I’ve often observed that most of the commentators on India-Pakistan relationship view it from a very narrow prism of their own world view of geopolitics. While the hawks take a hardline approach and call for military action, the doves & peacenicks are in a perpetual hope for talks. And more often than not, such statements are made just after an event, be it some breakthrough in talks between the heads of the states, or, a terrorist attack. In my opinion, this is a very myopic view, given the history of Pakistan, which itself is mired in contradictions. Through this piece, I want to highlight the various dimensions of Indo-Pak relationship, and perhaps, attempt to provide some measures. I do believe that some of them have already been employed to a great success. However, anybody looking to find a coherent strategy to deal with Pakistan is in for a disappointment, since it’s a very dynamic and complex situation. Here are a few dimensions that are worth noting:
a) History (creation of Pakistan, Bangladesh debacle) – Pakistan was founded on the basis of an Islamic ideology for the Muslims of the Indian-Subcontinent. Anybody telling us facts contrary to this is a hogwash. In early 1920s, the Muslims of this region extended their full support to the Khilafat movement happening thousands of mile away, and, also had the patronage of leaders of that time, for instance, MK Gandhi. While that movement failed in Turkey, it did sow the seeds of an Islamic Caliphate in the Indian Subcontinent. This event was followed by large scale massacre of Hindus in Kerala by Moplah Muslims, and, more such incidents in Bengal (Direct Action Day), in the later years. In short, creation of Pakistan meant an irretrievable breakdown between the two nations. The people of India adhered to their dharmic ancestry (well, most of them), people of Pakistan started to claim an Arab descent, and, proclaimed themselves to be legal heirs to the legacy of Mughals. This is taught in Pakistani schools till date, and, they have to live up to the expectations set as a self-proclaimed custodians of Islamic Umma. Given this synthetic unity, no wonder that they required a unifying language, Urdu, to trump over the local languages of different regions. This, coupled with the arrogance of Punjabi Sunnis to hold on to power and economic institutions finally led to the creation of Bangladesh, where people outrightly revolted. The direct fallout of this revolt was massive suppression & persecution of Bangladeshi Hindus & liberal Muslims by Pakistani Army, which resulted in migrant crises of epic proportions for India. To handle this, India did finally intervene and fought a war with Pakistan in 1971, where they were defeated miserably and 90,000 of their soldiers were captured by just a couple thousand of our soldiers. The Pakistanis, especially, their Army elite hasn’t forgotten that drubbing. And hence, the doctrine of ‘bleeding India by a thousand cuts’ by Zia Ul Haq still holds good today.
b) Kashmir issue & Indus Water Treaty – Right after the partition, Pakistani Army invaded the then independent estate of Jammu & Kashmir using tribals. The reason given back then was that since it was a Muslim majority area, it was natural that it merged with Pakistan. While the then king of J&K, Hari Singh wanted to remain independent, he reluctantly signed the instrument of accession in favor of India. The matter should have been closed then and there since this was the same instrument of accession that was offered to other princely estates too. If it was valid for them, by the same logic, it was valid for J&K too. However, Jawaharlal Nehru, in a bout of self-grandeur, did not allow the Indian Army to recover the lost portion of PoK, and, took the case to the UN on ill-advise of Lord Mountbatten. Rest is history. However, the Pakistani claim to J&K is not really about people, so for instance, a major chunk of people in Leh-Ladakh region are Buddhists, in Jammu region are Hindu/Sikh, even in Muslim dominated areas, there are quite a few Shias. None of these communities ever expressed their wish to join Pakistan. Even the so called “Azad” Kashmir is governed indirectly by Pakistan via a proxy government, and, Gilgit-Baltistan, directly by the Federal government. So much for the claimed “autonomy” to these regions. Given this fact, the real deal for Pakistan is the geography of the region, especially the rivers that flow through it. Under the Indus Water Treaty, Indus, Chenab & Jhelum are under Pakistani control and India can not just construct a dam, or, divert water for irrigation without keeping Pakistan in the loop. However, this does give India, a leverage, in an eventuality of a conflict with Pakistan. The Pakistanis are well aware of it, and faced with permanent famines in one region or the other, want total control over these rivers. The situation has become trickier now since China has promised to invest $46 Billion in CPEC, and, quite a bit of this route passes through G-B, which is a disputed territory, hence, there are legal & people issues.
