Seventy one years after independence, India continues to be fixated with Pakistan.
Every day, our TV channels and newspapers give much more space to this neighbour than to all others put together. The smallest negative about the country — for example, the recent sacking of an Ahmadi economic advisor — has our media in a frenzy. Possibly the reverse is equally true.
India and Pakistan
have fought each other four times. In all of them, we have emerged the victor. In 1971, we broke that adversary into half. So, even if they have a simmering anger, there is no reason for us to be fearful that they can threaten our territorial integrity. Pakistan’s population is a fifth of ours, their economy is in a shambles; our per capita income is higher than theirs; our military is far stronger and our global image is that of an emerging world power. Yet, there is this strange fear that Pakistan
can, somehow, pose a serious threat to our sovereignty.
Yes, it is a nuclear weapon state and yes, despite whatever critical comments might be articulated internationally about its support to terrorism, most strategic thinkers recognise that Pakistan cannot be allowed to be neutered. Leave aside its nuclear capabilities, it is too strategically located with Afghanistan
and Central Asia on one side and oil rich South East Asia on the other. It is one of the most powerful countries in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. It has close ties with both Sunni and Shia majority countries. It has a sizeable military. There is no way in which the world, USA included, can ignore it.
There is a view in our country that Pakistan policy towards India is shaped and controlled by the military. This is a fact. Ever since General Iskander Mirza overthrew the civilian government in the 1950s and, in turn, was deposed by General Ayub Khan, most affairs in that country, and certainly those relating to security, have been overseen by its Army. They have always, at least until 1971, prided themselves as being superior to our military (the boast that one Pakistani soldier was equal to three of India will be recalled by our veterans). They actually consider the war of 1965 as a victory and celebrate September 8 as their Defence Day with parades and aircraft fly-pasts. For that Army, the war of 1971 was a demoralising and traumatic experience. To have their country cut into two and more than 90,000 of their soldiers surrender to a military which they considered inferior and then confined in POW camps for months was devastating and continues to shape their attitude.
Pakistan knows that war with India is a lose-lose situation for it and, therefore, will continue to sponsor terrorism
There is a sense that while India cannot be defeated in military conflict, it can be continuously wounded through support to militancy and terrorism. It will be facile to assume that this approach of the Pakistan military will change in the foreseeable future regardless of benefits that might accrue to that country through political and economic accommodation with us. In short, Pakistan will continue to have its India-related policies controlled by its generals. But yes, Indians who visit that country will come back with happy memories of friendship and hospitality received and vice versa. This is the paradox in the relationship.
A constantly aired view in India especially in the strategic community and the armed forces is that China
and Pakistan would collude against us if some military action is contemplated. This stems from their close friendship including in defence relations and acquisitions but it ignores the reality that they are not two standalone countries that can confront us together with the rest of the world looking the other way. Apart from their own core interests, both India and China
are aware of their pluses and minuses and each knows that Shanghai can be hit with a nuclear weapon just as easily as Delhi can. If China
could not enter the fray in 1965 and 1971 it will stay even further away in the future; its recent moves to ease tensions with India is an indicator. Further, India is not furthering relations with the USA and maintaining those with Russia without calculation; it is a far bigger market for their defence manufactures than Pakistan can ever be. To expect that both those countries will remain distant is a simplistic premise.
In sum, Pakistan knows that war is a ‘lose-lose’ situation for it and, therefore, will continue to sponsor terrorism; its support to militancy in the Kashmir valley will remain. Political accommodation with us can only be marginal, if at all. We should not expect great improvement in trade over what presently exists. We have lived with this scenario for decades and can manage it for as long as it takes. Consequently, it makes no sense for India to be as fixated on Pakistan as it is. Our media and our people should see Pakistan as just another neighbour which needs only occasional attention through dialogue or through punitive measures (read surgical strikes). It is not a country that needs to be viewed either as a military threat — which it is not and is unlikely to ever be — or as a rival, which it is even less. The more we talk about it the more important we make it feel and divert ourselves from our own longer-term goals which include becoming a major world power. Our focus should be on things that can propel us towards them even as we adopt strategies to ward off those that can inhibit them. Pakistan does not figure in either equation.
The author has served as member in the National Security Advisory Board