Friday, January 18, 2013

Dealing with the Neighbour from Hell - Dangerously Naïve, Naively Dangerous


PP Shukla 
(Joint Director, VIF) 

There has been a veritable barrage of opinion, hectoring and outright abuse from the pro-Pakistan segments of our media activists in the print media over the recent flare-up along parts of the LOC. This requires a substantive and fact-based debate, and an answer to some of the arguments put forward by the pro-Pakistan elements that have written and spoken so passionately on the subject in recent days.

The essence of the arguments put forward by the supporters of the Government policy may be summed up in three principal lines of reasoning. The first is that there is a change inside Pakistan, and this is driven by a realisation that hostility towards India has not paid, so it is time to look at the alternative and to improve ties with India. The second line of argument is that if India takes a tough stand towards Pakistan, it will weaken the moderates, those who want good relations with India. The third line is that this Prime Minister’s policy is actually very wise, and is an example of profound realism. Further, that is it this realism that has established an asymmetry between India and Pakistan in the international discourse.

First: the supposed change inside Pakistan has been much commented upon. Among the pro-Pakistan elements, this is coupled with a conviction that the nationalist segment of opinion in India is too blind, or biased, to see this. The core argument is that, after years of sponsoring terrorism, Pakistan has itself become a victim, and is therefore now ready to drop its earlier policy of promoting terrorism, and seeks a new relationship with India. Pakistan, in this telling, has lost forty thousand lives to terror, and is more victim than sponsor. Pakistan’s economic problems are also part of the reason for the change in mood. All through 2012, we were also told that proof of this change was that Pakistan had given MFN treatment to Indian exports, and there was more to follow. 

The reality is different. The easier point to dispose of is that Pakistan has not given MFN status to Indian goods; even though that is an obligation they have under the WTO and was backed up by a Cabinet decision early last year. This, by the way, also illustrates Pakistan’s approach to its solemn international obligations, which we would be wise to bear in mind as we go forward in our dealings with them, for example, on the TAPI gas pipeline project. It also illustrates our approach: for sixteen years we have unilaterally extended MFN treatment to Pakistani exports to India, and we have not even taken Pakistan to the WTO dispute settlement for its refusal to give our exports MFN status. In short, as always, we have indulged Pakistani violation of the law. The pro-Pakistan elements are not talking about this now, but it is easy to imagine how they would have touted this – had it happened – as evidence of the change they profess to see.

As to terrorism, there is absolutely no evidence that there is any change in Pakistan’s approach to sponsoring anti-India terrorists. They continue to protect and promote the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the other tanzeems that have India as their target. Equally, they continue to sponsor the Taliban and their allies in Afghanistan, and to good effect, judging by the recent developments in the Afghan issue. 

Here, too, the core argument needs to be stripped away: the forty thousand killed over the last ten years is supposed to have induced a sense of the danger from their erstwhile irresponsible policies in the minds of Pakistani leaders. The reality is that this statistic covers all sorts of incidents, including the drone attacks, sectarian killings, and innocent civilians. Among the uniformed forces, the death toll is six thousand over ten years – high, for sure, but not all that much, and certainly not enough to make the security establishment change its mind. The direction of events is clear: judges who pronounce verdicts against terrorists have to flee the country, or seek shelter somewhere; killers of highly-placed officials are showered with petals when they come for trial. It is not surprising that a well-known Pakistani analyst, and an arch nationalist, was forced to lament “the fundamentalist Islam that now seems to hold sway in our unfortunate country.” No, it is more probable that those who advocate a soft line on Pakistan are the ones who are missing the real change inside that country, not the sceptics.

Finally, there is the contrary reality; the growing power and aggressiveness of the religious establishment inside Pakistan. The same people in India, who talk about the growing sectarian killings as one of the factors inducing a sense of responsibility among Pakistani policy-makers, seem to suggest that this is some kind of exogenous phenomenon, and that the poor victims are now asserting themselves. But no, the growing power of the religious extremists is endogenous, and is the more powerful reality inside Pakistan. The minorities - Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, and the Shia - in that country have the scars to prove it. To suggest that there is a growing sense of moderation in Pakistan, while ignoring this powerful fact, is itself to hide from the reality.

Most important of all, we have an easy test of real intent and real change: the Mumbai 26/11 trials. Whenever the Pakistan establishment gets serious about tackling terror, all it has to do is stop playing ducks and drakes with this issue, and we shall all get the message. Sadly, what we are seeing is the opposite. One Pakistani leader advises us to move on and stop being emotional about it, another suggests that there is some kind of linkage between 26/11 and Ayodhya; these are clear signs that, for Pakistan, there is no give on anti-India terror. We are also seeing that the Maoists are now getting weapons from Pakistan. It is hard to discern in all this any let-up in the sponsorship of terror by Pakistan. It is up to us to face this reality.

The second argument is about the moderates and the need for India to strengthen them. The first issue here is – just who are the moderates? It is quite droll to see that when the media in India wish to project a Pakistani moderate, they have to reach out to the cultural fringes of society, a Sufi singer, or an anti-Establishment writer, or some such. All the others who appear on our television screens, former bureaucrats, journalists, lawyers, etc, are all as hawkish as any serving official, civil, political or military. By contrast, you can see any number of Indian mainstream figures among all these professions who argue for a soft approach. There is thus a first issue of exactly who these moderates are, and whether they have any meaningful existence at all. 

