Peace with Pakistan: an idea whose time has passed

A leading Indian english language newspaper has chosen to begin 2010 by stirring up controversy. It has run a series of editorials advocating peace initiatives with Pakistan, despite the manifest unwillingness of Islamabad to punish the perpetrators of 26/11. What might have begun as a practical joke by the newspaper’s editorial staff has since acquired pretensions to seriousness.

The newspaper cites a dubious and unverifiable poll result, suggesting that most people in India and Pakistan strongly desire a resumption of peace talks between the two countries. Going by the reader response posted on the newspaper’s website, the poll was either poorly conducted or biased in its sampling. A very large number of Indians are in no hurry to forget Pakistani sponsorship of terrorism. Their reluctance to let bygones be bygones stems not from hostility towards Pakistan per se but rather, a natural instinct towards self-preservation.
It is no secret that even now; Pakistani terrorist groups are planning attacks in India on a scale that aims to surpass 26/11. One can be assured that if such an attack were to occur, Pakistani officials would first condemn it and then suggest that resolution of the Kashmir issue would prevent further attacks. There is a word for such double-edged statements: blackmail. The victim of wrongdoing is being made to feel that he is responsible for his own suffering, merely because he has failed to oblige the whims of the wrongdoer.
Ever since the 1993 Mumbai blasts, Pakistan has adopted a policy of killing Indian civilians to get what it previously failed to get through negotiations and war. From its perspective, Islamabad is being reasonable. It has offered the Indian government the option of surrender. Should India stand firm, Pakistan cannot be blamed for the hundreds more Indian lives that will be lost in terrorist attacks planned from its territory.
The fact that many Pakistanis attempt to rationalize this policy is understandable, if unfortunate. They are after all, captive to the propaganda of a rogue army that claims it is protecting them from an existentialist Indian threat. The same army did not hesitate to butcher three million Bengalis in 1971, conduct aerial bombing of Baluch nationalists in 1973, hang a democratically elected leader in 1979, support Sunni sectarian groups in terrorizing Shias after 1980 and topple civilian governments throughout the 1990s. Furthermore, the selective use of logic permits Pakistani intellectuals to advocate peace with India on one hand, while simultaneously asserting that there can be no compromise on Kashmir. Thus, while the ordinary people of Pakistan may want peace, it still has to be on the terms laid down by their army. Like hostages in a hijack situation, they suffer from the Stockholm Syndrome and believe in the rightness of their tormentors only because they have no choice. The people of Nazi Germany faced the same situation in the 1930s.
The Pakistani state today shares more in common with fascist dictatorships of yesteryears than with democratic India, yet Indian peace activists stress the similarity between the two peoples. In doing so, they fall prey to a common analytical failing known as mirror-imaging. Basically, what this means is that rather than make the intellectual effort of seeing the world from your enemy’s point of view, you merely assume that the enemy is no different from you. Whatever you would do is what the enemy can be expected to do. Conversely, anything that you would not do, the enemy would not do either. The weakness of this logic became apparent in 1999, when the Pakistan army unilaterally violated the Line of Control in Kargil, destroying the Lahore peace process initiated by India. Self-deception among the top Pakistan army brass had led them to believe that the aggression would be cost-free because ‘Indians have no stomach for a fight’. Hitler made a similar assumption in 1939, when he invaded Poland and triggered off World War II.
What are the similarities between India and Pakistan, which Indian peaceniks go on about? Other than ethnicity, food and to a lesser extent language, squat all. The two countries are on different political, cultural and economic trajectories. Since 1971, Pakistan has strived to reinvent itself as an Arab state, in order to draw the wider Islamic world into its fight against India. Wahabbi madrassas funded by Saudi petrodollars have metastasized across the country like a rampaging cancer. These madrassas stress the need for Pakistani society to regress back to the 7th century and the fundamentals of Islam (as interpreted by the Wahabbis only). They advocate medievalism over modernity. Liberal Sufi and Barelvi traditions are being replaced by religious orthodoxy that would be unrecognizable to anyone who lived in pre-partition India, when there was no Pakistani army and no Lashkar-e-Toiba. How can any peace process be durable unless Pakistani civil society first frees itself from these two terrorist groups (one in uniform, the other outside it)?
