writings of ali ahmed ...with due acknowledgement and thanks to publications where these have appeared. Views expressed are personal and may not be associated with any organisation. Follow on twitter: @aliahd66
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What to make of Pakistan is up to its 180 million citizens. However, what they make of Pakistan is consequential to its neighbours. Therefore, if India wants Pakistan to go along a certain direction, then it must go down the route ‘with’ Pakistan.
India wants the dividend of a democratic peace, which means getting Pakistan to take the right choices away from extremism and military dominance. India has not succeeded so far. This owes to the internal political complexion of Pakistan as a military dominant state. For its institutional self-interest, it chooses to see only India’s stick in India’s ‘carrot-and-stick’ policy.
Therefore, if India’s policy is to be effective, it needs to get the military and the Establishment on board. This may seem somewhat counter-intuitive since India’s policy aim is to arrive at a democratic dividend by networking the democratic forces and commercial classes.
So how can we engage with the military? If India wants Pakistan to cease being revisionist, then it must cease being status quoist. The end point of the 2004-07 window of interaction by the NDA and UPA governments is the start point we have. But first, anticipating criticism that the idea may invoke, a survey of India’s strategic culture is done to show that this proposal is not outlandish. Some have it that India does not have a strategic culture. India does not understand power and its uses and does not know how to create and employ power. Given this, India is disinclined to view force as an instrument of policy. It consequently has a predisposition for accommodation. This is taken as the ‘weakness’ that incentivises the security challenges India faces, both internally and externally. The prescription in this under-standing is for India is to create the sinews of power, acquire the hardware for its exercise and the software in terms of policy, doctrine and strategy. The resulting felicity with employment of power and the instrumental use of force is both necessary for India’s rise and the best indicator of such rise.
This critique of India’s engagement with power needs to be contested. India has not been found wanting in the use of force. Right at Independence, India employed its military speedily in response to a call from the Maharaja of Kashmir in 1947. It used coercive action in Junagarh. It resorted to police action to integrate Hyderabad. It threw out the Portuguese from Goa. It adopted a forward policy against China. It opened up the Punjab front in the 1965 War. It dissected Pakistan in 1971. It sent its troops for peace enforcement action to Sri Lanka. On the internal security front, it has militarily tackled insurgencies in Punjab, North-East and Kashmir. In terms of creating power capabilities, it is poised to gain a nuclear triad by the mid-decade.
This proves that India has used force with resolve. It is true that such use of force has also witnessed the exercise of restraint. The instances of restraint, usually cited as signs of weakness, necessarily form an equally long list. The list would include stopping short of Muzaffarabad in 1948. This had the very sensible intent of stopping along an ethno-linguistic divide over which negotiations for a trade-off could well have taken place. At the end of the 1965 War, yet again India created the conditions for a long-term settlement of the Kashmir issue by demonstrating its goodwill by returning Haji Pir. In the 1971 War it did not take the war into West Pakistan and returned the prisoners of war as it was duty-bound to do under the Geneva Conventions. The idea that these PWs could have been held hostage to Pakistani concessions is untenable. It did not overstay its invitation in Sri Lanka. It has been a reluctant nuclear power, but not one neglectful of nuclear and missile delivery technology that has proceeded apace under considerable inter-national pressure. It has used military means to beat back the militant challenge internally but has been circumspect in using force, for instance, by avoiding the use of the Air Force and area weapons.
Restraint cannot be taken as weakness, but of sensible strategy that takes into account vulnerabilities, limitations, unintended consequences and relative strengths. India’s exercise of power has rightly been with ‘resolve and restraint’. This background has been necessary to show India’s approach to force. Against this backdrop the approach to Pakistan can be better located.
Divining India’s strategy, in the absence of any document that states the strategy, makes the attempt equivalent of the output of the seven blind men examining an elephant. However, India’s grand strategy for Pakistan can be said to be one for over-awing Islamabad by developing a power asymmetry whereby Pakistan is forced to throw in the towel. This owes to India’s self-image as the regional power, entirely understandable in the light of its size, economy, military capability, political contrast, future potential etc.
