- Feb 23, 2009
The fallacies behind India's Pakistan policy
India Abroad, August 7, 2009
Even though India’s extended hand has been slapped again and again by Pakistan, right-minded Indians still desire peace and stability on the subcontinent — but with dignity. Instead of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s one-sided commitment to “go more than half the way” to make peace with Pakistan, India’s correct position should be that it is ever ready to walk more than half the distance on cooperation or confrontation, depending on whether Pakistan wants peace or war.
Singh’s recent statements in Parliament point to the fallacies on which he has been reconstructing his Pakistan policy. His personal imprint on that policy bears at least eight perilous misconceptions.
One, political geography is unalterable. “We cannot wish away the fact that Pakistan is our neighbor,” Singh says. So, “a stable, peaceful and prosperous Pakistan” is in India’s “own interest.” But political maps are never carved in stone, as the breaking away of Bangladesh, Eritrea and East Timor showed. In fact, the most-profound global events in recent history have been the fragmentation of several states, including the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. Pakistan — the world’s Terroristan rolled into an Anarchistan — looks increasingly decrepit and combustible.
The redrawing of the “Afpak” political frontiers indeed may be essential for regional and international security. The British-drawn Durand Line, in any case, has ceased to exist in effect, making a Pashtunistan no longer look implausible. The “moth-eaten” Pakistan, as its founder called it, now resembles a Molotov cocktail waiting for a match.
Two, India and Pakistan are locked by a shared destiny. Therefore, “our objective must be a permanent peace with Pakistan, where we are bound together by a shared future and a common prosperity.” Despite Singh’s constant harping on a “shared destiny,” how can a plural, inclusive and democratic India share a common future with a theocratic, militarized and radicalized Pakistan? In fact, Pakistan, with its “war of a thousand cuts,” poses an existential threat to the very principles and values on which India is founded.
Three, the alternative to a policy seeking to placate a terror-exporting adversary is war. “It is in our vital interest to make sincere efforts to live in peace with Pakistan … There is no other way unless we go to war.” Lest his message not be clearly understood, Singh repeated: “Unless we want to go to war with Pakistan, dialogue is the only way out.” This draws on the classic argument of appeasers that the only alternative to appeasement is provocation or conflict. The simple truth is that between bending backwards and waging aggression lie a hundred different options.
Yet, by greeting each major cross-border terror strike in recent years with complete inaction, Singh has speciously suggested to the nation that the only alternative to such abysmal pusillanimity is war. After 26/11, for example, Singh exercised not one of the multiple political, economic and diplomatic options he had —from recalling the high commissioner from Islamabad and disbanding the farcical Joint Anti-Terror Mechanism to designating Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence as a terrorist organization and invoking trade sanctions. As a result, India ended up not taking the smallest of small steps even as a token expression of outrage over Pakistan’s role.
Four, India cannot emerge as a world power without making peace with Pakistan. “I sincerely believe India cannot realize its development ambition or its ambition of being a great power if our neighborhood remains disturbed … it is in our vital interest, therefore, to try again to make peace with Pakistan.” To say that the country cannot emerge as a major power without making peace with an adversary wedded to waging war by terror is to go against the grain of world history and to encourage the foe to hold India’s progress hostage. Does Singh wish to egg on Pakistan to have its cake and eat it too — wage unconventional war while enjoying the comfort offered by Indian-initiated conciliation and peace talks?
Next-door China has emerged as a global player by building comprehensive national power, not by coming to terms with Taiwan, which it has kept under a threat of military invasion. Beijing also has pursued a consistently assertive approach toward India for long.
Singh does not understand that the irredentist Pakistan is locked in mortal combat with the status quoist India, seeking its salvation in India’s unravelling. Even if India handed Kashmir Valley on a platter, Pakistan’s war by terror would not end.
Five, as India has nothing to hide and indeed “our conduct is an open book,” it can let Pakistan include any issue in the bilateral agenda. “We are not afraid of discussing any issue of concern between the two countries. If there are any misgivings, we are willing to discuss them and remove them.” It was such logic that permitted Pakistan to turn its terror target, India, into an accused on Baluchistan.
Singh’s attempt to rationalize that blunder, though, threatens to exacerbate matters. Not “afraid of discussing any issue” extends an invitation to Pakistan to place on the bilateral agenda any subject it wants, including a matter internal to India.
Six, if Pakistan merely acknowledges what is incontrovertible, that is enough for India to change policy course. “This is the first time that Pakistan has … admitted that their nationals and a terrorist organization based in Pakistan carried out a ghastly terrorist act in India.” That prompted the policy change at Sharm-el-Sheikh, Singh divulged.
That it took Pakistan more six months even to submit a detailed response to India’s dossier of evidence, that its response states upfront that the state-sponsored group involved in the Mumbai attacks — the Lashkar-e-Taiba — is a “defunct” organization against which no action thus is possible, that Islamabad has publicly discredited Indian evidence against the No. 1 mastermind, Hafiz Saeed, as “propaganda” and freed him, that the Pakistani terrorist-training camps along the India border remain operational, and that Pakistan has rubbished India’s demand to hand over 42 fugitives like Dawood Ibrahim, Tiger Memon, Chota Shakeel and Lakhbir Singh — all that doesn’t matter. What matters is an admission of what no longer is deniable.
Seven, high-level dialogue and “meaningful” dialogue can be optically delinked. Those not paying attention to Singh’s word play would have missed the distinction he drew in his July 29 speech: “We can have a meaningful dialogue with Pakistan only if they fulfill their commitment, in letter and spirit, not to allow their territory to be used in any manner for terrorist activities against India.” However, at the level of prime minister, foreign minister and foreign secretary, India will continue its dialogue with Pakistan on “all outstanding issues,” irrespective of whether Pakistan demonstrates its anti-terror bona fides or not. Such casuistry is designed to carve space for the misbegotten approach.
Eight, diplomacy of hope and prayer makes sense. “I hope and pray that the leadership in Pakistan will have the strength and the courage to defeat those who want to destroy, not just peace between India and Pakistan, but the future of South Asia.” Wishful thinking has long hobbled Indian foreign policy. Now, in the glaring absence of holistic, institutionalized decision-making, prayers are being added to the wishes.
Yet, even God cannot help those praying for Pakistan to kick its terrorism habit. A state that has employed armed proxies against India virtually from its inception cannot do without them. A de-terrorized Pakistan will become an extinct Pakistan.
Brahma Chellaney, a professor of strategic studies at the privately funded Center for Policy Research in New Delhi, is the author, most recently, of “Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of China, India and Japan” (HarperCollins).
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