Economically, Pakistan has been a basket case since the mid 1990s. The country is dependent on foreign aid to make up for the financial deficits caused by its ever-expanding public sector i.e., the Pakistan army’s business empire. Land-grabbing by army officers is institutionalized in the form of grants awarded by generals to their favourite subordinates. A neo-colonial system of economic predation combined with a population explosion is pushing Pakistan back to the 18th century, while the Indian economy continues to liberalize and grow. Despite having a population seven times larger than its neighbour, India’s per capita income grew to exceed that of Pakistan in 2003 and the gap has since widened. From a purely business perspective, the argument for better relations with Pakistan simply does not make sense. Even the European Union is facing problems due to income disparities among its constituent states.
Why then, are some Indian journalists so keen to jump on the peace-making bandwagon, especially when Mumbai has eclipsed Kashmir as the ‘unresolved issue’ in Indo-Pak relations? Are they genuinely unable to differentiate between the tasks of reporting facts, formulating policy and providing light amusement? The ‘Aman ki Asha’ initiative by the Times of India and Jang media groups fails miserably on the first count, with its lack of empirical evidence and logical argument and resort to clich├ęs like ‘turning swords into ploughshares’. As regards influencing policy, flowery language is insufficient to dissuade Pakistan from supporting terrorist groups, as successive Indian prime ministers have learnt. All that the proposed peace initiative does is provide an example of the wordplay that appeasers engage in when they run out of arguments and have to keep talking.
Were it not for the insult which the authors of this initiative deliver to the memory of 70,000 Indians killed by Pak-sponsored terrorism in Punjab, Kashmir and elsewhere, their delusions would be laughable. Not only have they allowed themselves to be wined and dined into serving as ISI mouthpieces, but they also perniciously suggest that their views are shared by a majority of people. In the process, they forget that with each successive terrorist attack in India, a growing number of people have legitimate cause to hate Pakistan and all that it stands for. From the Akshardham Temple siege in 2002 to Mumbai in 2008, victims of the dead and injured lost any reason to support peace initiatives with a terrorist state. The same holds true for families of soldiers who died reclaiming the heights of Kargil. While harping about Pakistani hospitality, Indian peace activists could pause to consider the hospitality shown to Lt Saurav Kalia and his men for fifteen days in May 1999. Lest anyone argue that the actions of a few crazed jihadis do not represent the majority of Pakistanis, it must not be forgotten that their savagely mutilated bodies were returned to India by the Pakistan army, not Lashkar-e-Toiba.
There is a concerted effort on by interested third parties to create an impression that resumption of the peace process is ‘inevitable’. It is not. Even the most pacifist of Indian prime ministers have demonstrated a steely resolve on national security issues, such as V.P Singh in 1990 when he threatened to go to war if Pakistan intervened overtly in Kashmir. Similarly, in 1997 IK Gujral did not allow his dovish image to stop him from publicly shooting down a British attempt to mediate on Kashmir. Those who believe that New Delhi can be flattered or badgered into negotiating with a terrorist state only risk damaging their own relations with India. During the first few weeks of the Kargil war, there were the usual calls for restraint from Washington and London. These transformed into pressure on Pakistan only after India made clear that it would not negotiate under threat. Today, a similar message of firmness needs to be sent out.
Failure to do so would encourage the belief currently prevailing within the Pakistan army that its use of terrorists is a viable strategy. India has already made the biggest confidence building measure possible, by not retaliating to a single act of terrorism originating from Pakistan. ISI officials continue to plan terrorist attacks in India, knowing that they will not be targeted for assassination. Until November 2008, New Delhi remained on cordial terms with Islamabad, despite the urban bombing campaign by the so-called ‘Indian Mujahiddin’ (actually Lashkar-e-Toiba by another name). The Mumbai attacks broke this dynamic because Pakistan instead of reciprocating Indian goodwill, chose to ratchet up its proxy war. By sending Pakistani mercenaries to kill Indians under the cover of a non-existent terrorist group called ‘Deccan Mujahiddin’, the ISI overplayed its hand.
