While attending a function in New Delhi On May 21st, India’s Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said ‘You have to neutralise terrorists through terrorists’. He was referring to the threats to Indian national security from an alleged Pakistan sponsored proxy war. It was a profound statement, as it came from a defence minister of a right-wing nationalist government that came into power with an absolute majority riding on the election promises of giving a befitting reply to provocations originating in Pakistan.
International constraint and mutual nuclear deterrence may have prevented all-out war with Pakistan in the past over contested Kashmir. With thousands fleeing their homes amid escalating violence, that may not remain a secure wager.
Rising tension at the Line of Control (LoC) between India and Pakistan is putting in question the widely-held assumption that their conflict will not escalate to an all-out conventional or even nuclear war. International concern has extended to the US, previously resistant to mediating in the Kashmir dispute.
This is at the heart of the existential rivalry between the two states. Kashmir has become so symbolically significant to both India and Pakistan that they are beset by zero-sum thinking, though a resolution would potentially put an end to their hostilities. In the current context that seems unlikely.
Six years ago, in November 2008, a group of Pakistan-based terrorists landed at unsecured waterfronts in Mumbai, the financial capital of India, and attacked public places such as hotels, restaurants, and a railway station. Although the Indian security forces were quick to respond, the attack, popularly referred to as 26/11, exposed three significant gaps in India’s maritime security apparatus: a. the porous nature of India’s coastline; b. the poor surveillance of the maritime domain; and c. the lack of inter-agency coordination.
Narendra Modi’s two-day visit to Kathmandu in early August, the first visit to Nepal by an Indian premier in 17 years, was his third trip abroad since his inauguration on 26 May. In mid-June, only weeks after taking charge in New Delhi, he had made his first official foreign excursion — a two-day visit to nearby Bhutan. These upfront state visits to the two Himalayan countries were a clear indication that Modi was determined to put flesh on his campaign pledge to give priority in his foreign policy to bolstering relations with India’s South Asian neighbours.
When former Indian National Congress (INC) Minister of State Jairam Ramesh coined the term ‘Chindia’ he envisaged a relationship between China and India that was driven by mutually beneficial trade rather than conflict. Today it seems China and India are tipped to become the leading superpowers of the twenty-first century, driving forward the international economy and maintaining peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region.
Both among the fastest growing economies, China and India are the two most populous countries in the world with a great deal of untapped trade potential. Beijing and New Delhi recognize this and will harness it under under Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi’s leadership. Whether the Modi moment becomes the ‘Nixon moment’ for Sino-Indian relations rests heavily on the level of cultural engagement between the two countries.