Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves to supporters during a public rally in Kargil. (AFP Photo)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks Tuesday that Pakistan had lost the power to fight a conventional war and, instead, is waging proxy war on India is unlikely to go down well in Islamabad at a time when the two governments are ostensibly trying to revive a sluggish peace dialogue.
The comments will likely weaken the hand of Pakistan prime minister, who has made improving relations with India a cornerstone of his policy, despite stiff opposition from his powerful military and security establishment..
Read: Modi condemns Pak proxy war, promises development in J&K
The remarks, reminiscent of his muscular election campaign rhetoric on Pakistan, also fly in the face of Modi’s surprise move to invite South Asian leaders - including Sharif - to his inauguration in a bid to bolster neglected regional ties. Their subsequent ‘sari-and-shawl’ diplomacy had rekindled hopes that the détente was well-intentioned.
Read: What is '56-inch chest' PM doing on Pak ceasefire violations: Cong
Although the prime minister’s comments were made to officers and soldiers in a troubled region, and may have been aimed as a morale booster for the military, a seeming lack of willingness to calibrate his position could give Pakistan’s military hawks ample ammunition to undermine their civilian government and assert their primacy in external affairs.
The timing of Modi’s comments is significant.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the audience at a function in the Balyogi auditorium (PLB) in New Delhi. (PTI photo)
Sharif faces a challenge from dissident Canada-based cleric Tahir ul-Qadri who aims to topple his government and has announced that his followers would stage a major demonstration in Islamabad on Thursday.
Opposition leader Imran Khan, who is demanding electoral reforms and an investigation into last year's polls, which Sharif won in a landslide victory will lead a separate anti-government protest on the same day.
Read: Will bring 'saffron revolution' in J-K, says Modi
Several politicians and parties known for their close ties to Pakistan’s deep state, the ISI, have announced support for these anti-Sharif protests. Given his absolute majority in parliament, Sharif will most likely ride out this first wave of attack but not without being weakened and sapped of political energies.
It is a familiar drill of street protests that clipped the wings of the previous civilian governments of Asif Zardari and Yusuf Raza Gilani.
Currently, the military wants Sharif to tamp down his moves to normalise relations with India and turn off the anti-India terror tap in Afghanistan.
At a time when India is trying to move away from its decades-old obsession with Pakistan, seduced more by its growing role in the global economy and concerns over China, any move that undermines the credibility of a civilian government in Pakistan is not only unnecessary but unwise.
(The views of the author are personal)