Dialogue  April-June, 2015, Volume 16 No. 4


Indo-Pak Relations: Prospects of Pak Changing Course


Wilson John*



India’s relationship with its immediate neighbour, Pakistan, has been fraught with uncertainty and distrust. India’s attempts to reach out to its difficult neighbour since 1947 have met with frustrating antagonism and war. Rarely has Pakistan responded to these overtures positively. And when it did, it has been with an ulterior motive to harm India and its interests. The result has been that the India-Pakistan relations have stood still at a crossroads, going nowhere, for more than half a century now.                                                                                                                                    
           The question is: Can the new government in New Delhi change this, bring about a dramatic change in the equation and find a way to break the impasse which is harming not only both the countries but the region as well?  
          The primary reason for the ‘twain shall never meet’ is the nature of the state in Pakistan and its unchanging ways. The genesis of the state itself was fraught with violence and mistrust. Religion became the founding principle of its creation. Its birth triggered massive violence on either side of the newly drawn border, a legacy which continues to haunt the people of the subcontinent.                                                                       
          Two features defined the new state of Pakistan in 1947. One was the dominant position of Pakistan Army which it achieved, by default, by being the only credible, coherent institution. Second was the question of identity—was Pakistan a country for Muslims or an Islamic state?            

The army, since 1947, has managed to retain its dominance by subverting attempts by the civil society to create a democratic state by engineering coup, through threats and bribery and projecting the deceptive image of a “saviour.” One of the key instruments used by the army in expanding its predatory nature was religion and the so-called religious proxies, many of whom were allowed to create armed wings. Two such groups are noteworthy—Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Lashkar-e-Tayyeba.                                                                                                                        

Using religion as an instrument of state policy was not accidental but a calculated move. Acutely aware of the artificial construct of the state and its founding principle, and the distinct ethnic, linguistic and sectarian differences within the society, the Army wanted to create a point of unity under which the country can be brought together. Thus, the army, in the early years of its independent existence, abandoned its secular legacy of the British Army and decided on a hybrid nature of the state. This was a state where the Army projected itself as a “guardian” of the state as well as ‘protector’ of the country “from the evil” designs of India, while enjoying the perks and privileges of a mercenary, corporate force.                                                                            

For the army to maintain this grip over the state and its policy, and justify it to the people, it chose two means—one was, the most obvious, to create and sustain an unmitigated animus towards India and second was to assiduously steer the sub-continental religious identity towards a more radical and exclusive Arab Islamic identity. This further complicated the already existing identity dilemma in the society—denial of a common cultural and historic heritage of the sub-continent. This found resonance in the comments made by the Justice Munir Commission in 1953. On the question of what constitutes an Islamic state, the ulema in their testimony to the commission enquiring into the causes of anti-Ahmadiya riots in Lahore, were deeply divided.                                      

The fallout of these policies was momentous for the state. The army’s supremacy became fait accompli. The country saw the steady rise of the religious right of all hues and shapes further limiting the space for a liberal, democratic polity to sustain and grow as cherished by the country’s M.A. Jinnah. The hostility against India was consolidated further with the army, in collaboration with the corrupt and inept civilian leadership, raising the bogey of Kashmir and the imaginary threat of a Hindu India strangling Pakistan. Pakistan fought four wars and lost and suffered even more grievously from the separation of East Pakistan (Bangladesh) in 1971, rejecting the very concept of religion forming the basis of creation of Pakistan. But so deep-rooted and extensive is the hatred sown in the minds of the people that India, not the US or Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) which has killed more Pakistanis than anyone else, remains the Enemy Number One.                                       

