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Thursday, December 2, 2021

Peace talks

Dangerous nonsense


Public discourse on India and Pakistan is gripped by serious fallacies
PP SHUKLA, IS A FORMER TOP RANKING DIPLOMAT | Issue Dated: September 8, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : Kashmir issue | Indo-Pak ties | ISI | Terrorism | Peace talks |

As tensions rise between India and Pakistan, the usual arguments are being repeated on both sides of a serious divide in India on how to deal with that country. The reason we are unable to get the relationship right is that the country and the public discourse is in the grip of some fallacies that we have adopted unquestioningly. What follows is an attempt at busting some of the myths.

It is argued that if India were to adopt a firm line in responding to Pakistani provocations, that would only play into the hands of the military and the ISI-sponsored terror networks. A bit of history will be useful here. Since the Army took power in 1958, it has been in effective control of security policies without let-up till today. There have been some moments, though, when the military was weakened. One was in 1971, after the defeat in Bangladesh. The second was in 2011, after the US incursion in Abbottabad, to kill and snatch Osama bin Laden. On that occasion, the head of the ISI had been forced to apologise to the Pakistan National Assembly and offer to quit. Both these were occasions when hard power had been exercised against the army, and it had been defeated. Indeed, this is a basic rule of statecraft: when you defeat a policy, you defeat the authors of that policy.

It is also sometimes formulated in terms that suggest that peace is vital for the Indian economy to grow. Again, history is a good guide. We had peace with Pakistan in the 1970’s, and indeed, Gen Zia-ul-Haq called it the golden period in Indo-Pakistan relations. And yet, the decade of the 1970’s was the bleakest in the economic history of independent India. By contrast, the period after 1993 has been the most turbulent in the subcontinent, and this has been the period of the best Indian economic performance.

Pakistan has maintained its own pace through this period, somewhat better than India in the 1970’s and significantly worse since the 1990’s, to the point where it has become the sick man of Asia. There is no correlation between the rates of growth in India and Pakistan or with peace. And there is logic in this. There is little trade between us – for India the total trade turnover with Pakistan is less than 1% of our global trade turnover of US$ 600 billion.

Time was when it was the Americans who used to tell us that this or that leader was our “best bet” – it started with Ayub, and thereafter, we did not need to be told. We sold this hokum to ourselves. After Zulfikar Ali Bhutto – the man who promised a thousand-year war, it was Gen Zia. And so goes the dreary cycle – it turns out it is now in our own interest to strengthen Mian Nawaz. This begs two questions: is any leader worth strengthening at the cost of our own interests, and can it be done by any outsider? The proposition that we need to strengthen this or that leader is dangerous nonsense. It was in this mistaken belief that even as shrewd a leader as Indira ji was led astray at Simla in 1972. Her laudable motivation was to shore up Bhutto, who, in turn, would keep his promise to settle the Kashmir issue on terms acceptable to both sides. But just as soon as he could, he turned his back on the understanding, and we are paying in the blood of our soldiers and innocent citizens for the misplaced generosity. Yet again, the same Bhutto’s subsequent career is instructive on the second point too: by 1977, he was overthrown, and by 1979, he was executed.
 Voices are being raised that we need to help Mian sahib strengthen his position. No, we do not need to, and we should have the modesty to accept also that we do not know how to go about it. Ignoring hostile acts and going ahead with business as usual will not strengthen him; in all likelihood, it will weaken him and further embolden the army. Then about not changing geography. This is especially hard to understand, coming from India. We have seen geography change right from the dawn of Independence. The creation of Pakistan itself was a change of geography, and a very important one, from our perspective. Then China became a neighbour, and Tibet was removed from the map of sovereign countries. Bangladesh emerged in 1971. All three happened right on our borders, and yet we keep saying one cannot change geography. The point is that we should be clear that, contrary to our officially-stated position, we have no interest in a strong, stable, united Pakistan. We cannot hold it together if it is on the way to becoming a failed state.

What we need to do is to prepare for this contingency, should it arise. The Pakistanis frequently mention that they have lost 40,000 lives to terrorism, of which 4,000 are soldiers. This is a figure of losses over at least a decade, and works out to some four hundred a year on average. That is admittedly a large number, but not such a number as to deter an army from its strategic goals.


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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017