New Delhi: India’s Pakistan obsession has made it lose sight of the big picture. Unless India ramps up net national power several fold, strategic autonomy will elude it. India’s Pakistan obsession sets it up in tactical pursuit of the adversary to the sacrifice of strategic goals. For example, the Narendra Modi government made Masood Azhar’s blacklisting one of the core issues of foreign policy. It was the centre-point of diplomacy with Beijing and Washington in the past months. China did not obviously link Masood Azhar to BRI but the understanding was that there would be no concession on Masood till India approved BRI and the CPEC’s passage through Indian territory. Fixated with Azhar whose blacklisting by the United Nations will make no difference to Pakistani terrorism, India provided China an opening to lead it down a slippery slope where it would end up losing territory and not gain Masood Azhar. This happens when you lose sight of strategic goals and seek to grab seemingly low-hanging tactical fruits which are also, however, cleverly denied at the optimal moment.

The Masood Azhar episode has recoiled still more badly with the United States. As though the Donald Trump administration would not demand its pound of flesh, the Modi government expansively cultivated US support for the proscription of the Jaish-e-Mohammed leader. Since the United States is committed to oppose terrorism in all forms and not make distinctions of good and bad terrorists, it should have gone after Masood of its own volition. But it turns out that such assistance as the United States provided against Masood Azhar was purely transactional. The United States could not overcome Chinese favouring of the terrorist leader but that has not prevented Washington from presenting a bill to New Delhi for services not rendered. The bill is in the form of a US demand for an immediate halt to oil imports from Iran. For twenty-four hours, New Delhi showed defiance and then meekly gave in. The US policy on Iran makes no sense since it encourages and empowers Israel and Saudi Arabia to be even worse scofflaws but that is beside the point. India’s foreign policy lies in tatters and it all comes from obsessing about tactical successes while the big picture goes blank.

There are limits to what the world can do to make Pakistan behave. This fundamental truth appears to have eluded all Indian administrations since the late nineteen-eighties but the misguidedness is surely the worst in Modi’s. India’s core problem is not Pakistan or even China. It is itself. Unless it pulls itself up by its own bootstraps and becomes a major political, economic and military power, it will have no means to contain Pakistan. The starting point is social peace. Without social peace and stable and predictable policies, the economy cannot grow, and without rapid and inclusive economic growth, major increments in political and military power will not occur. There are no shortcuts to rise. Nuclear weapons, contrary to fashionable thinking, do not give prestige or provide an exclusive power not shared with other nuclear powers. Where are Pakistan and North Korea in the table of nations with nuclear weapons? At the bottom. One hosts the world’s worst dictatorship and the other is ruled by the Deep State.

During the Cold War, there was competition between the two blocs to win over fence-sitters. It paid to be Non-Aligned. India, however, courtesy the 1991 reforms, is a considerable economic power. Competing nations cannot be expected to have a benign foreign policy towards India or even the tolerant one of the Cold War years. Unless India escapes into a higher orbit of economic power, the demands of competition -- big and small -- will bog it down. For instance, input costs for the Indian economy have shot up with the abrupt closure of Iranian oil supplies. Should oil supplying states have found the Indian economy and the Indian market as indispensable as they are to India, Donald Trump’s Iran ultimatum should have carried less sting. Besides, India would have discovered its own devices to neutralize Pakistani terrorism without having to prostrate before foreign nations to ban Masood Azhar.

The need of the hour is for India to get real about its weight in international affairs and build a national consensus to swell sovereign power several folds. Countries become major and Great Powers on their own. Modern history is devoid of examples where one Great Power incubated another. India is on its own. The sooner this is realized, the better.