Illustration by Soham Sen | ThePrint Team
Illustration by Soham Sen | ThePrint Team
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Politicians in India and Pakistan periodically demonstrate the commonality of their heritage by engaging in grandiloquence and bombast that they do not seriously mean. But even in the subcontinent, words have consequences. Statements by Indian ministers about reclaiming parts of the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, currently controlled by China and Pakistan, run the risk of portraying India as a revisionist power.

Since Independence, Indian foreign policy has rested on the premise that India accepts the territorial status quo in its neighbourhood. India expects recognition as the region’s pre-eminent power on account of being the largest country in South Asia and one of the two largest in Asia in terms of population. The size of its economy and armed forces, as well as its ability to project power, reinforce that pre-eminence.

For those unfamiliar with the terms, international relations experts distinguish the foreign policy of states as either status quo or revisionist based on their leaders’ words and actions. Prominent scholar, Robert Gilpin, defined status quo powers as those who accept specific rules “of interstate diplomacy, of security institutions, and of international economic institutions;” who do not challenge through speech or actions “the distribution of power globally or regionally;” and are less interested in altering the international “hierarchy of prestige”.

Revisionist powers seek to alter all these components of international order while status quo powers do not like going beyond seeking minor adjustments. Historically, Indian diplomats have asserted India’s preference for global order while seeking at the same time an enhanced stature for India on the global stage.


Also read: Amit Shah’s political aim to recover PoK is not backed by India’s military capacity


A change in stance?

Recently, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh opened the prospect of India revising its doctrine of No First Use (NFU) of nuclear weapons, given the threat of battlefield nukes being deployed by Pakistan. Then, Home Minister Amit Shah asserted India’s “right to form laws” for Jammu and Kashmir, including Pakistan-controlled territory and Aksai Chin. Rajnath Singh upped the ante by noting that Pakistan “is in illegal occupation of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, including Gilgit Baltistan” and any future talks between India and Pakistan would have to be about those territories.

More recently, External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar insisted that the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir “is part of India and we expect one day that we will have the physical jurisdiction over it”. This marked a change in the decades-old Indian willingness to negotiate an end to Pakistan’s claims over Kashmir by accepting the Line of Control as a finally agreed international border.

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The willingness to forego claims to Pakistan-controlled territory dates back to 1963, when the United States and the United Kingdom initiated India-Pakistan dialogue at the ministerial level. India’s then-Railways Minister Swaran Singh tried to negotiate an end to the dispute with Pakistan’s Minister for Natural Resources Zulfikar Ali Bhutto by offering territorial adjustments along the 1948 ceasefire line and dividing the disputed state. Pakistan turned down the offer and chose to fight for Kashmir instead, leading to the 1965 war.

In 1972, during the Simla talks following Pakistan’s loss of Bangladesh, the ceasefire line was transformed into the Line of Control (LoC) on the assumption that it would become the India-Pakistan border over time. The back-channel talks between Pakistani dictator General Pervez Musharraf and then-Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh were also based on a similar premise.


Also read: Modi shames Pakistan in Trump presence, says it’s time for decisive battle against terror


A calculated strategy?

The recent statements by Indian ministers could be part of a calculated strategy to remind Pakistan that India could reverse Pakistani rhetoric on use of nuclear weapons and the argument that the dispute over Jammu and Kashmir is the unfinished business of Partition. But the rhetoric on taking Pakistan-controlled Kashmir could prove dangerous if India acts on it.

Undoubtedly, Pakistan would consider any attack on territory controlled by it as an act of war. That is why it is more likely that the Indian politicians making tough statements are just trying to create a new issue to counter Pakistan’s narrative over the human rights situation in Jammu and Kashmir. The Indian point seems to be that Pakistan should stop focusing on Indian Kashmir or risk having to deal with New Delhi’s claims that the entire erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir belongs to India.

But it could also mark a shift in India’s stance, away from its traditional willingness to accept the status quo. If that is the case, India’s leaders need to consider the implications of being a revisionist power. For one, revisionist powers are viewed with concern and have fewer friends than India has become accustomed to having.