c) Military-ISI-Civilian Government-Terrorist complex – They say that a state has a military, however, in case of Pakistan, the military has a state. The Army in Pakistan is a prime example of an elitist and a feudal mindset. All other institutions, whether representing democratic ethos or otherwise, exist to please the army elites and their lackeys. Even the so called democratically elected government of Pakistan can not appoint a Prime Minister, who doesn’t have the patronage of the men in the uniform. ISI, with a facade of intelligence organization is actually a terrorist organization, used to run the covert agenda of the Pakistani Army. The other terrorist organizations such as LeT, JeM, LeJ, Afghan Taliban are just extensions of this agency. With a forced synthetic unity of the state of Pakistan, there came multiple internal & external threats, for which, ISI was created. It’s no secret that the Army uses ISI, on one hand, to brutally suppress internal insurgencies, for instance, in Baluchistan, and, on the other, to liaise with various other extremist Islamic organizations in India Sub-Continent and beyond. It has been proven beyond a shadow of doubt that insurgency in Kashmir & Punjab had ISI written all over it. Operations of ISI are not only limited to that, and, it is also involved in Hawala channels, fanning communal hatred by funding Madrasas & other propaganda machinery (NGOs). Claims have been made to such an extent that some Indian politicians and media persons are on the payroll of ISI. Given the current state of affairs, such claims look quite credible. It is important to note here that the Pakistani Army, and by that extension, ISI, is dominated by the Sunni Punjabis. Being a Punjabi myself, one thing I can safely say is that we tend to wear our egos on our sleeves. Having a bruised ego is even more dangerous because it causes a perpetual state of anxiety to seek revenge. It’s the deep rooted inferiority complex in this organization due to defeats in various wars, to achieve a parity with India on global scale, and, to maintain their fiefdoms, which drives the hatred. In order to achieve this, they need to remain relevant and above the civil government, with no questions asked on the budget and the nature of operations. Hence, existence of a permanent enemy is a very convenient excuse, and, India fits the bill. This is exactly the reason why there is a very fragile democracy in Pakistan and a largely missing middle class with a backbone. The few who try to stand up are silenced using the state actors (often termed as “non-state” actors). This is not going to change anytime soon.
d) Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asia – Barring a few years of Taliban rule in Afghanistan & economic sanctions on Iran, India has shared fairly good cultural & economic ties with both of them. Pakistan, on the other hand, has always sought to establish a strategic depth in Afghanistan, right from the times of the US-Russia standoff in 70s-80s, when mujahids were trained by ISI to fight against the Russian forces. When that ended, Pakistan sought to use their protégés as a power center in Afghanistan, to marginalize Indian interests. Some of the trained mujahids were also packed off to Kashmir in late 80s, early 90s, to fuel an insurgency, which was later passed off as local Kashmiri struggle against the Indian state. Iran and Pakistan relationship has see its own ups and downs, especially since Iran is a Shia majority, while Pakistan being Sunni dominated. Unfortunately for India, all roads to Afghanistan, passed via Pakistan, since it’s a land locked country. Iran was a little easier, since it has a coastline and we’ve been able to dock our ships there. Afghanistan & Iran are our passage into Central Asia, and, herein lies our problem. In absence of an alternate route to reach over to Afghanistan and beyond, we are constantly at a mercy of Pakistan, to let the goods through. Central Asia is well endowed with natural resources, especially, oil & natural gas and we would like to tap into them for our energy needs. However, unreliability of a rogue state in the middle puts a spanner in our plans. This is the reason why ‘I’ in TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) pipeline is dead on arrival. Having said that, all is not lost and there is a ray of hope. More on this later.
e) USA, China – Both these countries have played sugar daddies to Pakistan at one point in time or the other. USA supported Pakistan throughout the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, to the extent that it simply glossed over the information about secret Pakistani nuclear plans, shared by Mossad & RAW. US also sought to hedge Pakistan against India due to our close proximity with a Communist Russia. Later, when the USA declared a war on terrorism in the wake of 9/11, Pakistan had to reluctantly ally with them, although they were paid for the services rather handsomely, while playing both the sides. So essentially, during the later years, Pakistan became a necessary evil for them because, yet again, all roads to Afghanistan passed via Pakistan, which became an essential lifeline for the NATO forces fighting there. US is still playing ball with Pakistan despite several red flags because it doesn’t really want to loose the assets it nurtured in the region for a long time, and that, it also wants to keep an eye on the Chinese activities in Pakistan. In the meanwhile, Pakistan is still milking them by projecting that it is fighting the war against Afghan Taliban by launching a sham operation called ‘Zarb-e-Azb’, which apparently, has killed more civilians than terrorists due to carpet bombings. No wonder then TTP is targeting the Pakistani establishment.
China has its own strategic interests in the region of finding a reliable way to meet its energy requirements. The route via South China Sea is fairly long and China is in dispute with Several countries in sharing the waters. A land route proposed via CPEC would benefit China in this regard. Another angle worth considering is that like the USA, now China is also hedging its bets on Pakistan against India. The idea is to keep India engaged in low intensity conflicts (be it Kashmir, Nepal, Arunachal Pradesh) so that we are not able to fulfill the larger economic goals, so essentially, a strong India is antithetical to Chinese hegemony. In addition to this, China also wants to keep and eye on the ETIM cadres operating in its Xinjiang province along with local Uighurs, who have found a base in FATA & NW. However, the way Chinese operate, Pakistan would be yet another vassal state.
f) Bleeding hearts in India – This is the worst thing that could ever happen to India, simply because, this is the enemy within. These are the ‘Aman ke Aasha’ cadres who are always lapping up any opportunity to light candles, hold peace marches and attend track II diplomacy events, helping themselves with chai-pakoras. Some of the people in this category are plain simple good hearted ignorants, others, as already mentioned, might be working at behest of vested interests. Nonetheless, both are dangerous. These are the same people who would highlight the plight of even a dog in the Kashmir valley, yet, would keep a carefully studied silence when it comes to rights of Kashmiri Pandits. If India has been unable to deal with terrorist threats effectively, I would squarely put the blame on this category.
