India’s neighbourhood-first policy is meaningless if it remains disengaged from Pakistan

Published: April 17, 2017

India argues that Jadhav, who was sentenced to death by a military court, has not been given a fair trial.

The Kulbhushan Jadhav episode is no longer front-page news; it doesn’t even get air time on prime-time shows on various Indian and Pakistani channels anymore either. The issue once again brings to the fore how fragile the India -Pakistan relationship is. It shows how, in the absence of a mutual engagement, the subcontinent keeps careering from one flashpoint to another.

India argues that Jadhav, who was sentenced to death by a military court in Pakistan, has not been given a fair trial. Furthermore, Islamabad denied New Delhi’s counsellor access, despite repeated requests over the last couple of years. Pakistan says that he is a Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) agent and was caught inside Pakistan’s territory, therefore, he deserves the death penalty.

Spying is an ancient practice and each country deploys its intelligence operatives to keep a watch and create disturbances in enemy territories. But there is an international norm that governs how to treat an enemy agent. Citing the Vienna convention, many international affairs experts in India argue that India should have been given counsellor access to Jadav, and by denying that, the Islamic republic is violating international law and convention. Therefore, if the sentence is carried out, it would be premeditated murder.

Why has the Jadav issue become such a flash point between the two neighbours? The question is not about the life and death of an individual; it is about the larger politics of engagement and the absence of which puts the lives of millions of people in jeopardy.

There is no doubt that Pakistan draws a moral equivalence with India via this issue. New Delhi has always been holding the western neighbour responsible for spreading terrorism in India and outside, and therefore blames the Islamic nation for the downfall in the relationship. Pakistan presents the alleged Indian spy as a counter to India’s narrative. It wants the world to know that its eastern neighbour is not a saint but very much a sinner like me, and does not have the right to take the high moral ground when it comes to terrorism.

It is this one-upmanship which has been the stumbling block in talks between the two countries. A reflection of our history over the last three years will tell you how the relationship between the two countries has become a prisoner of political whims and jingoism, which has greatly damaged peace in the subcontinent.

When Narendra Modi assumed office, he started his tenure with a grand gesture of inviting the Pakistani leadership in his swearing-in ceremony in May 2014. This raised the hopes of the people on both sides of the border and it seemed like the new leader was guided by a novel vision for the subcontinent. Disappointment, however, came soon when India abruptly cancelled the secretary level talks, protesting against Pakistan’s bonhomie with the Hurriyat leadership of Kashmir. In 2015, hopes again soared high when Modi made an unscheduled stopover in Lahore to attend Nawaz Sharif’s granddaughter’s wedding. But the terror attack at Pathankot came as a spoiler and deafening jingoism in India snuffed out any hope of a dialogue. The lack of a dialogue process and the consequently deteriorating situation in Kashmir, along with the attack on Muslim minorities in India, further distanced the two neighbours from having any kind of peace talks.

In the absence of any long-term vision for engagement, the relationship between the two nations has been hurtling from one crisis to another. In order to refurbish his macho image, Modi has become a prisoner of jingoism; his government assumes a reactionary tone on the smallest irritants that come in its way. His regime wants Pakistan to contain terrorism and its terror network before any dialogue takes place. As a result, a ceasefire violation, a small terror attack becomes a flashpoint.

When the parameter has already been set so low, how can we expect the talks to make any substantial headway?

The Jadav episode has to be looked at from this prism. Had there been regular engagement between the two countries, perhaps Pakistan would not have used the alleged Indian spy as a stick to beat India.

It’s not Jadav who is in prison; it’s we, the people of the subcontinent, who are the real prisoners, the real sufferers.

This we can see in Kashmir today; how the deadlock between the two nations has delegitimised democracy in the valley, how innocent lives are being lost every day. The situation in the valley is such today that the writ of the Indian prime minister and the elected government in Srinagar do not carry any weight. A government, which should be benign and benevolent, has turned brutal. Mindless jingoism and nationalistic rhetoric have alienated a large section of India from Kashmir and honed an imperialistic mind-set towards the people of Kashmir. They demonstrate complete lack of empathy and sympathy for the masses who are at the receiving end of the government’s brutalities.

