Redefining Indo-Pakistan relations

Pakistan faces a dissimilar set of existential threats. The sole external threat is clear enough — India.

Published: 13th January 2013 11:22 PM  |   Last Updated: 13th January 2013 11:22 PM   |  A+A-

Pakistan faces a dissimilar set of existential threats. The sole external threat is clear enough — India. The more alarming threats are internal — regional-aspirational in terms of separatist/secessionist movements (in Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan), and of ethnic-regional assertion (Sindh, the Muttahida Quami Movement in Karachi, and the Seraikis in southern Punjab), and the still greater danger from Islamic terrorism, and are entirely self-inflicted. The religious extremist outfits cultivated at America’s behest during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, 1979-’87, instead of being immediately disbanded and the mujahideen offered peaceful livelihoods, were deployed by the Pakistan Army’s directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence against India in Jammu & Kashmir, with some of them veering off to fight the Americans in Afghanistan. These enterprises having largely failed, the frustrated jihadis have turned on their minders, engulfing the Pakistani state and society in spirals of uncontrollable violence.

The Pakistan state, not so subtly fashioned by the Pakistan Army in its own seemingly inflexible image, has spawned a brittle polity designed to take care of the army’s requirements but otherwise incapable of accommodating provincial interests or meeting the aspirations of the people. With the military, moreover, accounting for 20 per cent of the annual budget in 2012-’13, programmes for socio-economic development remain severely underfunded. The average Pakistani with a large family to feed is left with little choice other than to gift his male children to the Salafi madrassas financed by Saudi and Gulf ‘charities’ where they are fed, clothed, and pickled in sectarian hatred and Wahabi values. At last count, some 30,000 registered madrassas and thousands of unaccounted ones, mass produce youth committed to jihad, who only await more specialised indoctrination and small arms training to take to the field, whether it be against the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, in Waziristan, Indian counter-insurgency units in Kashmir and, now more than ever before, against the agencies of the Pakistani state — principally the Pakistan Army and police — regarded by these newly minted ‘soldiers of Allah’ as zalim for a host of reasons, or against the Shia population, thereby deepening the sectarian divide. It is a country in the process of consuming itself — the first instance of a nation engaged in self-cannibalisation.

The shaken Pakistan Army now faces the raging monster it created but has no good ideas to contain it. In a little noted address at the Pakistan Military Academy on Pakistan’s Independence Day, August 14, last year, General Pervez Ashraf Kayani for the first time and without mincing words talked of home-grown militancy and terrorism as posing the greatest security threat to the nation, and specifically mentioned the need to, in effect, focus national resources and effort on fighting the various armed Lashkars and extremist Islamic gangs. Restoration of internal order is easier said than done, however. Even so the Pakistan political establishment has taken the cue. Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf recently spoke at the National Defence University about the “need to work on a strategy which can comprehensively tackle (terrorism)... (and) to redesign and redefine our military doctrine to achieve this objective”. He also referred to the “nameless and faceless” “non-state actors who are targeting symbols and institutions in a bid to impose their agenda.” Tehreek-Taliban Pakistan threatening to forcefully implement the Sharia in Pakistan, and extend it to India, is not a faceless enemy, but identifying other terrorist outfits would only highlight the Pakistan Army’s role in raising and nurturing them.

This is a climacteric of sorts in India-Pakistan relations. The question is whether the Indian government will muster other than the usual policy of sceptical inaction to any promising development across the border. It is fortuitous that Pakistan is being compelled by domestic factors to become more reasonable where India is concerned. New Delhi can help this positive trend to take root by rolling out policies to reinforce it, as part of a larger strategy to distance Pakistan from China, and break the nexus between them. Such a policy will, moreover, be in line with the Operational Directive issued to the Indian Armed Services in 2009 by defence minister A K Antony instructing them to redirect their main effort China-ward.

If imaginatively handled, this could be the great breakthrough in relations between the two countries with tremendous natural affinities. However, hollow gestures by New Delhi won’t do. Unilateral and substantive actions that are at once low-risk but politically and militarily potent will obtain disproportionate results. For instance, India can unilaterally remove all liquid-fuelled Prithvi missiles with nuclear warheads from the border with Pakistan. This is a zero risk confidence-and-security-building measure because all target sets within that country are in any case covered by the longer range Agni missiles. To insist on reciprocity in such force draw-downs as the government and even Indians participating in track two diplomacy have been doing in the last few years, is a grave mistake because it, in effect, endows Pakistan with parity that it craves but in no way deserves. Unilateral Indian actions in the military and trade spheres and the easing of the visa regime, will create the right momentum (that can survive the localised firing/killing incidents on the Line of Control).

Pakistan’s move to redefine its military doctrine is no small thing and marks an end point of a progression from Ayub Khan’s days when the myth of a Muslim being the equal of scores of Hindus was propagated. (The last believer in such martial nonsense, ironically, seems to be the Andhra MLA Akbaruddin Owaisi) It doesn’t mean that General Headquarters, Rawalpindi, will tomorrow stand down its forces. It does mean that the Pakistan Army — feeling more secure with nuclear weapons in hand — is rethinking its threats and perceives India as less of a danger to Pakistan than the armed religious zealots. It affords India the opportunity to rework its own military stance, emphasising China as both the imminent and immanent threat. Such emphasis will, in turn, raise the Pakistan Army’s comfort level with a more easeful posture of its own. Only good can come from such mutually reinforcing moves.

Bharat Karnad is professor at Centre for Policy

Research and blogs at


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