It is apparent that this ‘state of mind’ is the single biggest influence on Pakistan’s relationship with India. Any progress in the bilateral relationship, therefore, must, essentially call for a mindset change among the leadership as well as people. It is also obvious that this change can only be brought about by the most dominant state actor, the Pakistan Army. This leads us to the most critical question: Does the army have any incentive to make amends?                                                                                 
        The answer to this question is a worth exploring. Between the years 1947 (August) and 1971 (December), Kashmir was the predominant factor in the bilateral relationship. Pakistan wanted Kashmir as one of its provinces, not for the stated reason of it being a Muslim-dominated area but for the geographical fact that Kashmir was the singular source of water for Pakistan. Major General Akbar Khan, who launched the ‘kabayali’ attack on Kashmir within months of Pakistan’s creation, said so in as many words in the book he wrote on his misadventure. For the Punjabi Generals in Pakistan Army, Kashmir was the jewel they lost.            
        As the years went by, the Army tasted its first coup and then realised that the people, howsoever gullible and weak, do not have infinite patience for their brutal and self-aggrandising ways. General Ayub had to step down. So did others who followed him. The last one was General Pervez Musharraf who was literally hounded out by the public. One lesson that the army drew from these experiences, some time back, that they cannot take the public for granted. They needed a reason to justify their domineering ways and the rapacious privileges the Generals enjoy at the expense of the large swathes of poor and helpless people. They chose to demonise India and raise the spectre of India taking over Pakistan. This kept the people in check—the wounds of Partition are still raw.  
        But it was the 1971 debacle and the creation of Bangladesh which riled the Generals most. It was a gloriously ignominious defeat for any army which projected to its people that it was an invincible army; it was an army of Islam which kafirs cannot defeat. But it did get defeated; Not only that, the army lost nearly half of the country which it boasted of protecting at all costs. This was not something the army has forgotten. The army’s proxy war against India, its criminal and desperate ways to acquire nuclear weapons and its decisions to work for the US and China—like one commentator said Pakistan was willing to be a mistress to anyone who paid—were all influenced by the defeat of 1971. The army can forget Kashmir but not 1971.

      Many in India hoped, and continue to wish, that things would change for the good in Pakistan. When Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee decided to call for a unilateral ceasefire and open a composite dialogue with Pakistan, it was a sagacious decision. The engagement with Pakistan, he knew, was essential for India, if not for Pakistan. So India had to take the first step. A seasoned politician that he was, Vajpayee knew that Pakistan cannot be trusted to be left alone. An engagement distracted the enemy, created confusion and helped India in the international fora.    
      There was of course a hope, very tenuous, that these positive gestures could bring about a change of policy within the establishment in Pakistan. Dialogue between the adversaries flourished at multiple levels during the Musharraf era (1999-2007), there was a general sense of bon homie and a tiny flicker of hope that perhaps the two countries can put their bitter history behind. Then the November 2008 attack on Mumbai happened and all the pretensions dropped. India had no doubt that the attack was masterminded by Pakistan Army. Pakistan first outrightly denied involvement of any Pakistani citizen and then, after it became known that the attackers were Pakistani citizens and members of Lashkar-e-tayyeba, the Generals blamed it on ‘rogue’ elements.              Many in India accepted this facetious argument, knowing fully well that there are no “rogue” elements in the army but the army itself is “rogue.” Through a campaign of denials and falsehoods, Pakistan sustained the narrative of “innocence.” For reasons best known to the Indian leadership, India chose to accept the argument that the attack was carried out by terrorist groups and not by the state, knowing fully well that LeT enjoys full support and patronage of Pakistan Army. The Mumbai attack, by any definition, was an act of war and should have been responded with thus.      
        Within months of the attack, India had opened the dialogue through the track 2 mechanism. The Indian leadership view was that India had no choice but to talk to its neighbour, Pakistan and a continuous engagement perhaps could bring about a change of hearts. Needless to say, it was a fool’s errand. It was a wishful thinking and a futile prayer as subsequent events showed.                                                                            
         It was Pakistan Army which was in need of ‘truce’ on the eastern border with India because it had other preoccupations on its western front. Terrorist groups in the tribal areas had become a serious threat and had to be dealt with. A significant number of troops had to be committed to keep up the offensive in north and south Waziristan for the last few years, especially since June 2014. The international forces were leaving Afghanistan, leaving open the door for Pakistan to revive its ambitious ‘strategic depth’ policy—keep India out of Afghanistan, create a buffer zone to counter any future Indian military incursions or attacks on Punjab. In addition, Pakistan wanted to make the entry of China into the region easier.