No doubt Pakistan plays a role in aggravating the problem and stoking anger among the people of the valley. The lack of interaction between New Delhi and Islamabad is essentially a recipe for disaster, as we see in Kashmir.

Stability in Afghanistan also suffers due to this bickering between India and Pakistan. A volatile Hindukush will not allow either of the two neighbours to live in peace. A visionary leadership either in Delhi or Islamabad would think of engaging the other to create greater opportunities for its masses. What is happening sadly is that both India and Pakistan are becoming camp followers of the western world to serve their geo strategic interests rather than catering to the interest of their own people, who elect them.

India thinks that it can isolate Pakistan at the international stage by raising the bogey of cross-border terrorism and the terror network inside the Islamic republic. The reality is different today. Islamabad has managed to court New Delhi’s traditional ally, Russia, and at the same time continues to be a hot favourite with the US, while China remains an all-weather friend. On the contrary, India is gasping for options. It’s a sad reality that India, which should have been playing a leadership role in the subcontinent, agrees to play second fiddle to the western world.

At the same time, it’s also a reality that the internal political dynamics between Islamabad and Rawalpindi continue to be intriguing. The question that comes up is whether the civilian government of Nawaz was kept in the loop about the military court ruling on Jadav or not? This fault line in Pakistan’s politics acts as a deterrent for any meaningful engagement between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.

India’s neighbourhood-first policy is meaningless if it remains disengaged from Pakistan. A nation which aspires to play big at the international arena cannot afford to be insular. The Jadav issue no doubt needs to be addressed but it can be done meaningfully only when there are talks between the two neighbours.

In my opinion, India needs to take the first step.


Sanjay Kumar

The author is a New Delhi based journalist covering South Asian and international politics. He tweets as @destinydefier (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Rahul

    Sanjay Kumar has started giving Foreign Policy advice as well! LOLRecommend


    wow, another intelligent, different from national policy maker.Recommend

  • Kulbhushan Yadav

    Pakistan has nothing to offer to India. No point talking to them. India should engage more with Bhutan/Nepal etc. who can cooperate with India to generate more clean energy.Recommend

  • Nadeem Rabbani

    Sanjay kumar analysis is poor.Recommend

  • Amer Lodi

    So reality has been spoken by an Indian. Well done Sanjay!!!Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    Yes, India should not ignore immediate western states. India needs to develop good relations with neighborhood entities such as Baluchistan, SindhuDesh and Pakhtunkwa. India needs to bring back Northern Areas and Pak Occupied Kashmir.Recommend

  • Aamir Ghaznavi

    Rahul….at least, he is talking senseRecommend

  • Ghazi Gul

    “India’s neighbourhood-first policy is meaningless if it remains disengaged from Pakistan.”
    Not necessarily as US and India are on the same page: They don’t plan to let Pakistan survive in the neighborhood.Recommend

  • Saeed

    India needs to behave like a big but benign country. It needs to provide space for smaller neighbours. So far what India has shown is that it is a big country with small heart. Had India not pursued its ill fated isolate Pakistan policy and been talking, Jadhav issue would not have become as big as it is now. By cutting off all links with Pakistan, India has lost any leverage it could use to save the neck of Jadhav.Recommend

  • angrybird

    give some advice to your wifeRecommend

  • Pradeep Bhanot

    What an analysis.Recommend

  • zoro

    Neighbours first “Ëxcluding Pakistan “….
    Get that fact straight iRecommend

  • Khan

    With due respect, you used word India for India but repeatedly used word Islamic State for Pakistan… Kindly see the present trend that which is getting into Religious state, regardless of faith, and which one is coming out of it. Hindutva (if I spelled correctly) is the new face of India…and surely it will bring big divide in India…that is positive sign for Pakistan… Pakistanis are thinking to change name of Pakistan back to pre 1971 to remove Islamic State word..but I am quite sure that India will soon follow post 1971 level of Pakistan soon. I know many readers are laughing while reading my comment but mostly people realize when damage is done. We have seen all this in Pakistan so can foresee where India is leading… good for Pakistan.Recommend

  • Gruham!

