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Conceptual confusion in dealing with Pakistan

— By Sushant Sareen | Sep 27, 2016 06:15 am

One of the fundamental problems in India’s inability to deal effectively with a rogue state like Pakistan is the appalling failure to understand the character, psyche, and mentality of the adversary. Take for instance the constant attempt in India to make a distinction between the civilian and military establishments in Pakistan. This is nothing but an alibi that India gives to the Pakistanis. The fact is that both the civilians and the military share their antipathy for Hindus, and by extension, India. While some in India may think that at the very least making a distinction between civil and military in Pakistan will drive a wedge between them, what they are really doing is nothing more than beguiling themselves. The civil-military discord in Pakistan is at best a domestic issue and has little or no bearing on the Pakistani policy on India.

Quite like in the case of civil-military relations in Pakistan, Indians have convinced themselves that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the Pakistani society and people, and that the problem is more with the state apparatus of Pakistan which holds its people hostage. There is also the constant parroting of ‘shared history and culture’ as a uniting factor despite the fact that the other side’s description of both history and culture is not just very different but also a complete negation and rejection of how Indians look at history and culture. In other words, the underlying narrative in India is that Pakistanis are just like us, and are therefore amenable to good sense. Most Indians perceive Pakistanis to be rational people who won’t be averse to making rational choices, but don’t realise that rationality is a very subjective concept and one person’s standpoint of rationality isn’t necessarily the same as another person’s standpoint of rationality. For example, when India talks of Pakistan being a neighbour, most Indians don’t understand that in the Pakistani scheme of things, the idea is not to make a friend of a neighbour who is an enemy but to bring down the wall of the neighbour’s house even if it falls on him! Not surprisingly then, the result of a lack of conceptual clarity and a failure to understand the enemy has meant a muddled, contradictory, and inconsistent approach to Pakistan.

Take for instance the speech of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Kozhikode, where he seemed to be addressing the people of Pakistan and not only telling them the futility of the path that their country was taking but also exhorting them to ask tough questions from their leaders. Without dissecting the speech of the PM, it suffices to say that even though there wasn’t anything wrong in what he said, his words were pretty much water off a duck’s back as far as the Pakistanis were concerned. For the Indian PM to say that while India has made a name for itself in software exports while Pakistan has acquired notoriety in export of terrorism is really to miss the point, which is that both countries are engaged in fields in which they enjoy both comparative and competitive advantage. After all if Pakistan wasn’t a nuclear armed ‘international migraine,’ would anyone even give a second look to that country? Pakistan’s USP is its nuisance value and it has leveraged this exceedingly well. If Modi thinks he is shaming the Pakistanis, then clearly he doesn’t know the Pakistanis. To put it simply, both nukes and jihadis are Pakistan’s crown jewels and will not be surrendered as long as Pakistan survives. What is more, while Modi might want to fight poverty, the Pakistanis want to wage jihad and that too primarily against India. This means that when it comes to Pakistan, Modi is fighting the wrong war and unless he is ready to destroy the Pakistani jihad factory, his war against poverty isn’t going to go anywhere.

In any case, the whole notion of the people of Pakistan being different from the rulers (civilian and military) of Pakistan is laughable nonsense. The formulation of the false narrative that the people of Pakistan are not interested in inimical relations with India is one of the grand delusions that many Indians have internalised. There is absolutely no empirical basis for asserting this proposition. Most surveys of Pakistani perceptions of India, and the public opinion expressed in both mainstream and social media, put a lie to the narrative of Pakistanis which is peddled by both the left and right wing in India. A lot of this delusion comes from the limited interaction of people from India with Pakistanis. In the track-II talking shops (mostly funded by Western countries) the Indians interact with PLUs (people-like-us) and imagine that all of Pakistan is like this bunch of about 500 Pakistanis who are that country’s interface with rest of the world. But here’s the thing: most of these Pakistanis – journalists, academicians, generals, politicians, civil society activists – invariably toe the Pakistani establishment line and the goodwill they profess is utterly contrived.

The trouble is that the Pakistani contrivance escapes their Indian interlocutors who not only conflate personal friendship along with political relationship with Pakistan, but worse, see the Pakistanis as being genuine and honest, which they clearly are not. Indians simply fail to peel away the mask that Pakistanis adorn to hide their ideologically indoctrinated, Islamo-fascist mindset. The naïveté of the Indians is apparent from the fact that most Indians see the whisky swilling, mujra watching, Western suit or jean wearing Pakistani as a liberal, modern and moderate guy who is just like them. This is clearly not the case. The few Pakistanis who are still normal don’t count for anything anyway. And yet on the basis of an infinitesimally small minority of so called liberal Pakistanis, India makes its Pakistan policy. The most infuriating example of this is the touching faith that is placed in the fiction of building ‘people-to-people’ relations.

Another of the concepts that has been bandied about a lot after the Uri terrorist attack is ‘zero tolerance’ to terrorism. Politicians keep parroting this mantra but never quite explain what exactly it means, what it entails, what has been done on ground and what will be done on ground that will make this real, and so on and so forth. In the end ‘zero tolerance’ is just a sexy tagline that everyone mouths but no one knows how exactly it is supposed to work on ground. Same is the case with the new slogan of ‘Pakistan is a terrorist state’. That this is a truism is not enough because in international relations the connotation of a terrorist state comes with a series of legal and other implications. In other words, simply designating Pakistan a terrorist state means nothing to nobody if not followed by a series of measures at the diplomatic, political, economic, social and cultural level. This means that unless the Indian government is ready to put in place such measures, merely shouting ‘Pakistan is a terrorist state’ from the roof-tops is meaningless. What is more, if you continue to hold Ghulam Ali concerts, show Pakistani serials, have trade exhibitions in each other’s country, have politicians and officials visit each other’s countries under the pretext of international conferences, seem desperate to play cricket, have Pakistani singers and actors work in Bollywood, talk of increasing trade between the two countries etc. then clearly you don’t mean what you say. It becomes worse when you justify all this in the name of that fictitious people-to-people relationship because Pakistanis are not people like us even though they might speak more or less the same language. Seven decades of separation have made us into two different people.

Another new buzzword post-Uri is ‘strategic restraint’. Quite aside from the fact that it is fast becoming a euphemism for ‘we aren’t in a position to pay back the Pakistanis in a language they understand,’ what does it mean anyway? This is linked with ‘time and place of our choosing’ which is becoming the military equivalent of ‘law will take its own course’ i.e. nothing will happen. Finally, there is this whole business of ‘raising the cost for the enemy.’ The problem here is that India doesn’t have any costless options. There will be a price to be paid, no matter what option India exercises: abrogating Indus Waters Treaty will fall afoul of multilateral institutions like World Bank and IMF; cutting trade ties will mean a loss to Indian exporters; slashing visas will mean angst in divided families; blacklisting companies that do business in Pakistan could lead to loss of investment in India; undercutting Pakistani exports could put us on wrong side of WTO; taking military action will come with the threat of an uncontrollable escalation spiral. In other words, the only costless option is to do nothing and keep rolling with the blows. But even this is a very expensive option because it means the enemy can keep raising the cost for India without any payback. This means not doing anything is also not really costless.


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