Suddenly reality is catching with Narendra Modi and India. We are learning that showmanship can go thus far and no further. The first hint came when the Chinese President's visit coincided with stepped-up Chinese incursions in Ladakh. The message was that China's Big Brother posture in Asia was not negotiable and all the Ahmedabad hoopla was just hoopla. Then, so soon after the Pakistani Prime Minister's attendance at Modi's swearing-in, a war-like crisis developed along the Jammu border. The message was that in Pakistan the army was the shot-caller and all the photo-ops of the country's ceremonial Prime Minister were just photo-ops.
What drives the Pakistani army is visceral hatred of India. It must have intensified with the rise of Narendra Modi whom they see as anti-Muslim. The audacity of the latest shelling was in all probability meant to test the Modi Government. If so, Pakistan badly miscalculated. For one thing, as the Home Minister said, there is a new reality in India and the Defence Minister spelt it out by saying that Pakistan would have to pay a price it could not afford. For another, despite all the divisiveness that marks Indian democracy, Pakistan will find that a threat it mounts will unite all Indians. Narendra Modi will then be the leader of India, not just a BJP Prime Minister.
Pakistan has got the message and the guns are falling silent. But that should not lull India into complacency because there are organic weaknesses in India's position. Chinese and Pakistani border incursions have been rather frequent occurrences, yet each time we are surprised and seem freshly hurt. The reason is that over half a century our defence and foreign policy establishments have not developed a comprehensive policy architecture to deal with issues of complexity. Ours is an ad hoc approach. China is famous for functioning with the stability of a hundred-year vision. Indian leaders' vision rarely extends beyond the next general election, party labels making no difference. Even Pakistan has a policy stability vis a vis India. Governments rise and collapse, civic upheavals come and go, but the ultra-efficient Inter-Services Intelligence remains consistently pro-active in its destabilisation strategy against India. The pattern never varies: ISI acts, India reacts.
The ISI is lucky, too, for opportunities come its way unasked. Kashmir's devastating floods were utilised to spread disaffection among the locals. An unexpected crump came from Narendra Modi himself. Carried away by his triumphalism in the US, the Prime Minister announced some timely and imaginative reforms for NRIs such as lifelong visas and lifting of harassment checks. Additionally, however, Modi also announced visa-on-arrival facility for every American citizen. It was an American citizen named David Headley who roamed India freely and frequently, working out the logistics for the Mumbai terror attack. Worse, after his guilt was uncovered, the US Government extended full protection to him. Criminals with an American passport will now find it easier to collaborate with the ISI. Of course all Americans are not criminals. All Indians are not terrorists either, but try saying that to US immigration officials.
Unfortunately, all the consistency and luck of the ISI will not help Pakistan because it is fundamentally flawed as a state. The ruling elite turned it into a self-defeating "warrior state". McGill University Professor T. V. Paul argues in his acclaimed The Warrior State: Pakistan in the Contemporary World that Pakistan's enviable position as "the pivot of the world" (Jinnah's phrase) actually turned out to be its curse. The generous largesse from foreign aid-givers prevented the elite from seeking a more sustainable developmental path. Besides, the lack of domestic reforms, especially land reforms, and the inattention to education at all levels crippled Pakistan's ability to progress.
Correcting this course is what Pakistan should do for its own good. It must aim at economic growth as was done by other geostrategically located states such as Israel, South Korea and Taiwan. Nawaz Sharief, a businessman, knows this, hence his emphasis on normal trade relations with India. Narendra Modi knows that Pakistan's economic progress will be good for all of South Asia. Anxious to prove that he is not anti-Muslim, Modi will probably go beyond the extra mile for normalcy across the border. Which means that there has never been a more propitious time for collective progress. Even the Nobel Committee underlined this by linking Malala Yousafsai and Kailash Satyarthi in a historic peace gesture. The ISI has conceded that it's not up to a war. Why can't it settle for peace?