Lecture on Indo-Pak Relations by Amb. K. Sibal at Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar
India’s relations with Pakistan are exceedingly complex. The problems are multi-dimensional, stretching across politics, security, territory, religion, history, geography, psychology etc. It is not merely a foreign policy issue, and therefore the normal tools of diplomacy are not enough to resolve them.
Pakistan has no historical basis; it has only a political one. If it was the case that two distinct people, with their own clear sense of history and identity, had been forced to cohabit against their will, and at an opportune moment separated as independent entities, reconciliation would be easier in principle. But if division is made because of political expediency, distorted narratives and geo-political reasons, and the cut and paste separation remains incomplete, then the wounds of partition will fester.
The “two nation theory”, the basis of Pakistan’s creation, lost meaning with millions of Muslims staying on in India in 1947, and, later, Pakistan itself getting divided into two separate Muslim nations. The integrative role of India’s democracy and secularism vis a vis our Muslims is a continuing challenge to the asumptions on which Pakistan was created. This accounts for Pakistan’s Islamization drive, its attempts to delink itself from its Indian moorings and orient itself toward the Arab world, and its emphasis on differences with India. Pakistan has, for the same reason, striven to excite communal passions in India so as to weaken India’s secular fabric.
The obsession with “parity” with India- rooted in what one may call a “two equal nation theory”- flows from a mixture of historical memory of Islamic rule in India, notions of Muslim superiority as a martial race over Hindus, and long standing encouragement by western powers interesting in balancing India. The hyphenation by others of India with Pakistan, that hasn’t altogether disappeared, is a product of this intense public Pakistani rivalry with India exhibited at every possible opportunity. Pakistan interposes itself as much as it can in India’s ties with others by creating an atmosphere of tensions and of potential conflict, generating international concerns and compelling others to raise issues of India-Pakistan relations with us. This is Pakistan’s answer to our attempts to deal with our problems with it bilaterally.
Pakistan clings to the Kashmir issue on the basis of this defunct “two nation” postulate, bemoaning that Kashmir’s Muslim majority areas are not part of Pakistan as they should be in its view. Kashmir is therefore not a purely territorial issue for it. If it was, Pakistan should have been long satisfied with the portion of Kashmir it holds illegally, with the huge geo-political advantage it has gained as a result in having a common border with China and denying India one with Afghanistan. The issue for it is infused with religious passion, which is why India’s concessions at Tashkent and Simla, its restraint in face of Kargil, its tolerance of Pakistani promoted terrorism in Kashmir etc have not made it relent on its Kashmir fixation. Pakistan cannot give up the Kashmir issue without a radical change in how it looks at itself vis a vis India.
Because Pakistan had a ceasarean political birth, with uncertain prospects of survival, its feeling of insecurity toward India prompted it to seek political and military crutches against us, by allying itself with the West and, later when India and China moved into conflict, by forging close ties with China. With arms assistance from both, and confidant tof having acquired enough political space for militarily adventures against India, it has inflicted several armed conflicts on us. The 1971 military defeat at India’s hands, with loss of East Pakistan, would no doubt have been traumatic for Pakistan, but this narrative of “insecurity” has been cynically exploited by Pakistan to justify its confrontationist policies toward us and obtain international understanding for them.
If Pakistan truly felt “insecure” and vulnerable vis a vis India it would have not be inflicting terrorist violence on us as it would fear retaliation. General Musharraf may have been emboldened to stage Kargil under cover of Pakistan’s newly acquired nuclear capability, but Pakistan’s use of terror against us as an instrument of state policy since the 90s when Pakistan was not a nuclear power shows that it has not felt cowed down by a stronger conventionally armed India either. On the contrary, its conduct throughout has shown that it feels quite confident it can handle any potential Indian reaction. Its involvement in the Mumbai attack, its unwillingness to punish those responsible, the continued existence of terrorist networks in the country, the freedom given to Hafiz Saeed to persist in advocating jihad against India etc, is not evidence of any sense of insecurity, rather it reflects a careful analysis of options available to India and calibrating the level of its provocations accordingly. Pakistan’s provocative conduct toward us needs to be contrasted with India’s extremely cautious attitude toward a stronger China vis a vis whom India is conscious of its vulnerabilities and tailors its policies accordingly.