Having gone over the various dimensions affecting Indo-Pak relationship, there are a few things we can do to safeguard our National interests. Please note that some of these are already a work in progress, so just reiterating for the sake of providing a comprehensive list.
1) It should be within our reach to pin point the locations of jihadi camps in PoK and other bordering areas. We should actually undertake limited surgical strikes on these camps. I don’t believe that Pakistan would be willing to bring out it’s Tactical Nukes against these strikes, simply because these are their territories. The idea is to get in there, do the deed and get out, just don’t get caught. If it’s done in “Azad” Kashmir, they should not really bitch about it, after all, it’s “Azad”. If we are already doing this, I’d say, keep up the good work! (It’s best if media coverage is avoided.)
2) For high value targets such as Dawood Ibrahim, Hafeez Saeed etc. we need to find an insider who would do the deed for money. Even spending $5 million per head is not a bad deal. Promise of a new life on some beach town in Indian Ocean Region should be tempting for someone.
3) On one hand, carry out such strikes, on the other, keep taking to them just to appease the International Community and our bleeding hearts. Please remember that we also need to attract FDI, and, a semblance of peaceful atmosphere is a must for that. Pakistan may have already been branded as a state sponsoring terrorism, but we have everything to loose by allowing things to escalate. At the same time, our diplomats need to keep working on isolating Pakistan in the International Community by making loud noises about complicity of Pakistan in terrorist attacks. Lately, quite a few of terrorist attacks all over the world have a link to Pakistan in some way or the other, works for us.
4) Perhaps, it’s about time that we step up the heat on Pakistan by taking the plight of Baluchistan to the UN. We’ve defended our position on Kashmir for a long time now, let the Pakistanis feel the pain. It might also not be a bad idea to invite the Baluch separatists in exile for talks, the way their High Commissioner to India meets Kashmiri separatists. It is a myth that a stable Pakistan is good for India, the only Pakistan which is good for India is a balkanized one. The sooner it happens, sooner we go about doing our business.
5) A re-look at the Indus Water Treaty is long overdue. It was signed when our food and energy requirements were different, however, with a growing population, we need to cater to the growing demand of the people of that region. Moreover, if China can revisit the Brahmaputra water usage, we have a strong case. This would also take care of the bravado some Pakistani generals display on TV channels while brandishing their nukes. You try to nuke us, we stop the water, go figure.
5) Strengthen the hands of Sheikh Hasina in Bangladesh. Land Boundary Agreement with Bangladesh was a brilliant step. She is cracking down on Islamists close to Pakistan and also engaging with India on matters of economy & energy. We need to help her destroy Khalida Zia and her affiliates. We simply can not afford to fight wars on multiple fronts.
6) Find an alternate route to Afghanistan via Chabahar as soon as possible. While this deal has been in works for years, it did not move much due to US sanctions on Iran. Now that the sanctions are almost gone, we need to expedite the process. Granted Iran would want to raise the stakes and ask for more concessions, as more players have entered the scene, we should be able to make some allowance keeping our strategic interests in mind. Iran is in any case, wary of Pakistan, we need to leverage this situation to our advantage by increasing people to people contact.
7) Keep the goodwill in Afghanistan running. Ghani, during his initial days, tried to cozy up to Pakistan, but, having seen their treachery like his predecessor, is looking towards India for help. I believe we did well to give him space to explore, waiting patiently for a turn around. We need to keep the momentum going with any help possible, except putting boots on the ground.
8) While I’m not too hopeful, China does understand the threat, jihadi factories across Pakistan pose to the Western province of China. However, if it’s willing to overlook our interests in G-B, we need to up the ante in Tibet. At the end of the day, China is not in a position to get into a full scale war, or, a direct conflict with India. However, the minor irritants would continue in the Eastern borders, and, we can counter that by aggressively developing the NE.
9) Go after the domestic ISI network. There was a news recently that some BSF jawaans have been arrested for colluding with ISI. I’m quite sure this is not the end of it and there are some big names involved too. While their complicity may not be directly apparent, they operate at a totally different level. For instance, through hawala channels funneling money for the jihadis. An obvious example is the nexus between Bollywood and underworld dons. Granted that the hawala money trails are hard to track, an agreement with some of the tax havens and some Mid-East countries, for instance, UAE, could help us tighten the noose around such people.
In conclusion, I’m not really an expert, however, neither are most of the arm chair journalists who rant about one thing or the other while sitting comfortably in their studios. It’s important to question and pull up the government when there is some serious lacuna, but, it’s plain stupid to question each and every move, because, most of us civilians are not aware of the intricacies of a situation, and, we definitely don’t have the big picture while assessing a specific event.