    If Pakistan has nothing to hide about the legal veracity of the death sentence handed down to Kulbushan Jadhav, why the hesitation allow consular access to him?

    That is the international practice among civilized countries, unless Pakistan acknowledges that it is a rogue state.,Recommend

  • abhi
  • Patwari

    Look, you already made your Rs.14.50 when this comment
    was posted by ET Just make sure you forward this to BJP
    office in Delhi c/o Amit Shah. he will issue you the check.
    Since you are in each and every blog on ET, you probably
    make enough for one idli and dosa every day. Plus rent for your
    room that you are renting from the RSS wallah. [remember no
    cooking allowed in the room…fire hazard]
    Life is good. One idli one dosa, and room rent paid on time,
    Now that must be ….nirvana.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Keep dreaming ,…oh! there! again! you lost your place in the long long
    toilet line. That will be another two hours now.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Well, see without solving the Hindu Desh Occupied Kashmir
    problem,…Bharat …er..Hindustan is going nowhere fast. Nowhere.
    You savvy?Recommend

  • Patwari

    Well, see, that is 5000 years of baggage that
    Hindustanis carry. invader after invader, in penury
    and enslavement by the Muslims for 1400 years.
    Then the British Raj,…even the French and the
    Portuguese somehow got a foothold in Hindustan.
    That is a lot of whammies,…….karma…Recommend

  • Patwari

    Because Hindustan does not allow Pak consular access to
    Pakistanis who are held prisoners [for any reason] in Bharat.
    Now, then, do you understand this?Recommend

  • Patwari

    Huh? Wha? Well, see, the average hindu need to be
    educated and informed. The author did a great job.
    What a wife got to do with all this?Recommend

  • Patwari

    Of course you have nothing to say.
    Typical inferiority complex.Recommend

  • Gratgy

    Going by your logic, at least he has a jobRecommend

  • Gratgy

    The threat of retribution is leverage enough with PakistanRecommend

  • Gratgy

    Whenever we have a neighborhood residents meet, we don’t call the neighborhood beggar, since he has nothing positive to contributeRecommend

  • Maj Akaash

    There is halo around Lord Sanjay, everyone has a right to opinion but please do not speak on behalf of 1.3 Bn Indians. I can smell the Leftist burnt heart here, but dear Lord spare us from your wisdom. ” a small terror attack becomes a flashpoint” in your thought , is a distortion of fact, for us we lost lives of men in Uniform – Kitchen Staff ( non combatants ) by combatants trained to kill. Have you ever lost someone in uniform, I guess there will be no one in your family in the defence forcesRecommend

  • Maj Akaash

    Dear Lord Sanjay, have you ever known a man serving in the forces, either Pakistani or India, my guess NO. Read Christine Fair and try to assimilate what has stopped India – Pak relations from being cordial. Modi the villain came in 2014, why it didnt make any progress under liberals like Nehru, Vajpayee, IK Gujral, VP Singh……..Recommend

  • FactCheck

    Anyone can bloviate unwanted foreign policy advise these days.

    The whole world except China is disengaged from Pakistan and all of them are doing just fine.Recommend

  • FactCheck


    As sovereign nation, India can choose its friends. How many friends does Pakistan have in the international arena?

    India should have isolated Pakistan long time ago.Recommend

  • Kulbhushan Yadav

    People like Sanjay Kumar are dime a dozen in India but are highly popular in Pakistan :-).Recommend

  • GKA

    But what is India to gain by talking to pakistan. Pakistan may gain surely, but nothing for India in it ? Perhaps India has more to lose through talks – Lahore led to Kargill, recent talks led to PathankotRecommend

  • Salim Alvi

    we come every morning to PakJab to relieveRecommend

  • Vectra

    Did India asked Mr Sanjay Kumar’s advice on Foreign Policy??Recommend

  • Scrutator

    He repeatedly mentions ‘counsellor access’ (so it’s not a typo), where in fact its ‘consular access’; he makes this mistake despite quoting Vienna Conventions

    The article is motivated more from political/modi-bashing perspective rather than from any understanding of geo-politics or a deep desire for lasting peace! Recommend