In actual fact India seeks nothing more from Pakistan than normal friendly relations. To remove artificially generated misgivings in Pakistan about Indian intentions to break it up, our leadership at the highest levels has repeatedly declared publicly that a stable and prosperous Pakistan is good for India. There is no political force in India that advocates the break-up of Pakistan. We have even ceased to assert our legal claim on Pakistan Occupied Kashmir(POK) with force or conviction, in the interest of a peaceful resolution of our differences. The thrust of our policies is to settle the Kashmir issue on the basis of the actual Line of Control(LOC). The current Prime Minister has stated clearly that while actual borders cannot be changed, they can be made irrelevant, which is a clear signal to Pakistan that India accepts the de facto position on the ground and wants to move forward amicably.
We allow the separatist Kashmiri leaders to travel to Pakistan, and even meet Pakistani leaders and bureaucrats on Indian soil, opening thus the doors to a Pakistan role in engaging political elements inside J&K to facilitate a resolution of the issue, despite our “official” position that Pakistan has no role in the internal political handling of the problem by us. We have repeatedly offered the hand of dialogue to Pakistan, despite its continued involvement directly or indirectly in terrorism directed at India from its soil. We have overlooked its violation of its own commitments not to allow such terrorism from Pakistan or the territory it controls to be aimed at us. We have even absorbed the terrible body blow of Mumbai and taken subsequent initiatives to resume talking to Pakistan. To keep the doors of dialogue open we even agreed to the proposition that both countries were victims of terrorism, implying thereby that Pakistani state agencies were not involved in terrorist activity against India, and that if such attacks took place, the dialogue process need not be interrupted. Of course, the expectation has been that Pakistan would heed our warnings that in an atmosphere of terrorist violence against India a sustained dialogue would not be possible, and that Pakistan would see it in its own interest amidst mounting internal terrorism in the country to control these forces.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s commitment to peace with Pakistan is patent. While Pakistan lauds the Prime Minister as a “gladiator of peace”, it has done nothing to impart momentum from the Pakistani side to make his efforts successful. On the contrary, it has not met the minimum requirement of punishing the perpetrators of the Mumbai carnage and putting curbs on jihadi elements ranting against India. In fact at critical moments- just before our Prime Minister’s meeting with the Pakistani President at Ekaterinaberg or with the Pakistani Prime Minister at Sharm el Sheikh, or before the Foreign Secretary level talks at new Delhi, or, again, at before the talks at Thimphu, Pakistan has either released Hafiz Saeed from custody, or withdrawn cases against him, or let him lead a huge rally against India or let Salahuddin of the Kashmiri Jihadi Council unleash his fury against us. The recent meeting at Islamabad at Foreign Minister’s level saw our Minister being humiliated by his Pakistani counterpart. This has been followed up by Pakistani tirades against India in the UN General Assembly, with a return to a hard line position on Kashmir. Pakistan has sought to take advantage of the recent turbulence in Kashmir in which its hand is far from being absent. Pakistan is now showing disdain for a dilaogue with India unless we accept its terms. Foreign Minister Qureshi has announced that he does not want to make a “leisure trip” to New Delhi and that India must be ready to abandon its step by step approach and recommence the composite dialogue in all but name, with the central focus on Kashmir. Pakistan’s antipathy to India is such that even when faced with a terrible natural calamity it has baulked at receiving assistance from India’s hands supposedly tainted by Kashmiri blood. Even in tragedy it cannot get over hate. Eventually it has been embarrassed by the international community into accepting India aid routed through the UN.
