Talking about Pakistan in India
Posted on 1-June-2011
Within a day of President Obama's announcement on 2nd May this year that the US special forces had hunted down and killed Osama bin Laden in a house in Abbotabad in Pakistan, the heads of the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force said that India had the capacity to mount similar operations against terrorist hideouts in Pakistan which are active against India. There followed days of discussions especially on the television channels in which all manner of people touted as experts on strategic matters, on international affairs or on Pakistan held forth on how India should adopt a more muscular attitude towards Pakistan than it has had, how the Pakistani establishment had now clearly been shown up as sheltering and colluding with terrorists of all hues, how Pakistan was showing signs of becoming a failed state. When later in May, militants attacked a naval base in Karachi, some in India once again talked of Pakistan as a failing state; others raised concerns about the safety of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal and India's defence minister said India was closely following the events in Karachi. All that noise in India about Pakistan in the wake of the killing of Osama sounded like either an excessive fixation with Pakistan or mere prattle--either way it was ridiculous that an incident that was bound to create problems between the USA and Pakistan and that was of no direct and immediate import to India should have caused so much of gabbing in the country. Perhaps the only reaction that should have come from India was a statement from India's Ministry of External Affairs to say that the fact of Osama bin Laden living in safety for five years in a house so close to important military installations of Pakistan in Abbotabad was a clear pointer to close links between sections of Pakistani armed forces and promoters of terrorist violence in different parts of the world, India included--a kind of I told you so.
One of my own reactions to all that gas was to think of a tale from Moghul India. The second Moghul ruler of India, Humayun, chased by the troops of Sher Khan, the Afghan governor of the province of Bihar, jumped into Ganga at Chausa in Bihar and was drowning. He was rescued by a bahesti , a water bearer. In gratitude, Humayun made him the ruler of his domains for three days during which he issued a number of important decrees and even issued a kind of fiduciary currency in the shape of coins struck on leather. If for some yet unimagined good deed of mine, the powers that control the destiny of India gave me charge of the country for only twenty-four hours, I would in that time issue only one edict which would be to ban all public discussion of Pakistan in India, especially discussions of the following kind: the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan in 1947 was a mistake for which Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel, Mohammad Ali Jinnah or the machiavellian British together or separately were responsible; inspite of all, people of India and Pakistan are ethnically and culturally the same and if there were more people to people contacts their differences would dissolve away; Pakistan is a rogue state which ought to be punished by the international community and by India unilaterally, if the international community does not act; Pakistan faces imminent collapse and India should brace itself for dealing with millions of refugees that will surely stream into India in such an eventuality; there should be contingency plans for securing Pakistan's nuclear weapons in the event of state collapse.
For good reason or bad, by accident or design, the leadership of the Indian Muslim League decided in 1947 to part from India and set up home separately, calling it Pakistan. The leadership of the new state of Pakistan could have settled on a course of economic development for its people. Such a course would have led sooner or later to greater economic and commercial co-operation with India--geography if nothing else favours such co-operation. Instead Pakistan chose a course which implied first of all doing everything it could to mark its difference from India, secondly seeking parity with India and thirdly, from 1952 onwards integrating itself into America's military designs in the hope of being able militarily to deal with the Indian enemy. Pakistan continues treading that path. Consequently, there have grown up in Pakistan powerful groups which continue looking backward at the processes that led to the partition of India--as late as the end of the decade of 1980's a president of Pakistan talked of completing the unfinished agenda of partition. Other equally powerful groups have continuously raised roadblocks against closer economic and commercial relations with India. And the the most powerful group of all in Pakistan, the Pakistani army, when not planning military adventures to wrest the vale of Kashmir from India--1947, 1965, 1999--busies itself preparing for dealing militarily with the Indian enemy. In pursuit of its goals it has, over the last two decades, enabled and used various groups in Pakistan to mount terrorist attacks in India with increasing frequency and ever greater audacity.
Given such a Pakistan, the most sensible attitude India can adopt is to assume that the Pakistani leadership--whether it is the civilians or the army which is in control in Pakistan is immaterial from the Indian point of view--is not going to change the policy it has pursued towards India for the last six decades. As a consequence India should concentrate on keeping itself ready to deal with Pakistani adventures against it whether through overt military action or through terrorist groups, without planning on any military action in Pakistan even for putting out terrorist camps there. India should, on past experience, also assume that there can be no peace with Pakistan unless it wrests Kashmir from India or finally accepts the quasi-legal partition of Kashmir established by the Simla Agreement of 1972. A third assumption that India should make is that the dynamic in Pakistan against closer economic and commercial ties with India is not going to change for a long time. There can be no worthwhile Indian policy initiative in the vain hope of strengthening the civilian leadership vis a vis the Pakistani army or the ISI--this is no more than a siren song. Cultural exchanges are harmless exercises as long as they are promoted without the illusory hope that they will lead to policy change. On matters such as facilitating travel across the border or offering assistance in the event of natural calamities India can afford to be generous and should be so. Above all India should continue talking to Pakistan--talking does not mean giving up positions while saying India will not talk will always create a public relations problem. The danger of Pakistan's nuclear weapons falling into the hands of extremists or the consequences of state collapse there are problems than can safely be left to the Americans to deal with, assuming that they will not lightly write off sixty years of investment in strategic relations with that country. If some day Pakistan has a leadership which is prepared to work for a closely knit south Asian economic community of a kind that can subsume bilateral differences within the region, India should welcome it. Till then India should just stop thinking about Pakistan, self-induce a kind of national amnesia about that country, as it were.
India and Indians have other, weightier matters to occupy their minds with. For Indians the most important problems to think of at the moment are all domestic. Some of these are: widespread poverty, malnutrition, endemic diseases, environmental degradation, educational and social backwardness, weaknesses in scientific and industrial research and extremely wide disparities in income. There are other newer problems such as a deteriorating female/male ratio in population. Above all there is an urgent need to cleanse India's political life and bring back to it a modicum of health. In 1950, at the founding of the republic of India, India's political leadership adopted the establishment of a secular, democratic republic dedicated to the well-being of all of India's citizens as its goal. Political commitment to that goal has remained. With all its shortcomings, the Indian democratic republic has not only endured but over the years gained in strength. India's economy has lurched forward, at times slowly, at others more rapidly, at times inefficiently and at others more efficiently. Lives of vast numbers have improved greatly compared to the time of independence. Some of India's citizens have grown wealthier than any other Indians in any other age. The economy has grown much stronger than before. Yet in spite of all that, it is obvious that to move to a higher level of economic and social development India must effectively deal with the problems mentioned above. It is questions like these that India's intelligentsia--journalists, academics, concerned citizens, diverse other members of the chatting class--and government should concern themselves with and not the fortunes of a neighbour led by a group of deluded generals.