It would be detrimental to India’s global standing if, in an effort to match Pakistan’s rhetoric, its leaders reverse the country’s global standing as an important pillar of world order. Indian diplomats have, for years, worked hard to de-hyphenate their country from Pakistan. If the current trend towards Indian revisionism reinstates the hyphen, and everyone around the world starts talking again of India-Pakistan, Islamabad would win the battle without even trying.


Also read: Kashmir Banega Pakistan: A dream sold to brainwash us since childhood now lies in tatters


Husain Haqqani, director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute in Washington D.C., was Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States from 2008-11. His books include ‘Pakistan Between Mosque and Military,’ ‘India v Pakistan: Why Can’t we be Friends’ and ‘Reimagining Pakistan’. Views are personal.

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14 Comments Share Your Views

14 COMMENTS

  1. Whether one likes it or not India & Pakistan share South Asia. So from world prospective Indians & Pakistanis look alike .So it would be natural for world to hyphenate India with Pakistan, as long as India make sure it is only in area of human rights and ,not in area of economy or terrorism.

  2. Many of these comments are foolish, while the author is making some good points.
    However rhetoric is rhetoric, and unless there is a press release by the indian MEA, rhetoric is not bound to be taken seriously by other powers, but however it can be used by disparate parties and NGO’s etc for their own purposes to push their own narratives. Pakistan has already successfully influenced the British Labour Party which is now essentially echoing the pakistani point of view thanks to the strong efforts made by the british pakistani and pak administered kashmir diaspora. Taken in that context, it is very unlikely that the british labour party would care much one way or another what the indian position on kashmir or pak administered kashmir would be since the labour party has already taken a revisionist view.

  3. Irrespective of Kashmir, India and Pakistan themselves are doing an excellent job of hyphenating with each other. The rest of the world is only following their lead. Both countries need to sort out their mutual issues on their own instead of running to big Daddy U.S.A.

  4. Something not right or new. Many Desi Bhai, returned from USA, would attest to countless yelling of “Go back to Pakistan”, Go back to where you came from” at petrol pumps, seven eleven and Wall-mart. The two countries by same color are already hyphenated by all blue collar stranger whites,

  5. No way, India will never waste its time,resources and energy in annexing PoK a predominantly Muslim majority part when it is struggling to integrate even the smaller muslim majority K-valley under its control for the last 70 yrs.The strategy looks to be to make Pak not talk about K with India.Better to convey India’s readiness to accept LoC as IB to Pak either directly or through intermediary like Trump.

      • Do not mean to divert the topic but the word convert got me going. A lady next door teaches in a local convent school. Apparenly for years it has been the custom the school starts the day with a prayer. Since the combined students voice is loud, she says she mumbles sahasranaman. What conversions?????

  6. A pakistani friend had fantastic analysis of Pakistan ” all we have is Mullas and Mavalis ” Isn’t the author a runaway diplomat? India has over 70 years done everything under the established norms of international diplomacy. The history is there for all to read. We kept on suffering all these years for lack of decisive leadership and did not assert adequately for various reasons to resolve the problem once and for all even when there was an opportunity. Today the country has had enough of it. If Pakistan does not mend its ways for a mutually secure future, the nation is ready to retaliate to any form of action. If there is a terror attack, there will be serious consequences( that change has been established), if it leads to conventional conflict, so be it. The irresponsible threats of N can only mean total self annihilation, including China kissing goodbye to the billions they have poured into Pakistan, that bluff has been called as well.
    Revisionist is A person with a revised attitude to a previously accepted situation or point of view, in this case there was never a previously accepted situation or point of view, inaction is not the same as acceptance. Status quo as defined by Einstein is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different result which has failed in this case. So wonder how by challenging status quo on Kashmir, India risks hyphenating itself with Pakistan again ?

  7. Normally it is expected that diplomats would tender the best possible advice, be overruled only very occasionally. That does not seem to be happening. The risks of intruding into a foreign nation’s – a superpower at that – electoral cycle ought to have been more explicitly laid out. On Pakistan, foreign policy seems crafted almost entirely on political / ideological lines.

  8. I largely agree. I would only take issue with the part of India seeking recognition as a preeminent power in the region. For decades India has tried to live peacefully with Pakistan but with Pakistani math (1 Muslim = 10 Hindus) they always thought that they were more powerful.

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