By Swapan Dasgupta
For once it is difficult to blame the media for getting into a tizzy over events on the Line of Control. If enemy action resulted in the killing of five Indian soldiers, the matter cannot be shrugged off with the lament that ‘these things happen’. Nor can we be so heartless as to suggest, as a silly minister in Bihar did, that men in uniform have to be prepared for the ultimate sacrifice. No doubt the incident will be forgotten by the time Parliament re-convenes on Monday and shifts its gaze elsewhere, but the anger at a truculent neighbour will persist.
What will add to the hurt is the realisation that the those who have been entrusted with national security view human lives as a statistic in the larger game of ‘nuanced’ and ‘calibrated’ diplomacy. The national outrage that led to Defence Minister A.K. Antony modifying his initial statement about ‘men in Pakistani army uniform’ was not another example of sloppy drafting—recall how the Sharm-el-Sheikh joint statement of 2009 was similarly explained. When it comes to Pakistan (and, for that matter, China) the ruling establishment is guilty of political and diplomatic cringe.
Whether this stems from the cultural inferiority of those who continue to believe that life begins and ends in Lahore or from the dissimulative skills of time-servers adept in telling political leaders what they want to hear is for historians to ascertain. The point is that Indian foreign policy has yet to come to terms with a curious question: how do you make peace with a neighbour whose sense of nationhood is centred on an enduring hatred of India? If this was merely a civilizational tussle, India could have lived with this dilemma. Unfortunately, the problem has extended to armed conflict: the “war of a thousand cuts” is a doctrinal facet of Pakistan which will not go away whether Zia-ul-Haq, Pervez Musharraf, Benazir Bhutto or Nawaz Sharif rules in Islamabad.
For just too long India has been clutching at straws, trying its best to strengthen the ‘good’ Pakistani vis-à-vis the ‘bad’ guys in the seminaries and cantonments. There is no harm in giving a helping hand to those Pakistanis disturbed by the country’s drift away from Jinnah’s political exclusivism. If collective appreciation of cricket, Bollywood and Manto could ensure that outstanding boundary disputes are left to another generation, India can encourage many more Pakistani writers and artists to attend literary festivals and mushairas. In pure economic terms, it makes more sense to dish out junkets to starry-eyed, American-educated, Pakistani women journalists who are active on twitter than re-equip entire artillery divisions with expensive military hardware. There is also little harm in allowing Pakistani traders to develop a stake in the Indian market because commerce has the ability to temper aggressive designs.
The problem, unfortunately, is far larger and many times more sinister. What Indian foreign policy seems to be underplaying is that the Pakistan of our imagination doesn’t really correspond with the Pakistan of 2013. The mismatch has been evident for some time, even when Zia-ul-Haq charmed the Delhi elite with presents of carpets and onyx ashtrays. But we have pretended otherwise.
Pakistan’s strategic doctrine rests on the belief that a weakened and, hopefully, fragmented India is in its national interest. This conviction was born after the General Niazi’s humiliating surrender in Dacca in 1971, was reinforced following the Kargil war of 1999, the collapse of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2002 and the global hype over India’s economic achievements.
These setbacks have, however, not derailed the larger strategy. Pakistan successfully harassed India with the Khalistani movement, the insurgency in Kashmir and by nurturing terrorism. Today, it is sensing the re-conquest of Afghanistan and is emboldened by the religious radicalism in the Arab world. It also detects openings from a weak and fractured government in Delhi.
Sunday Times of India, August 11, 2013