Pakistan is adept at blackmail and brinksmansip, as is evident also in its dealings with the US. Sensing the US dependence on it for its operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan has squeezed enormous amounts of military aid from it, procuring mostly India-related military equipment. The US is about to announce a further $2 billion military assistance, unmindful of the problems this creates for India. At the same time, Pakistani agencies continue to maintain contacts with the Afghan insurgents and terrorists targetting US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan has made an issue of the Indian presence in Afghanistan, accusing India of using Afghanistan as a base to foment trouble in Baluchistan, or otherwise adding a strategic threat to Pakistan from across its western frontier. It has had a hand in the terrorist attacks against the Indian Embassy and other Indian targets in Afghanistan. It has sheltered the Taliban leadership all these years and now is well placed to pursue its bid to get a strategic hold over Afghanistan through the reconciliation process with the Taliban leadership that NATO has begun as part of the western exit strategy from Afghanistan. These Pakistani attempts to exclude us from Afghanistan, including opposition to our presence in the Istanbul Conference on Afghanistan, is incompatible with its stated desire to engage India in a serious and sustained dialogue to resolve bilateral issues. How can it be serious of setling isssues with India in the east while stepping uo confrontation with it in the west?
Ironically, Pakistan is being armed today by the world’s most powerful democracy- the US- and the world’smost powerful authoritarion state- China. The latter continues its policy of building up Pakistan against India, intending to offer it two additional nuclear power plants in violation of its own NSG obligations. The message behind this that if the US can offer a nuclear deal to India, China can offer it to Pakistan in exercise of its own political priorities. China is deepening its physical hold over POK as it is going to become an essential hub for China’s access to the Arabian Sea and Afghanistan for energy, trade and regional connectivity.
Te government’s response to this unremitting Pakistani hostility toward India is to maintain its composure and keep the doors of dialogue open. It sees no alternative to a dialogue. With both sides having nuclear weapons the risk of escalation following a limited strike are too serious. India’s economic growth is impressive. This has to be sustained to steadily eliminate poverty. Massive spending on infrastructure is required, for which foreign investment is needed. At this juncture the government does not want India’s economic progress to be derailed. Pakistan, an already failing state, riven by terrorism and religious extremism, has far less at stake in a positive future. It would not be averse to dragging India down with it, if it could. The government also perhaps feels that tensions with Pakistan invite more foreign interference, and even to keep such intervention at bay, India should be seen as doing what it can to maintain bridges with Pakistan. One of the important reasons for our restraint also is the US presence in the region and the enormous difficulties it faces in Afghanistan, to which India does not want to add by reacting to Pakistani provocations as that would give Pakistan the excuse not to cooperate fully with the US in controlling terrorism across its western frontier into Afghanistan.
There can be more than one view on how to protect our national interest in dealing with Pakistan. The challenge to us is so complex that no one can claim to have the full answer. Critics of government policy cannot suggest a more effective alternative; the government cannot demonstrate that its policy of dialogue at all costs is working successfully either. If India was decisively stronger than Pakistan, it could humour it, give it a long rope, and at the appropriate moment, faced with the adversary’s deplorable conduct, use constraining methods to bring it into line. In actual fact, we seem bereft of options. The adversary senses this, it has us in a corner, others with their own divergent interests are only interested in managing tensions, not eliminating them by pressing for responsible behaviour by the culpable side.
Pakistan with its deep-seated antagonism does not see the Prime Minister’s commitment to a dialogue as “statesmanlike”; it looks at it as “weakness”, and so it feels it has sufficient room to continue to bleed India in function of its political needs, its domestic situation, the possible reaction of other powers involved in the region, and the desperate response of a truly distraught India. It would avoid reaching those kinds of thresholds. So long as the military remains the most powerful force in Pakistan, the chance of a reconciliation with India will remain distant. The military needs to cultivate hostility with India so that it can preserve its preponderant role in Pakistan’s polity. Pakistan’s democracy will remain unstable in the years ahead as external powers give preferential importance to the military to serve their regional needs. The “people” in Pakistan cannot be counted upon to lead the normalisation process with India unless they have the political strength to introduce veritable democracy in the country. People to people ties have limitations- the sentiments of the people can easily be influenced by the government, as we saw in Pakistan in the wake of the Mumbai attack, with a rise of anti-Indian feelings because of a peceived threat of Indian military retaliation.
India is compelled by geography to bear the cross of Pakistan on its back; it should not end up being crucified!