The article in the British press that “Pakistan Army is reaching out to India”, as reproduced in the Indian press is so out of the blue that Indian analysts would be forgiven if they don’t believe it.The report is based on a piece by Pakistani analyst Kamal Alam, a visiting fellow at the UN-based Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), who is writing on the current situation in his country. This is contrary to the nature of events in the Indo-Pak relations so far.
Every time Indian politicians in power have tried to go out of the way, during the rule of both major national parties of India, it is the Pakistani army that has sabotaged any progress towards peace. Pakistan’s best known analyst and a former diplomat Hussain Haqqani’s much-commended book Pakistan: between Mosque and Military (2005) and more recently Reimagining Pakistan (2018) have revealed how the army controls policymaking in that country.
The most damning evidence that keeping up the tension between India and Pakistan is essential for the Pakistan army’s dominance in the politics of the country has come from US author Christine Fair’s well-researched book Fighting to the End: the Pakistan Army’s Way of War and reports from several other internationally known experts.
Events that followed every effort by Indian prime ministers, Vajpayee in 1998 and Narendra Modi now, to go out of the way and promote peace have been sabotaged by the Pakistani army to create tension, even a war-like situation. And in all such episodes, it was Pakistan which had to suffer humiliating defeats.
Since 1947 till this day the same scenario has been repeating itself, only the dramatis personae have been different. Vajpayee’s journey to Lahore in 1998 was followed by Kargil when the Pakistan army had to cover up its defeat with the removal of the civilian regime by General Musharraf. The year 2016 saw PM Modi taking the initiative twice to restart peace negotiations and the Pakistan army organising an attack on the Pathankot Air Force station.
With the Pakistani army behaving like this event after event in the last 70 years to this day, no sensible person in India would welcome the same army suggesting that New Delhi should respond to, as the Pakistani analyst says “in a historic first, last month” of reaching out to India.The evidence he presents is at best too flimsy to go down the hardened Indian mind—hardened by decades of bitter experience. Evidence number one is the Pakistani army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa inviting the Indian military attaché in Islamabad. Sanjay Vishwasrao, and his team to the Pakistani military parade in the Pakistani capital.
The second is that as Alam puts it, “In a sign that strained ties are warming up Gen. Bajwa followed this two weeks later by saying the Pakistan military wanted peace and dialogue with India.” The third: Both countries will participate in the joint military drills organised by Russia in its territory in which the Chinese—the new-found saviour of Pakistan after the US President Trump blocked the annual $2 billion aid to Pakistan—will also participate.
The analyst’s reading that these events are part of the deliberate shift of Gen. Bajwa’s policy ever since he became the army chief in November 2016 requires more evidence since in these 16 months, the border and the LoC incidents between the Indian and Pakistani armies have been on a constant rise.
The analyst also quotes Gen. Bajwa’s own statement at RUSI to buttress the idea of a change in Pakistani army’s attitude to India. Time and again several observers of Pakistan have held that the army itself feels insecure when compared with its counterpart in India.
Gen. Bajwa’s statement to RUSI, “Pakistani army is no more insecure and feels confident of its future” can’t be taken at its face value despite the implied admission that much of its earlier comments were due to the insecurity that others have pointed out in its conduct.
After the recent talks between PM Modi and Chinese President Xi, the regional situation can change if the Chinese keep in check their aggressive hegemony on the one hand and are able to persuade their friend Pakistan to change its ‘crush India’ mindset nurtured over decades and truly seek to work with it.
Economically, free trade between the two countries could very well moderate prices in Pakistan for several commodities that the citizens cherish and cannot get via Dubai. Not only that, it could set off a chain of unforeseen events that could bring peace to the border and enable Pakistan to control its own terror-spewing fundamentalist organisations which play havoc with civil society in the subcontinent, including Pakistan.
The Pakistani fundamentalists daily challenge civilian power by bombing rival mosques during prayer time. The whole country has its civilian power strained by rival claimants to policymaking between the all-powerful army and bomb-trotting clerics, each claiming to uphold the dominance and majesty of Islam.
The claims made by analyst Alam run against the day-to-day experiences of both the Indian and Pakistani governments. Nevertheless, even a break in the constant anti-India chant of the Pakistani army is welcome. Only that it needs more evidence on the part of Pakistan for India to react positively to any such initiatives.Pakistan’s army could initiate the process of change. If it even begins to do so, it should be welcome—provided it holds. Right now, that appears to be only a pipe dream.
Former Rajya Sabha member and Delhi-based commentator on social and political issues