Why peace with Pakistan is difficult, if not impossible

8:15 PM, Saturday, July 18th, 2015

Pak Border ResidentsThe Indian and Pakistani prime ministers met at Ufa in Russia on the sidelines of an international summit and decided to resume dialogue. Indians have seen this drama of talks alternated by tensions or a terrorist attack in India so many times that it is difficult to be optimistic this time.

Why is it so difficult for the two neighbours to have normal relations?

Here is an attempt to clearly outline some underlying factors and realities that are the cause of a troubled relationship.

Six of the seven nations in this region are territorial status quo powers, minor border disputes notwithstanding. Pakistan is a revisionist State that seeks to alter the territorial status quo in Kashmir through force (overt or covert) and openly backs separatists there.

For a long time it dreamt that India would break up and that it would be the predominant power in the region. Off the record conversations of even a rational ruler like Ayub Khan is evidence of this. Pakistan found willing listeners to this fantasy in its Western allies who also believed likewise.

India is the home of a unique Indic civilisation and is not a mere nation State. India is ten times larger than the other States in the region and its pre-eminence is an existential reality.

India has sought political and military power (including nuclear weapons) in order to safeguard its independence of decision-making in the political and economic sphere. In that sense, her approach to military power has been minimalist.

Pakistan consisted of four Muslim majority provinces in undivided India that seceded in 1947 after the departure of British imperialists. It sees its military as the sole safeguard of the nation and its ideology of being the ‘homeland’ for the subcontinent’s Muslims. Since the 1998 acquisition of nuclear weapons, it also sees itself as a ‘Fortress of Islam.’

Most of the period of her existence, the military has ruled Pakistan, directly or indirectly. The military rule is justified on the basis of an ongoing threat from India. Military cadets at Pakistan’s military academies learn that the very reason for Pakistan’s existence is the ‘liberation of Kashmir.’

Since 1998 Pakistan has been erecting replicas of missiles named after Ghauri, Abdali and Ghaznavi at major street intersections (named after Muslim invaders from the Afghan provinces of Ghowr, Kandahar and Ghazni).

Thus, an adversarial relationship is a necessity for continuing military dominance has been carefully nurtured over the years. Economic, social or political reform/progress has been a low priority for Pakistan.

Throughout the Cold War and later during the Afghan War (1979 to 1989), Pakistan evoked American power to strengthen itself militarily and American and Gulf aid to survive economically. The Gulf oil boom also helped. Close to 20 per cent of its GNP at one time was contributed by money orders from the Gulf.

With the end of the Gulf oil boom and the end of Cold War, Pakistan’s economy has been growing at around 3 to 3.5 per cent while the population continues to grow at 2.5 per cent annually. The armies of unemployed and unemployable youth have found a vocation in jihad.

Lack of democracy and predominance of the military has meant that scarce resources have been diverted to defence at the cost of economic and social sectors.

These retrograde forces have gone unchallenged so far. Even if the social and political reform process begins now, its effects will only be apparent within 20 years or one generation.

For the short and medium term, Pakistan will continue to remain the breeding ground of terrorism as socio-economic forces, combined with radical Islam, forms a volatile cocktail.

The cult of suicide bombing is an effort on the part of radical Islamists to rectify the technological imbalance vis-a-vis the State. The goal of the radical Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan is to overthrow the existing order and replace it with Islamist ideology. Even those opposed to the violent means have deep empathy for this ultimate goal of the Islamist forces. The extraordinary success of Al Qaeda or now the Islamic State or the Taliban cannot be explained in any other way.

Why is it that Pakistan, that is one tenth the size of India, constantly strives for parity with India and feels threatened?

Bangladesh, a Muslim majority country of equal size to Pakistan, does not feel threatened by India (in terms of Indian invasion and absorption) nor for that matter tiny Bhutan or Nepal. Why does only Pakistan feel that India is threat to its existence?

Why does a slum dweller in Karachi feel it his religious duty to cross the border into India and kill women and children or attack the Indian Parliament?

The roots of Pakistani hostility go beyond the Kashmir issue.

In the immediate aftermath of the war of independence of 1857, in which the Muslims played a prominent role, the British implemented policies that marginalised the Muslim military class. But within 50 years, as the Hindus began to vociferously demand freedom, the British began to tilt in favour of Muslims.

Yet it is to be noted that the British raised many battalions on regional lines (the Gorkhas, Sikhs et al). The clever imperialists were careful not to have pure Muslim units in the British Indian Army.

In October 1906, a Muslim delegation led by the Aga Khan met the Viceroy and demanded separate representation for Muslims. Not just that, this delegation also insisted, and the Viceroy agreed, that the scale of this representation should not depend on their numbers but should take into account their past (of having been the rulers) and political importance. The Muslim League was established to press these demands that very year.

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