Sept. 27, 2016 6:58 p.m. ET
The Wall Street Journal
- Editorial Board Editorial
Narendra Modi offered another olive branch to Pakistan Saturday, despite Islamabad’s continuing sponsorship of terrorist groups that carry out attacks in India. But it’s not clear how much longer the Indian Prime Minister can turn the other cheek if large-scale strikes continue.
On Sept. 18 insurgents attacked an Indian Army base near the town of Uri in Kashmir, killing 19 soldiers. There was no claim of responsibility, but authorities blamed Jaish-e-Mohammad, a group with past links to Pakistan’s government. In January a similar attack on an air base in Pathankot killed seven soldiers. Islamabad has denied responsibility for both incidents.
After the Uri attack, some in Mr. Modi’s own party urged him to retaliate militarily against Pakistan. Instead he delivered a speech addressed to the people of Pakistan. Turning around the threat of Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in the 1970s to wage a 1,000-year war against India, Mr. Modi proposed the two nations join in a 1,000-year war against poverty, illiteracy and child mortality.
Mr. Modi was able to deflect war talk in part because his economic vision for India is bearing fruit, with the country’s 7% growth rate now the highest of any major economy. He enjoys an 81% approval rating according to Pew Research Center, which allows him to defy Hindu nationalists within his Bharatiya Janata Party. He also boosted defense spending, giving him political capital with hawks.
But even as Mr. Modi walked back threats of military action, he replaced them with a pledge to isolate Pakistan internationally if the military doesn’t stop supporting terrorist groups. He is considering the cancellation of the 1960 Indus Water Treaty, which protects Pakistan’s rights to the Indus River’s water. He could also withdraw most-favored-nation trading status, granted in 1996, that Pakistan has never reciprocated.
Mr. Modi’s cautious response to Uri is remarkable considering that before winning election in 2014 he castigated the previous Congress Party-led government for failing to take a tough response to Pakistan-backed terrorism. Since becoming Prime Minister he has pursued a two-pronged approach. He blamed the Pakistan military for terrorism, but has tried to forge personal ties with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. He invited Mr. Sharif to his inauguration and even jetted in last year to wish him a happy birthday.
Most important, Mr. Modi refused to accept the line peddled by Islamabad and the Congress Party that terrorist attacks are the result of India’s mistreatment of its own Muslim minority. While the Indian military does have a record of heavy-handedness in Kashmir, the weight of evidence suggests that the Muslim insurgent movement there would have faded without Pakistani support.
India has always enjoyed the moral high ground on the terrorism issue, but past Congress and BJP governments lacked the courage to assert it forthrightly. That led to a policy of “strategic restraint,” which meant that Pakistan would never be held accountable for its terrorist proxies, no matter how heinous their attacks.
Mr. Modi is practicing restraint for now, but Islamabad can’t rely on that continuing. Mr. Modi’s offer of cooperation, if rejected, will become part of a case for making Pakistan even more of a pariah nation than it already is. If the military continues to send arms and fighters across the border, the Indian Prime Minister will have a strong justification to take action.