India-Pakistan De-Hyphenation: It Has to Begin at Home
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Issue Courtesy: South Asia Monitor | Date : 11 Aug , 2016

Successive Indian governments since the 1990’s have worked hard to de-hyphenate India from Pakistan in their dealings with the outside world.  A number of factors, such as the upward economic trajectory over the past two decades, the upswing in Indo-US strategic ties since the late 1990’s, 9/11, New Delhi’s decision to focus on strengthening bilateral ties with countries in South Asia and its Look East Policy renamed ‘Act East’, have enabled the same.

The fact that most terrorist attacks even outside South Asia have a Pakistan connection and the duplicitous approach of the Pakistani deep state even with countries considered its ‘strategic partners’ have certainly not helped Pakistan’s cause internationally. It is not just the US, but even the allies of Pakistan which includes Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members like Saudi Arabia and UAE, have sought to upgrade their strategic ties with India. The fact that Saudi Arabia has extradited a number of dreaded terrorists including Abu Jundal to India is a strong reiteration of this point.

The current Chinese leadership has been seeking to hyphenate India with Pakistan; a fact that was evident from its opposition to India’s membership of the NSG (and the tying up of the Indian accession to the group with that of Pakistan) and its statements after the recent violence in Kashmir.  Xi’s predecessor Hu Jintao was more nuanced and while tilting towards Pakistan, he realized the relevance of a cordial India-China relationship.

In South Asia too, the dynamics stand significantly changed. Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have given a fillip to India-Bangladesh and India-Sri Lanka trade, respectively. There has been a visible increase in connectivity between India and Bangladesh, through land crossings and rail. Bangladesh has also agreed to give India access to its ports: Chittagong and Ashuganj.

This is not to say that there are no differences between India and other countries, the old India versus the rest (led by Pakistan) situation, however, has significantly altered.  Pakistan is increasingly being viewed as a spoiler by other members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). As a result of this, many analysts argue in favour of a SAARC minus Pakistan arrangement.

Is it fair, however, to only blame external forces for hyphenating India with Pakistan? Some sections of the Indian media and the strategic community tend to blame ‘peaceniks’ in India for being excessively soft on Pakistan and weakening India’s Pakistan policy. There is no doubt that some sections of Indian civil-society are a tad bit too utopian in their approach since they are driven more by nostalgia and emotions towards Pakistan. However, it is unfair to accuse them of being responsible for ‘hyphenating’ India with Pakistan or being ‘anti-national’.

If anything, a section of the media and the strategic community which claims to be ‘nationalist’, but actually borders on jingoism, and views all important relationships from the narrow prism of Pakistan, are largely to blame for India being hyphenated with Pakistan. In the US election for instance, the focus should be on what Trump and Hillary Clinton would deliver for India, not merely on who would be ‘tougher’ (tough in any case is a relative term) on Pakistan . Foreign policy is about self-interest, and to expect the US to view Pakistan, from India’s prism is a bit unreal. With the deepening of the relationship, of course, there will be more convergences.  For instance, recently the Deputy Spokesman of the State Department Mark Toner stated, “we have been very clear with the highest levels of the Government of Pakistan that they must target all militant groups and that includes those that target Pakistan’s neighbors. They must also close all safe havens”.

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Even when there is anything pertaining to multilateral settings such as SAARC, the media tends to focus only on India and Pakistan. During Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s recent visit to Islamabad, some TV channels were quick to criticize the move, stating that by attending the summit, India had sent the wrong message to Pakistan. What was not given adequate consideration was the fact that Rajnath Singh was going to attend a SAARC Conference, and not an India-Pakistan event. Not attending the SAARC Summit would have in no way sent any stern message to Pakistan.

Apart from this, if one were to see TV discussions on television channels, there are free for alls between ‘commentators’ from both sides, and discussions are uncivil to say the least.  Many of the Pakistanis who get space on Indian TV channels do not deserve it, and some of the ‘nationalist channels’  really do no favor to India by giving such elements space. Instead, it would be far more sensible to reach out to more reasonable and rational individuals who may have differing opinions, but are not irrational and brainwashed. Ironically, these very TV channels and some of the strategic analysts are opposed to any such engagement.

In conclusion, it is not for the outside world to de-hyphenate India and Pakistan, but India itself. Some of the key steps which are needed are a focus on economic growth, connectivity with neighbors in South Asia and the need for the electronic media to not be obsessed with Pakistan.


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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Tridivesh Singh Maini

is a Senior Research Associate with the Jindal School of International Affairs, OP Jindal Global University, Sonepat. He can be reached at:

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