  • Scrutator

    India has always been way too kind to Pakistan and its people. People in Pakistan should wake up and decide what kind of country and relationship they want – right now they’re just brainwashedRecommend

  • ingeborg Malik

    This Rahul is carbon copy of Congress Rahul…Recommend

  • Scrutator

    It’s quite embarrassing to note that the author of the above article emanate from India!
    He repeatedly mentions ‘counsellor access’ (so it’s not a typo), where in fact its ‘consular access’; he makes this mistake despite quoting Vienna Conventions – which he obviously had no time or enough faculties to read!!
    The article is motivated more from political/modi-bashing perspective rather than from any understanding of geo-politics or a deep desire for lasting peace! The callousness with which he brushes aside the life of Kulbhushan Jhadav is cruel!! It’s the dimwittedness of people that has led to Pakistan assuming the demonic and out-sized role in tormenting India; where in fact Pakistan could have been cut to size long and shown its place in geo-politics long back!!
    What is the point of repeated ‘engagement’ when Pakistan can happily perpetrate Mumbai attacks, Kargil, Pathankot, Uri etc etc. Pakistani politicians will keep asking India to ignore their pet rabid dog that keeps sinking its teeth into India’s flesh and continue to give the political class legitimacy via dialogue! India needs to stand firm that unless Pakistani politicians can reign in their army/i-s-i and deliver on the promises they make at the table then there is absolutely no point in wasting time at the table.
    Remember that just after Vajpayee drove to Lahore, Kargil was inflicted on India; just after Modi went to Lahore, Pathankot was inflicted on India!! For to not even acknowledge the lengths that Indian politicians have gone to keep peace and to fo-oo-olishly lay the blame of the prevailing tension on India’s actions is highly irresponsible and reprehensible!!!!Recommend

  • Scrutator

    Your censorship is too much!!!!!Recommend

  • Gruham!

    If you really want to prove otherwise, then give examples of consular access denied by Hindustan in Bharat.Recommend

  • Patwari

    But,..see…er…well,…they don’t use ‘dimes’ in Hinduland.
    Dimes are used in US. By Americans. Who are your new
    Lords and Masters. Must commend you on picking up the
    US currency terminology fast. It behooves you hindus.
    It’s just a matter of time before every rickshaw wallah and
    idli and dosa seller will be talking dollars and cents.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Prove to who? You? Well, see, you ain’t worth it.
    to go about proving something that is in the rags
    er…newspapers every single solitary day. But since
    YOU don’t read papers aside from trolling, then it;s
    not much of a going concern is it?Recommend

  • Gruham!

    Doesn’t matter if I “ain’t” worth it… cannot prove anything.

    I don’t read newspapers published by Madrasas anyways, though there may be plenty of fantasy stories in those “rags”…..every single solitary day.Recommend

  • Gruham!

    Historic enslavement by the Muslims….the biological results of which continue to live and populate Pakistan now.Recommend

  • Parvez

    That certainly will not be liked by many Indians reading it. Reminds me of a story :
    One of my former bosses was at an exclusive private club in Delhi at the time of partition and he vividly remembers very senior Indian officials, sipping their whiskey sodas , telling him not to go over to Pakistan because in a matter of days or weeks at most, Pakistan would crumble and come crawling back………70 years have passed but this mindset has not gone and until it does matter will not improve.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Strange,…what are you, a hindu, doing reading this ET?
    The “ain’t ” was a deliberate. It’s called slumming.
    Means getting down to the Hindustani Cultural level.
    You savvy?Recommend

  • Gruham!

    Hindus read ET for amusement. It is deliberate…just to watch Pakistanis trying hard to get even close to Hindustani cultural level.Recommend

  • gp65

    Factually incorrect. Consular access was offered for Kasab. Pakistan who was claiming that Kasab was not Pakistani refused the access. Later the entire transcript of the court trial of Kasab was provided to Pakistan. No such thing has been provided to India in this case.
    Please provide one case where Pakistan sought consular access and India refused.Recommend

  • gp65

    “Hindustan is going nowhere fast. Nowhere.”
    Except that it is. India is the fastest growing large economy for the 8th quarter in a row. At the start of Modi regime, it was the 10th largest economy in the world and in 3 years it has become the 7th largest economy in the world in nominal terms. India is also the largest recipient of greenfield FDI two years in a row.Recommend

  • gp65

    Hindutva is not a religion,Hinduism is. Hindutva is a political philosophy which has the following features:

    1) Anyone born in India should be loyal to the Indian land and not owe allegiance to a primary religious figure head be it a Caliph or Pope.

