clear: Pakistan must take real, credible action to end cross-border terrorism against India if it values cordial relations. India iterated this point in its 2020 Bilateral Brief.

Overview

Given Pakistan's tenacious commitment to constantly create an enemy out of India, the Modi government's two-fold approach seems to be one which is carefully evaluated and coordinated. Pakistan is known to disseminate hateful ideology within its borders to create and sustain hostility towards India. It is also known to distort its own history and use the same as a tool for pursuing its political objectives. Given the fact that India deals with a neighbouring state that espouses such practices, the two-fold resolve - which looks to maintain cordial relations but will strike back, or pre-emptively, whenever necessary - seems to be the only viable approach.
It can be argued that the tactics used by the Pakistan mandate a somewhat 'Machiavellian' approach in response - that would prioritise being feared over being loved when one has to pick only one of the two. However, the Pakistani state is not one to treat condemnation, no matter how firm and vocal, as an incentive sufficient enough to convince it to clean up its act. Therefore, pressure, unilateral and international, has to be put on Pakistan from all sides and in many different ways. The Indian government under Modi has made it clear that it wants Pakistan to correct its behaviour if it truly values cordial relations with its immediate neighbour.
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