New Delhi: Leverage is a central element of geopolitics. The Oxford English Dictionary defines leverage as “the power to influence a person or situation”. The greater net leverage possessed by a state, the vaster power lies at its disposal to influence foreign states and situations. This piece deals with India’s dwindling (or perhaps absent) leverage with Pakistan and the means required to reverse the trend.

Separated at birth, Pakistan and India have taken disparate trajectories to nationhood. India was lucky to commence with Jawaharlal Nehru who had a vision for a modern, liberal-democratic and progressive state. Whatever we are today owes a great deal to his vision and tireless efforts. Pakistan’s founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, on the other hand, was deeply disenchanted with the Partition which left sub-continental Muslims, in his view, with a “mutilated, moth-eaten Pakistan” instead of a proper “homeland”.

Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s disappointment and dissatisfaction drove Pakistan after his early passing in three disastrous directions. Feeling needlessly inferior to India, Pakistan sought a West Asian Arab identity which, to be sure, only brought it derision and more inferiority. To further overcome its “mutilated, moth-eaten” living form, Pakistan strived to leverage its excellent geo-strategic location, situated between West Asia and South Asia, with the Western powers of the Cold War. This project was indeed initiated in Jinnah’s time but rapidly expanded by the military rulers who have dominated Pakistan since independence.

In essence, this was the continuation of the Great Game, the nineteenth century struggle between the British and Russian empires for control of Afghanistan, with two added strategic interests to pursue and destroy. One was West Asian oil discovered in the nineteen-thirties and the other was “world threatening” Soviet communism. In the nineteen-seventies, this seamlessly became the “mujahideen war” of the United States, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan waged against Soviet occupiers of Afghanistan. Pakistan was primed for destruction when the anti-Soviet campaign bred terrorism which Pakistan was unable solely to direct against India to loosen its hold over Kashmir.

Kashmir and its possession tantalized Jinnah and his military-political successors with the vision of somehow making whole and handsome “mutilated, moth-eaten Pakistan”. In Pakistan’s frenzy to obtain Kashmir, it lost territorially, politically and economically, whereas India steadily progressed on Nehru’s vision to which was joined the reforms of 1991 and its singular benefits. Frustrated and engulfed still more with the sense of inferiority, the Pakistan establishment vowed revenge and retribution, and this state of play continues to this day.

However, the damage is not entirely one-sided. Two collusive adversaries on two bitterly-contested frontiers, one featuring China and the other being Pakistan, have compelled India to sustain a large military force and expenditure which have hurt poverty-alleviating market economic growth with reforms. Further, Pakistan’s religion-laced revanchism and China’s expansionism feeding on Tibetan insecurities have produced, firstly, religious counter-reactions in India which threaten the liberal-democratic fabric and, secondly, perilous jingoism untethered from military realities.

While solutions to these complex problems do not come in neat, readymade packages, war, most certainly, is not one of them. India, China and Pakistan are nuclear powers. Major portions of all three states will evaporate when a conventional war inevitably turns nuclear. On the other hand, investments in diplomacy and leverage never go unrewarded. George F. Kennan’s Soviet containment policy was mostly about diplomacy and leverage although the military dimension took a higher profile later. Leverages are often not readily available. They have to be created and secured. Of all the Indian prime ministers, Atal Behari Vajpayee understood this best. From an impossible crisis generated by the Kargil War, he contrived opportunities to convince Pakistan to pledge to deny its territory for terrorism against India and to institute a bilateral frontier ceasefire. It is true that the pledge and the ceasefire have often been observed by Pakistan in the breach but reminders of them from time to time have produced salutary effects on Pakistan. This undeniably presents an advance for which Vajpayee deserves wholesome praise. Vajpayee did not succeed equally with China which is not to rule out better prospects for his successors.

The point is this. Diplomacy and leverage present endless horizons. Vajpayee’s successes have either not been appropriately followed up or they have been abandoned in churlishness and apathy. Like a stuck record, the Narendra Modi government keeps repeating that “talks and terror cannot go on simultaneously” with reference to Pakistan. It has given up on SAARC to spite Pakistan without understanding that this decision cuts adrift Afghanistan which is geopolitically crucial to India. The visiting Nepal foreign minister today pitched for the deferred SAARC summit in Pakistan and made the case for resolving differences through dialogue and collective security. As the weightiest country of South Asia, India’s interest lies in strengthening SAARC. India cannot afford to reject diplomacy or forgo the search for leverage. Leverage is present in relations with all countries. The art and the genius lie in discovering and perfecting it. India’s secure existence depends on meeting success with leverage with Pakistan and China.

Editor’s Note: The unceremonious ouster of the CBI chief by a prime minister-led panel will not lessen the troubles faced by the Narendra Modi government but add to them. Further questions will be raised about the Rafale deal. To sack the CBI chief on unverified allegations levelled by a rival officer and colleague is scandalous and the CVC has much to answer for for giving imprimatur to the allegations. A post-Narendra Modi government must add members to the CBI chief’s selection panel so that risks of subversion by an incumbent and dodgy government are minimized.