A tough line with respect to Pakistan has been in evidence all along. It has become progressively more pronounced since the eclipse of Nehruvia-nism by the Indira doctrine and later by the assertive turn to strategic culture prompted by India’s cultural nationalist movement. Even in Nehru’s time, India was never overly accommo-dative. At Independence, India had to be pressured by the Mahatma’s last fast to hand over some financial dues to the fledgling Pakistan. It has been firmly status quoist over the bone of contention, Kashmir. The Swaran Singh-Bhutto talks were towards buying time under Western pressure as India rearmed in the wake of 1962. At Tashkent, the sweetner of return of Haji Pir was to sell the status quo. It is quite evident that the 1971 War was a watershed in regional power equations. Yet, the explosion at Pokhran I soon thereafter was coyly advertised as a peaceful nuclear explosion. By the mid-eighties, prompted by the Indira doctrine, India had upped its defence budget to thrice that of Pakistan. Pakistan’s featuring as a ‘frontline’ state was of course a ready reason. India aimed for a blue water navy, created a missile programme, came within a screw driver turn of nuclear weapons and practised diplomatic coer-cion in Exercise Brasstacks. The nineties witnessed culmination of mechanisation in the third strike corps, one more than Pakistan. At the end of the decade, India’s nuclearisation owed also to the hope of smoking out Pakistan, to call its bluff. Of the last decade it can be said that the steady opening up of asymmetry has precedence in the ending of the Cold War. In other words, India has not been found wanting in exercising the ‘stick’. Therefore, for Pakistan to only look at the business end of India’s stick is unexceptio-nable.
YET in keeping with India’s strategic culture of ‘resolve and restraint’, India has episodically tried reaching out sincerely alongside. This has originated in the goodwill, sometimes reciprocated from across the border, of protagonists who were politically unable to follow through on their intentions on both sides: Nehru, Rajiv Gandhi, Gujral, Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh on the Indian side and the Bhuttos, Nawaz Sharif and Musharraf on the other. None of these leaders has been able to create the political conditions for a settlement.
Insofar as the carrot—in the form of CBMs, economics, people-to-people contacts, cultural opening etc.—forms part of India’s grand strategy, it has been interpreted as a ‘bear hug’ by the security establishment in Pakistan. If India’s strategy of engagement were to succeed it would enable India more leverages and at the cost of the Pakistan military and anti-India political forma-tions. The Pakistani reciprocation under-stand-ably has been of ‘moat building’.
India for its part has not found this off-putting since it helps avert any possibility of accommo-dation and compromise that India is also loath to do. It justifies India’s game of positive and negative leverages, with no end-point in sight. India is a power indulging in power politics. This is not illegitimate. After all, Pakistan has been proac-tively at it. But the upshot has been an ineffective ‘carrot-and-stick’ strategy.
The ‘carrot’ designed to increase the space for democratic forces, popular goodwill and comm-ercial interests, has been denied by the military that congenitally sees only the ‘stick’. Pakistan’s deft external balancing and less admirable internal balancing through leveraging extremism, has India stumped. That the Pakistani military has been the stumbling block to an outbreak of democratic peace in the subcontinent is a long-standing reality. India’s policy has not taken its reaction, based on relative power logic and its institutional interests into account. The best explanation for such a blind spot seems to be that the Pakistani Army being rational will see the obvious asym-metry and throw in the towel. This time round India expects to be able to prevail since New Delhi has been gaining ground: economically, militarily and diplomatically and politically. Recent reports, which suggest Islamabad is giving up on Kashmir, can only make India believe that the strategy works.
India’s policy carries risks since, firstly, it is reliant on a deterrence and, secondly, the more successful the strategy, the greater the asymmetry. In case of a Pakistan on brink of collapse, such a strategy has a point of diminishing marginal returns. India’s credibility as a regional power depends on how it guides the region out of the after-effects of the Afghan Wars. Over-awing Pakistan is only one strategy option. Instead an alternative strategy is called for. If the future is to be a break from the past, India must turn to accommodation.
The critique of strategic culture that India is overly accommodative already helps deny accommodation, being designed to push Indian policies to more muscular, pro-active and offensive directions. It is to compel the state, fearful of being charged with being ‘soft’ on defence, to over-compensate in a certain direction. India must instead seek to engage Pakistan meaningfully on outstanding issues, as indeed it is pledged to. This will enable Pakistan to disengage from its ‘strategic assets’, the terrorists it has employed in a proxy war. Pakistan, with some-thing to carry back on the question of Kashmir, can then dismantle the terror infrastructure that India has been insisting on all along.
The position so far is that India will talk once terror is dismantled. There is a certain sequencing in this. However, the trust deficit does not permit Pakistan to throw away its lever, howsoever illegitimate. So there needs to be a simultaneity in India talking concessions and Pakistan behaving itself better. This was the case in the 2004-07 window. We need to begin afresh and India’s public must be conditioned to this by proactive political action.
The criticism of this idea would be that it is to give in to terror and proxy war. The point is that the strategy of not talking under the threat of a gun to the temple has not worked adequately well. Persisting in the hope that India’s better economic indices of late will enable it to manage the relation-ship with resolving the underlying problems is self-delusion.
Another criticism could be that the suggestion of accommodation reeks of India being forced to talk with Pakistan holding a gun to its own head. Yes, the region cannot want that gun going off.
The author is an Assistant Professor, Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.