    2) No matter how you worship, there should be one vote per person (Jinnah wanted a greater weightage for Muslims because they were erstwhile rulers – a stance rejected by Savarkar the father of Hindutva)

    3) Caste system practiced by Hindus is wrong and should be discarded.

    You seem well meaning but please provide me one reference from Pakistani parliament that indicates that “Pakistanis are thinking to change name of Pakistan back to pre 1971 to remove Islamic State word”. Are you also planning to remove the 2nd amendment that makes Ahmadis as constitutional kafirs? What about Objective Resolution which greatly predates 1971 and which implies that non-Muslims are inferior in Pakistan?Recommend

  • Patwari

    With all due respect,[conferred only to YOU] your comment
    does not make sense. It’s strange indeed.
    Normally, a state requests access if one of it’s citizen is in
    custody or incarcerated [for whatever reason] in another
    Done through consular channels. Done diplomatically.
    To begin with, Hindustan was adamant, almost belligerent,
    forceful, insistent that the Pakistani diplomats MUST meet Kasab! Huh? Was there a political agenda? Point scoring?
    Did the Pak Embassy asked for access? No.
    If the Pak Embassy refused then that was the end of story.
    What was the point of granting access? It could have been granted to Martians, Aliens from another galaxy. Yetis.
    No need to keep beating the drums and do the saber dance
    Perhaps Bharat also provided transcripts of the trial to Mali,
    Fiji, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Nepal, Somalia, South Africa…..
    all the Eskimos, Siberians….Japanese?
    Currently there are two Pak women in Hindustani jail. For
    last 9 years. One of them even had a baby girl. Who lives
    with her mother in jail. Story was in Dawn 2 weeks ago. Bharat will not provide consular access so these women can get documents to travel back. A Pak teenage fisherman is rotting in a Hinduland jail in Somnath, because he can’t get a passport, He is denied consular access. His father is in jail too. Both were picked up fishing near Sir Creek.
    The point is, you did not make any headway. Plain and simple.
    However your opinion is valuedRecommend

  • Patwari

    A nation of two billion hindus is left behind by the economy of
    the US state of California. Something to ponder there.
    Modi Sarkar is reaping the benefits sowed by Manmohan Singh.
    These will soon peter out. Then it will be blame the Muslims. Blame the Kashmiris, blame the Christians, blame the Dalits, blame the Untouchables
    Plus blame the Bollywood Khans. And then in full swing Ghar Wapsi, Love Jihad, Save the Cows,
    Eat no Meat. No More Mcdonald’s, Down With KFC. Idliis and Dosas Only.
    [But it’s the truth is it not?]
    So sorry.Recommend

  • Sami Shahid

    Give Ajit and take YadhevRecommend

  • Salim Alvi

    PakJab is isolated from its immediate neighbors, Pakhtunkhwa, SindhuDesh & Balochistan. Bharat is PakJab’s enemy for next 1K years. Recommend

  • Patwari

    Look like the hindu moderators ar ET mangled
    the comment to please their Hindustani brothers
    and sisters.Recommend

  • Sane

    Kasab was you own person. He was not even Muslim. One member of your security agency Kurkure knew this and about to tell media about the conspiracy. You killed Kurkure.