        Pakistan, therefore, was keen that India should resume the dialogue. Its High Commissioner in India went out of his way to woo the Indian leadership and media houses by making tall promises. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was quick to accept the then Prime Minister-designate Narendra Modi’s invitation for his swearing-in; even the army gave the go-ahead to Sharif. The Track 2 meetings flourished; so did positive stories urging India to press ahead with dialogue began appearing in the Indian newspapers. Interestingly, the write-ups were authored by the same set of journalists who have been writing in a similar vein for ever now, unaffected by terrorist attacks and Pakistan’s intransigence on many fronts which harmed India’s interest.                                           
         Soon enough, the attack on Mumbai in November 2008 became just a footnote in the history of bilateral relationship. To many it was an irritant which had to be dealt with. Alongside began a stream of thought in India’s strategic community that Pakistan would be compelled to change its attitude towards terrorists, if not India, because it was now a primary target of a set of terrorist groups operating out of its own territory, especially alongside the Durand Line. The Army made some noises which strengthened such an idea. General Ashfaq Kayani termed terrorism a bigger threat than India. To many it sounded like a paradigm shift. His successor, Raheel Sharif said he would leave no stone unturned to defeat terrorism. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif claimed there would be no distinction between terrorists who are targeting Pakistan and those who do not.                                                                         
         Much of these sentiments came forth after the December 2014 Peshawar attack in which over 170 young students of the Army school were massacred by terrorists. A few months down the line, these assurances have vanished into thin air. The state has continued to make the distinction between terrorist groups—ones who target India are ‘good’ and those who target Pakistan are ‘bad’, including good and bad Taliban (TTB). The army, even while launching a military offensive against TTP in June 2014, avoided targeting the Haqqani Network, the Afghan Taliban, Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. They are all against India, particularly the last two created with the sole objective of targeting India.                                                                                              
          In the recent days, the army has gone to great lengths to accuse India of supporting the `bad` terrorists. The Generals want to open up `Kashmir front.` So does the civilian leadership. The LeT is active again in the border areas with regular media reports of terrorist leaders seeking recruits and funds from villages and towns along the Indian border. The Pakistan Army has activated its sleeper cells in Kashmir and elsewhere to re-ignite terrorism in the Valley and outside. An atmosphere of fear and suspicion is being created in Kashmir with the help of these sleeper agents and ‘friendly’ separatist groups.                                           
      This time the attack is double edged. Even as Pakistan is busy consolidating the terrorist groups against India, it has launched a high-profile blitzkrieg against India by blatant accusations that India was fomenting trouble in Pakistan. General Sharif has carried such tales to Washington and Beijing in the recent days. Prime Minister Sharif has been saying similar things to any one who is willing to listen. The tirade against India is systematic and this time around very aggressive. It is another matter that there is no iota of evidence to support such allegations. One thing, however, is sure: India is back as Enemy Number One.                                                                                    
      It is not hard to see why. If ‘milk and honey’ flowed in the Indus, between India and Pakistan, there would be less justification for keeping a disproportionate military force which eats away most of the budget in a poor country. A friendship with India would certainly spell trouble for the Army’s domination of everything in Pakistan. The Generals will have to confine themselves to the barracks and not swagger around, passing orders to all and sundry. They of course cannot give themselves heft bonuses post-retirement. They cannot remain immune to the law.                     The civilian leadership also benefits immensely from propagating hatred towards India. It allows the corrupt and inept politicians to go scot free. Whipping up frenzy against India is one sure way of winning votes and hiding their ill-gotten wealth and wayward ways. There is no evidence of either the civilian leadership or the Generals giving up the predatory lifestyle.

      Given the above circumstances, it is futile to expect any change in Pakistan’s attitude towards India. Does it mean that we should not talk to Pakistan?                                                                 

       Pakistan is too dangerous a country to be left alone. India cannot wish away the rogue country. It has to be dealt with a firm hand. The dialogue must therefore be reopened. The objective of doing so should not be lost in the hype. Nor should it be made apparent.                          
       But some things must change in the manner in which Pakistan is dealt with. First of all, Pakistan should not have a place of primacy in India’s strategic calculus. Pakistan is an important neighbour; so is Nepal, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka. An equanimity in relationship is essential.                                                                                                                      Second, India must move away from the traditional hot and cold policy towards Pakistan. Rational thinking and not sentiments should govern India’s actions or otherwise. India has a strategic vision for itself and neighbourhood plays a critical role in achieving such a goal. Pakistan being part of this neighbourhood therefore should be dealt with accordingly. Three additional factors in relation to Pakistan must however be kept in mind. One that it is a nuclear state; second that it is a terrorist-sponsoring state and third that it has an abiding relationship with the US, China and Saudi Arabia.                                                                      
       Third, as is obvious from the above two, Pakistan needs to be dealt with multiple instruments—diplomatic, political, strategic and military. These instruments can work independently at times and in collaboration at different times. The end goal should govern the modalities and not vice versa.                                                                         
       Fourth, a key missing point in India’s policy towards is leveraging its heft in the neighbourhood to stress out Pakistan.                                           
       Fifth, and not the last, is how India can work on its expanding relationship across the globe to make difficult for Pakistan to play mischief. Ensure a heavy cost for any intransigence on its part.


*Wilson John is Senior Fellow with Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. He can be reached at wjohn60@gmail.com


Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)

                                               Astha Bharati