The Mohali wisdom - S Iftikhar Murshed - Sunday, April 17, 2011

“We watch Indian movies; our marriage ceremonies originated in India; we love Indian music. So why shouldn’t our countries live in peace,” said Shahid Afridi after the Pakistan-India Cricket World Cup semi-final in Mohali. This was in stark contrast to the senseless observation of a talk show host who repeated on several occasions prior to the match that Pakistan’s victory would be revenge for the Raymond Davis episode and US drone attacks on our soil.

The dividends of peace and the establishment of a stable and tension-free Pakistan-India equation are obvious but politicians on both sides of the border have gone the extra mile to criticise the talks in Mohali between Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and his Indian counterpart, Dr Manmohan Singh. Thus, the former Bollywood celebrity Shatrughan Sinha and now a member of the BJP commented: “I call this not cricket diplomacy, I call it cricket hypocrisy.” The leader of the Janata Party, Subramanian Swamy, described the Mohali summit as a betrayal of those killed during the Mumbai attacks.

The same madness prevailed in Pakistan. When the Tehrik-Insaaf leader, Imran Khan, commented during the run-up to the semi-final that the bets were in favour of India because of its formidable batting order, he was accused by the PML-N of pro-Indian proclivities and was advised to renounce politics.

What hardliners in both countries have yet to grasp is that in this changed and changing world, foreign policy priorities and national interests per se have to be continuously defined in terms of what is achievable. Hide-bound policies that do not take into account the perpetually transforming ground realities are doomed to failure. This is the essence of foreign policy. Its intricacy is that the national interests of countries are often in conflict. Compromises, therefore, have to be made. The erosion of the modus vivendi leads to an escalation of tension, its elimination to war. In the Pakistan-India context, it revolves around cross-border terrorism perpetrated by either side.

A factor that Pakistan has to keep in mind is that it has long international borders and very little depth. From the security perspective, the text-book definition of an adequate defence mechanism is the ability of a country to defend itself from simultaneous attack by all its neighbours. This is not possible in the case of Pakistan which shares borders with India, Iran, Afghanistan and China.

The static view of international relations, to which the hawks subscribe, is that Pakistan only has problems with India even though its borders with Afghanistan are fluid and unstable. This does not take into consideration the perpetually transforming relationships between countries. The friends a country may have today can become its adversaries in the future. This was precisely what Lord Palmerstone meant when he said “Britain has no permanent friends or enemies, it only has permanent interests.” Since Pakistan does not have the resources for acquiring an adequate defence capability, its interests lie in regional stability.

According to Henry Kissinger: “There are only two roads to stability: one is hegemony and the other is equilibrium.” It is this quest for regional equilibrium that defined Pakistan’s policy through the 1980s as it sought to avoid a two-front situation that is, conflict with India and Soviet-occupied Afghanistan.

As far as the former was concerned, it tried to diffuse tension through what was described during the Ziaul Haq era as a “peace offensive.” On Afghanistan, US and Pakistani interests coincided and Islamabad became a major recipient of American assistance. The two countries, along with Saudi Arabia, promoted a jihadi culture and the virus, long after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, continues to destabilise the region and perpetuate tensions between Pakistan and India.

Of the “two roads to stability” identified by Kissinger, India’s policy is built around regional hegemony. It believes that Chinese and Pakistani opposition to its ambition for pre-eminence in South Asia and beyond can only be thwarted with American support. It has accordingly convinced Washington to accept its leadership role in the region. It has positioned itself as buffer against rising Islamic fundamentalism; a constraint to Chinese ambitions; a source of support towards America’s Southeast Asian allies potentially threatened by Beijing; and a satiated status quo power that seeks to defuse global problems such as nuclear addiction and proliferation, terrorism and diffusion of weapons of mass destruction.

In short, it has depicted itself as a state whose friendship would advance larger US strategic interests along the wider Southern Asian rim.

With the nuclearisation of South Asia, regional hegemony is no longer available to New Delhi as a policy option. After its nuclear tests on May 11 and 13, 1998, Islamabad was told that the strategic balance had changed and that India would teach Pakistan a lesson. The threats came to an abrupt end only after Pakistan also demonstrated its nuclear capability. From 1981 to 2004, India followed a doctrine built around administering Pakistan a devastating blow in response to attacks by Pakistan-based jihadi groups. It was Air Commodore Tariq M Ashraf of Pakistan who was the first to term this conventional military strategy as the Sundarji doctrine because it was the brainchild of Gen Krishnaswamy Sudarrajan.

The Sundarji doctrine was discarded in April 2004 when the former Indian army chief, General Deepak Kapoor, unveiled the Pakistan-specific Cold Start doctrine. It envisages quick mobilisation, rapid strikes, and shallow incursions of 50-80 kilometres into Pakistan as a lever for post-conflict negotiations. The concept has been described as “a limited war doctrine” and the absurdity of this claim becomes immediately obvious because it does not factor in the possibility that Islamabad could only be left with a nuclear first strike option in view of the conventional imbalance.

An invisible Berlin Wall of unresolved disputes, particularly Kashmir, obstructs the establishment of good-neighbourly relations between Pakistan and India. The tensions that have marked the equation between the two countries in the last six decades have resulted in conventional and sub-conventional wars. After the nuclearisation of South Asia, aggressive postures by either country can have disastrous consequences. Each terrorist incident heightens tensions and has the potential of igniting a conflict.

Both countries have been victims of terrorism. As of 2006, at least 232 of India’s 608 districts were afflicted by terrorist violence of varying intensity. In August 2008, the former National Security Adviser M K Narayanan, disclosed that there were as many as 800 terrorist cells operating in the country.

However, it is Pakistan that has suffered the most. Terrorist strikes have resulted in more than 4,200 civilian deaths and almost all have been perpetrated by jihadi outfits once used by the state as proxy warriors for its misadventures in Afghanistan and Kashmir. These groups have expanded and grown in strength to the extent that it will take years for the government to dismantle them. The Lashkar-e-Tayba or the Jamaat-ud-Dawa as it now calls itself has become a veritable state-within-a-state and it serves its interest to derail the process of Pakistan-India rapprochement.

The wisdom of keeping the recently resumed Pakistan-India talks on track is self-evident. The goodwill generated by the leaders of the two countries in Mohali has to be maintained. The problem is that terrorist incidents will keep recurring thereby scuttling peace initiatives by either side. Terrorism poses the biggest threat to both countries and yet they are reluctant to recognise that they encounter a common enemy. They need to devise a coordinated strategy to combat this menace.

The writer is the publisher of Criterion Quarterly. Email: iftimurshed

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