  • PorkSmasher

    If kasab was indeed an Indian, then why did Pakistan suaght cRecommend

  • PorkSmasher

    If kasab was an Indian then why did Pakistan saught a consuler access for him. I remember the jio tv shown his village and his family in Pakistan, but later on the video was asked to delete by Pakistani army, and suddenly at some point of time Pakistan asked to provide consuler access to him. At least Kasab was tried in civil court rather than military court if Pakistan don’t have to hide anything then why didn’t the trial was done in civil court in open and free atmosphere. You can kill one kulbhushan Jadhav, but remember there are lot many Pakistani coming to India for better medical treatment and better opportunity the incident will force India to adopt Pakistan policy .Recommend

  • Sane

    Don’t misguide people. Pakistan never asked for access to him. Since Ajmal Kasab was Hindu and Indian, Pakistan has nothing to do with actors of the staged drama by Indian security agencies backed by Indian Govt.

    Who killed Karkare and why?Recommend

  • Ruby

    This guy cannot even spell ‘consular access’.Recommend

  • Kulbhushan Yadav

    Pakistan has no legal claim on Kashmir. It was for anyone to grab. You grabbed the trash of Kashmir and we got the waters sources. So keep crying foul but no one can make India give up Kashmir. Not yesterday, Not today and not in future. We’ll make sure that dead weight of Kashmir drown you Pakistanis.Recommend

  • gp65

    Geo TV interviewed Kasab’s family in Pakistan. Pakistan government has not denied that Kasab was Pakistani, only the conspiracy theorist Zaid Hamid has.Recommend

  • gp65

    First of all, population of India is 1.3 billion NOT 2 billion. Secondly, India’s GDP at $2.4 trillion is not lower than California. Thirdly, no one in India denies that per capita income in India is nowhere near US and so even if California’s GDP had been higher – what would it have proved?
    You can keep hoping that India’s growth will peter out. Reality is that things are only getting better under Modi
    India’s rank on World Competitiveness Index by World Economic Forum climbed from 71 to 39 under Modi. India’s rank in Corruption Perception index under transparency international climber from 94 to 79 under Modi. India’s rank on Travel and Tourism competitiveness by World Bank under Modi climbed from 65 to 40.
    Manmohan Singh left India with slowing growth rate, high non-performing loans in bank and embedded high inflation. Modi has addressed 2 out of three problems and is working to resolve the 3rd.Recommend

  • Patwari

    In spite of the flowery language and the super human
    accomplishments of Modi Sarkar, described by you in
    such glowing terms, the fact remains,…these are pure
    conjectures. If even half of what you wrote is true, then
    the he must be an awesome creature to behold.
    Because according to you he accomplished in two years what no other hindu leader was able to do, in last 70 years.
    You have lost Kashmir. that is guaranteed.
    Rest assured Bharat ne Hindustani Desh is going nowhere
    Because the Hindu occupied Kashmiris will not rest now.
    They are a bleeding wound for Hinduland. You do simply
    do not treat Kashmiris as dogs or as second class citizens.
    You have lost them.Recommend

  • PorkSmasher

    You must have to watch a Geo news documentary on YouTube where they clearly shown Ajmal Kasab village and later on the channel was forced to remove the video. But on YouTube you still can see the videoRecommend

  • Kitchen Sink

    HAve you been honeytrapped by ISI? You seem to be writing defending Pak at every possible half opportunity and never India. You say there is no long term vision for engagement and I want to ask you – How can India have unilaterally this vision when every other day Pak sends its terrorist to attack India? What is your solution? Imagine your son or daughter in a soldier. What long term plan do you propose? In my view – take bull by the horn and show them their place. If it means sacrificing a few, so be it. We are doing it anyways through Pak sponsored terrorismRecommend

  • LS

    It sounds sensible only to pakistanisRecommend

  • LS

    They will continue to hide behind the marauder’s history rather than speak about their pathetic history where whey were ruled by everyone else. Even after independence they were a vassal state of US and now of China.

    There was never a Muslim King or dynasty originating from what is pakistan today. They were always ruled and governed by someone else. The only exception was Hindu Sindh principality which held on to its borders for very long time.Recommend

  • LS

    Terrorists get treated like terrorists. We don’t house arrest them and give secure locations to live comfortable life. We just get rid of them.

    We are not trying to convince you about our growth the world indices are doing a great job of it and those who matter are looking at it. Those very indices rank pakistan pathetically at the bottom of the list mostly below Bangladesh. Kashmir does not contribute anything to our economy.Recommend