Current General Studies Magazine: "Think Like the Neighbour" February 2016

Current General Studies Magazine (February 2016)

General Studies - II "International Relations Based Article" (Think Like the Neighbour)

It is not surprising that terrorists struck Bacha Khan University on the death anniversary of the Gandhian it is named after. Though Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan was a devout Muslim who had declared his allegiance to Pakistan despite initial opposition to the Partition, much of his time after 1947 was spent in its jails. Though the Frontier Gandhi died in Peshawar in 1988, he was buried by over 2,00,000 mourners not in Pakistan but in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

The trajectory of Frontier Gandhi’s life provides an interesting anecdotal peek into the modern nation-state called Pakistan, where its conformity to the concept of both nation and state is incomplete, and complicated. Lack of nuanced understanding of those realities, and more importantly its significance vis-à-vis India’s own strategic interests, among Indian decision-makers has resulted in successive governments struggling to formulate a credible and continuous policy on Pakistan.

Narendra Modi’s government is only the latest to swing wildly in its responses, bitterly divided and incoherent in its assessments. The result is that in the global bazaar of opinion-making, the India-Pakistan hyphenation is almost fully back. And at home, much of the time and capabilities of the government, especially the security and diplomatic establishment, are being devoted to dealing with Pakistan.

Understanding our neighbour

A better understanding of Pakistan’s own security concerns could help policymakers in India frame a stable engagement strategy with its most important neighbour of the day. Pakistan’s security strategy is built around a perceived existential threat from India. According to its narrative, since the birth of the two countries in 1947 India has been an aggressor on at least three occasions, dismembered it, humbled it militarily repeatedly, built nuclear bombs that can wipe it off the map, and has been subjecting Kashmiris to humiliation. Over the years, India has also amassed over half a million military personnel in Kashmir who could any day walk across the Line of Control, they argue. Further, Pakistan also frames a significant part of its security narrative around subjects such as rivers that flow across the border too.

In February 2010, the then Pakistan Army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, spelt out what the country’s army is meant for. He acknowledged it remains an “India-centric” institution and that reality will not change in any significant way until the Kashmir issue and water disputes are resolved. He recounted the bitter bilateral history, the various unresolved issues, and India’s military capabilities, including the so-called Cold Start doctrine, among the reasons why the Pakistan Army plans “on adversaries’ capabilities, not intentions”.

How have they planned? Pakistan today spends a quarter of its tax collected on the military in some form or the other. It continues to juggle with budget numbers, but the fact remains that the 6,00,000-plus active military personnel, 5,00,000 reserves, and the large military installations are a huge drain on its economy.

The Pakistan Army is not just an armed military service, but it also runs businesses and the nation itself. While it has carried out repeated assaults on Pakistan’s democracy, it is also the only institution capable of holding Pakistan together. Over the years, steeped in its deep insecurity of India’s defence capabilities, Pakistan’s military has also developed effective and disproportionate capabilities to bleed India.

Among them is the flourishing industry of churning out militants to fight and die. Thanks to large funding from the U.S. and Saudi Arabia starting in the late 1970s, it mastered the art of creating cannon fodder, called mujahideen, for modern political causes, and misinterpreting Islam to unleash terrorism on a scale probably not seen ever in history. The modern-day instruction manual for this appalling retail licence for violence was written by the Pakistani military. The U.S., Saudi Arabia, many other countries, but chiefly Pakistan, are all paying for the sinister interpretation given to jihad.

Since the Taliban regime was overthrown in Afghanistan, over 50,000 Pakistanis including military personnel have been killed by domestic terrorism that is walking into its schools and universities with frightening frequency. According to one estimate, terrorism may have bled Pakistan of about $100 billion since 2001. About three million Afghan refugees continue to be a burden on Pakistan, and drugs and small arms are flourishing in the Islamic Republic.

The importance of terror groups

However, to expect that all those are reasons enough for Pakistan to control militancy targeted at India is simplistic. Organisations such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad were created and nurtured by the very same Pakistan Army and the intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). These groups continue to serve a critical function at the core of the army’s security doctrine, of fighting for the Kashmir cause, of checkmating the much bigger Indian military, and keeping its neighbour occupied on various fronts.

Even if the Pakistan Army leadership finally is waking up to the armed non-state actors biting back, will all of its components fall in line without any delay? Given the high stakes the Pakistan Army and the ISI have in their country and their historic role in military coups, it is but a given conclusion that they are not monolithic organisations, but pulling in various directions despite the veneer of discipline. That would explain why terrorists of the Jaish-e-Mohammad, which was repeatedly involved in trying to assassinate General Pervez Musharraf, were able to walk across the Indian border without any trouble.

The terror groups are very still effective in unsettling India. A few hijackers were able to humiliate the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in the last week of 1999. Just 10 terrorists in November 2008 were able to create so much havoc in the Indian economic, diplomatic and security establishments that the reverberations will continue for years more to come.

Engagement, the way out

India has to be realistic in its approach towards Pakistan. And for that, it has to first of all define its own permanent interests, something that the Indian establishment has failed to do to date. Does the Indian security doctrine centre on the responsibility to ensure robust and efficient economic growth that would enable a dignified life for everyone living within its borders, and protecting its interests around the world? Or does it hinge on staging jingoistic performances that would win its leaders elections? Is it to annihilate Pakistan, or to ensure that India is able to play whatever role it can in helping Pakistan emerge as a stable democracy, which in turn would be the best guarantee that the recalcitrant neighbour is kept in control? Does the Indian security doctrine hold that a stable and democratic Pakistan is in India’s best interest? Or does it advocate the collapse of Pakistan? And if so, has it factored in the consequent destabilisation and probable scenario of millions of refugees pouring into the most vibrant economy in the region?

If a democratically stable Pakistan is India’s best bet, then it is a long way off. Until Pakistan reaches that destination, what is India’s best option? Rhetorical flourish about wiping out terror and the threat of responding to Islamabad in the only language it understands?

Over the last decade or so India was de-hyphenated from Pakistan, and was increasingly bracketed with China in global discussions. It may have been cosmetic, but it discharges many useful functions: from impressing global investors to enter the Indian domestic market to reducing the amount of resources spent on plotting responses to Pakistan and countering terror originating from there. In the long run, hyphenation with China and de-hyphenation with Pakistan would perhaps broaden the perspective of our security establishment and help it shed its appalling biases against minorities and others with grievances, and basically ensuring that India truly adheres to its Constitution.

It is almost four decades since the concept of BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement) entered negotiation classrooms, but it doesn’t seem to be a key element in the armour of Indian dealings with Pakistan. The Indian government first needs to define what is India’s BATNA vis-à-vis Pakistan? If there is no continuous diplomatic engagement, then what? Is it continual war against mostly suicide bombers who can spring nasty surprises even against the finest standing army in the world? What about India’s own national goal, which presumably must be the centre of its security doctrine, of pulling its impoverished millions out of their miserable existence?

It’s time to ask whether India has been playing to the Pakistani security doctrine all these decades instead of scripting its own.

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