New Delhi: India faces six geopolitical challenges today. Two of these challenges are external and the rest internal. These challenges have only grown with the disastrous policies pursued by the Narendra Modi government aided and abetted by the divisive prescriptions of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s parent organization, the hyper-nationalistic and quasi militaristic RSS. Unless these challenges are immediately addressed and abated, India will lose such geopolitical standing as it possesses, and its Great Power ambitions will be forever stalled. The six chief challenges are China, Pakistan, the domestic political fragmentation, communalism, the slipping economy, and the absence of grand strategy and a coherent national security policy.

Pakistan: Narendra Modi’s hard line has failed to bring peace with the country’s western neighbour. On the contrary, the border ceasefire has nearly broken down and civilians, mainly women and children, are being killed with increasing frequency on both sides. Rather than end militancy in Jammu and Kashmir, the so-called surgical strikes of last year have exposed India’s strategic gap in containing a troublesome neighbour.

Suspiciously under pressure from the Donald Trump administration, the Modi government appointed a peace interlocutor for Jammu and Kashmir. The government, however, is so internally divided on a Kashmir outreach that there are grave doubts about the interlocutor being permitted any freedom of action. Meanwhile, Jammu and Kashmir has tied down the military to an extent not seen in decades. It is haemorrhaging the country and hobbling India’s geopolitical ambitions such as they are.

On their own India and Pakistan are unlikely to reach a solution on their core dispute over Kashmir. Every single war that the two countries have fought since their common independence from British rule has originated in Kashmir. While Pakistan has repeatedly sought international, and particularly US, mediation on Kashmir, India has rejected it, even while ironically seeking US assistance to curb what is described as Pakistan state terrorism.

All this, however, may change now. The United States has elected its most transactional president in years, and Trump wants a geopolitical triumph to shut up his domestic critics and elevate his plunging popularity. Trump wants to resolve the Afghanistan crisis and the United States is convinced India-Pakistan tensions are coming in the way. Pakistani newspapers have reported US intentions to pressure India and Pakistan to resume the peace dialogue and some straws in the wind are already to be detected.

Notwithstanding the jingoism of the Narendra Modi government and its RSS backers, there is general acceptance that the status quo on Kashmir is the only rational solution. This was the sum and substance of Indira Gandhi’s offer to Pakistan in the 1972 Simla talks. The only institution in Pakistan that could rally the country behind a status quo solution is the army, and the army would be persuaded to champion it only if all the Great Powers and intermediate states, including the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, put their combined weight behind the proposal.

India cannot be seen to be too enthusiastic about accepting the status quo since it could wreck the give-and-take at the negotiating table. Nevertheless, status quo is the most sensible solution to the Kashmir dispute because it preserves the prestige of both countries and insures a durable peace. Much of this would appear outlandish in the present atmosphere of nationalism drummed up by the regime but history has proved nationalism to be uniformly disastrous.

Without a settlement of the Kashmir dispute, India cannot expect geopolitical stability and strategic growth. There is no military solution either to the internal or external crisis affecting Kashmir. Being a democracy, there are limits to state coercion of its own citizens. Further, war is inconceivable between two nuclear powers.

To be continued....