The fortuitous capture of Ajmal Kasab was a huge embarrassment for Pakistan. It initially attempted to bluff its way out by denying Kasab’s nationality, just as it had previously done with its soldiers in Kargil. In the first few hours after the attack, Indian media coverage only mentioned that the attackers had Pakistani links, without suggesting that they were state-sponsored. Islamabad responded to this restraint by claiming it was being made a scapegoat for India’s homegrown terrorist problem. Pakistani blame-shifting and obfuscation was what led to a hardening of Indian public opinion, not inflammatory media coverage. For some Indian journalists to now believe that their role in reporting the truth amounted to war-mongering, suggests a lack of professional integrity. They condemn jingoism while forgetting that excessive sentimentalism is equally dangerous.
Rather than preaching about the need for Indians and Pakistanis not to be held hostage by history, peace activists could first study that history in order to explain how it differs in any meaningful way from the present. Specifically, are they in any position to provide an assurance to their readers, on whose behalf they claim to speak, that Pakistan will convict those responsible for the Mumbai attacks? Instead of setting overly ambitious goals of freeing two countries from hatred, the Indian and Pakistani media could first combine forces to free 54 Indian Prisoners of War, being illegally held captive by Pakistan. If, as the initiators of the ‘Aman ki Asha’ farce claim, they are motivated by humanitarian considerations, they can set up forums for common people in both countries to denounce Lashkar-e-Toiba and its supporters. Only then will they command any credibility as representatives of popular opinion.
Other initiatives could include asking the Pakistani government to shut down terrorist training camps, extradite Dawood Ibrahim, prosecute Hafeez Saeed, stop blocking Indian attempts to join the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) and stop ganging up with China to thwart India’s bid for a UN Security Council seat. Forward movement by Islamabad in even one of these areas would constitute a solid foundation for re-starting peace talks and would be more than reciprocated by India. Absence of any progress on the other hand, would demonstrate that the Pakistani desire for good relations extends only to cultivating Indian opinion-makers through fine food and paid holidays.
Evidence of such intellectual subversion already exists, in the form of arguments that a ’stable and prosperous Pakistan is in India’s interest’. Which Pakistan are these people talking about? The one that colonized Afghanistan in the 1990s while ostensibly seeking strategic depth and then further trying to extend its influence into Central Asia or the one that regularly diverts foreign aid money towards building up its India-centric war machine, or the one that survives on a narco-trafficking industry whose annual turnover equals 25 percent of the nation’s own GDP? Anyone who believes that a strong Pakistan would be a responsible state needs to read Michael Scheuer’s book Imperial Hubris. Scheuer, a former CIA analyst, describes the period 2000-2001 as representing a ‘golden moment’ for the Pakistani military elite. India was on the defensive in Kashmir and Afghanistan was firmly under the control of the Taliban. A quick review of Indian Home Ministry statistics for these years would reveal how many Indians died in terrorist attacks by Pakistan-based groups during the ‘golden moment’.
Rather than emulate the condescending arrogance of Western writers, who insist on bracketing India with Pakistan, would-be peaceniks should first come to terms with reality. They equate India with Pakistan as a victim of terrorism, without regard for the fact that Pakistan is a victim of its own terrorist-sponsoring policy, while India is a victim of proxy warfare. The two situations are not comparable on any level. Making any further peace overtures to Pakistan, without meaningful progress on the Mumbai investigations, would be tantamount to political suicide for whichever party tried it. Subversive propaganda such as ‘Aman ki Asha’ would not change the facts of the situation, only the way policymakers perceive them, to their own detriment.
is a strategic affairs analyst at a leading think-tank, based in Western Europe

No comments:

Post a Comment