Secondly, the presumption is that if you turn the other cheek, you strengthen the moderates, while a hard response plays into the Army and the hardliners’ hands. This deserves closer examination. Even the most recalcitrant on our side among the friends of Pakistan will concede that turning the other cheek is more or less what we have been doing, at least since the days of the Gujral Doctrine, which – without the name – was continued by the subsequent NDA and UPA Governments. The Pakistani response was to give us the Kandahar hijack, the attack on Parliament, train bombings, and - the culmination – Mumbai 26/11. Finally, now there is the beheading on the LOC, and not for the first time at that. One question that arises is - how long before the moderates will be sufficiently strengthened so as to give us some degree of civilised behaviour in our bilateral ties? The pro-Pakistanis are silent on this. This is wise on their part, for the reality is that it is not working.

There is another fact to be considered here. The Pakistan Army has been weakened twice in the recent past, once in 1971, and again after the US raid on Abbottabad in May 2011. Neither happened after the other cheek was turned; they happened after a successful military action against the Pakistan Army. And this illustrates the most fundamental principle of statecraft: you defeat the authors of a policy when you defeat their policy. Hitler was not weakened by the policy of appeasement followed by Chamberlain; it took pressure and finally, force, to fix the problem. Our elites, such as they are, are innocent of statecraft, but they should at least have the humility to learn from history, our own and that of other parts of the world. 

The third argument is the suggestion that this appeasement is really an example of “profound realism” – this is an exact quote from one of the pro-Pakistan elements in recent days. While on the subject of “realism”, it really needs to be emphasised that what we have seen in terms of the joint anti-terror mechanism, and the Sharm el-Sheikh Statement, with its incomprehensible reference to Baluchistan, are hard to defend and justify as examples of realism. Both ideas have been ignored and allowed to lapse in the subsequent engagement, and amen to that.

The writer of the above piece goes on to suggest that this policy of profound realism has altered the perception of India and Pakistan in global opinion, and has altered, too, the earlier symmetry between the two countries in the eyes of international opinion, so that India is now seen as the more attractive and responsible country. This is indeed happening to some extent, and is welcome. But the logic of the argument is highly doubtful: not more than one in a thousand would disagree with the proposition that the asymmetry is a result of our economic growth in the past decade above all, especially contrasted with Pakistan’s poor performance in this field. Our democracy, our soft power, and our military strength, are the other elements in this mix. Realism does not really make the grade. One could make the argument, instead, that the weakness we have displayed has actually worked in Pakistan’s favour. The western accommodation of Pakistan over Afghanistan is evidence of this. The sad truth is that all countries, starting with Pakistan, take it as a given that India will remain passive in the face of any security challenge, no matter what.

And then to be accused of jingoism! That is truly the unkindest cut of all. Here is how the term originated, in a bar room song that was popular in the pubs of London in the late 19th century. “We don't want to fight but by Jingo if we do/ We've got the ships, we've got the men, we've got the money too”. None of our leaders has said anything that even remotely qualifies to be called jingoism. Our Prime Minister, with every show of reluctance, has just said that it cannot be business as usual with Pakistan. This, too, came after intense TV and popular pressure. The point is, this is the minimum that any democratic leader could say. And there are already early hints that we are slipping back into opening a high-level dialogue. 

Quite apart from domestic pressure, there is also the straight question of what India should do, if we were to follow the prescriptions of the pro-Pakistan elements. What solution do the friends of Pakistan have to offer? A careful search of all the comment from that side of the argument suggests that there is really no answer, no solution, to this. An editorial in a misleadingly-named newspaper suggests the following: 

“Not every malaise has a cure; some can only be managed better or worse, and certainly not through indiscriminate blood-letting. India’s relationship with Pakistan is one of them.”

And that is exactly what is so wrong with the position of the pro-Pakistan segment of our society. Press hard enough, and the doves have to admit that they have no solution but to continue to suffer it as long as Pakistan continues to dish it out. 

And yet, what the current outrage in India shows is that there is a large body of opinion, neither hawkish nor dovish, that does not accept this counsel of defeat. The problem with the debate is that the pro-Pakistan opinion seeks to posit only a straight two-way choice. We can either talk, or we are war-mongering. As to talking, the problem is first, that they are going nowhere. Clearly, our primary interest is in ending terrorism against us, and it must be clear to all that this is something Pakistan will not give us satisfaction on. Their interest is in Kashmir, and it is clear that we cannot give them satisfaction on this. Of the other subjects, the talks have produced only limited results, and a good case can be made for an altogether new platform for talks in the future. 

This is not war-mongering, as the Pakistanis say – and their cry has been taken up by the doves in India. No, between appeasement and war, there are myriad choices, including, for a start, restricting the level and scope of the talks themselves. There are, besides, many economic, diplomatic, and other means available as well. We could reduce the sizes of the High Commissions in the two countries, and that would curb some of the inimical activities of their Mission; we could also pull out of the TAPI project, which will cripple Pakistan’s energy strategy for the future, since no energy project is viable without India as a stable long-term buyer; there are many others as well, including sub-conventional activity, to match what Pakistan has been doing for decades. In other words, it is time to try a different mix, and work some disincentives into the formula, since that has been completely absent for many years now.

Lastly, the fact is that no one wants wars. Yet, they do happen. It is unwise in the extreme to be unprepared for such an event, especially for one who lives this close to a seething cauldron of religious, social, ethnic and economic turmoil. This is a contingency that the country must also be prepared for.

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