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Sunday, 25 September 2016
IS UNITED PAKISTAN IN INDIAS INTEREST
Sunday, 25 September 2016 | Swapan Dasgupta
In a week that has been dominated by concern, if not rage, over India’s relationship with a truculent Pakistan, I am reminded of a telephone conversation I had with a retired chief of Pakistan’s infamous Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
The year was 1999, shortly after the Blair House agreement in Washington DC forced the then Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to agree to a cessation of hostilities in the Kargil sector of Jammu & Kashmir. The mood in Islamabad, which I was visiting for the first (and only) time, was a mixture of despondency and optimism. There was dejection at the fact that the Pakistani Prime Minister had been summoned to Washington by President Clinton and forced to sign on the dotted line or face the wrath of the US. At the same time, there was also a naïve belief that India and Pakistan would somehow resume the Lahore bus yatra bonhomie. India was then in a transitional stage with general elections due very shortly, an election that Pakistan’s so-called India hands expected would be won by the Congress.
It was in Islamabad that I telephoned Hamid Gul (the number helpfully provided by a foreign correspondent) for a brief chat. Visiting him in Rawalpindi was out of the question since my visa quite expressly forbade any travel outside the city, particularly to a cantonment.
There are many Pakistani politicians, officials and even Generals who, particularly after retirement and entry into the international seminar circuit, tailor their views to suit the audience. Of course, this characteristic is by no means confined to notables on only one side of the Radcliffe Line. I was fortunate that Hamid Gul didn’t belong to this club, not least because he was considered a trifle too inflammatory for the conflict resolution industry. What he told me was perhaps very little different from what he would have told a gathering of jehadis out to ‘liberate’ Afghanistan or Kashmir.
Gul was courteous but he simmering with rage. His ire was directed at the ‘spineless’ Pakistani establishment that had meekly buckled under American pressure. What was the source of India’s clout, he asked rhetorically. India’s international clout, he believed, stemmed from its economic muscle. No international power, he believed, could afford to ignore either the Indian market or the sheer size of its economy. As long as India had economic muscle, Gul felt, Pakistan would be at a disadvantage vis a vis its historic enemy.
Under the circumstances, what was Pakistan supposed to do? According to him, the Kargil War had demonstrated that the only long-term approach for Pakistan was to systematically ensure that India didn’t possess that advantage. In the past, Pakistan’s bellicose strategists had devised the war of a “thousand cuts” to bleed India. Gul was taking this approach one step further.
In his view, Pakistan had to ensure that India didn’t remain a single nation-state. Its advantage of size had to be negated. The break-up of India was his strategic objective, and he had no hesitation in saying so quite openly to an Indian journalist.
Since its creation in 1947, Pakistan has agonised over its large neighbour that literally dwarfed it. Its strategic thinkers have consistently held the view that India’s unity was artificial and that sooner or later “Hindu unity” would give way to fragmentation. Unfortunately for it, India endured and it was Pakistan that broke up in 1971 as a reaction to its ham-handed unitarianism. Since then, avenging the ignominious surrender in Dhaka has become a part of Pakistan’s strategic philosophy. Pakistan always coveted Kashmir but after East Pakistan broke away, the larger vivisection of India has become an obsession.
There is a small minority of “useful idiots” in India that believe in gifting, if not the whole of Jammu & Kashmir, at least the Kashmir Valley, to Pakistan. They feel that ending a 70-year conflict is a small price to pay for the gains likely to be accrued in diverting resources from Defence to economic development.
They are wrong on two counts. First, Kashmir is by no means Pakistan’s only demand on India. It is, to use the words of a Muslim League leader in the 1950s, its “latest demand.” The larger objective of a break-up of India into fragments is permanent and stems from a reading of India’s history from the 8th Century. Second, the belief in the destruction of a united India has acquired a contemporary ideological thrust with the growth of international Islamism. With Islamic modernists on the retreat, there is now a growing body of people in Muslim countries that believe in a political ummah. They believe that the absolute numbers of Muslims in the subcontinent present them with an opportunity to enlarge the scope of a dreamland Caliphate.
It is relevant to address some of the larger questions stemming from Pakistan’s uninterrupted acts of terrorism directed against India, and its encouragement of separatist movements within India. On its part, India has been helpless in the face of unending Pakistani provocation, knowing fully well, that the international community is alarmed by the prospect of two nuclear powers shedding all restraint. This helplessness is now leading to popular exasperation within India, particularly after the troubles in Kashmir and the attacks on Pathankot and Uri.
No doubt, greater vigilance and deft political management is needed. However, from the longer term perspective it is necessary to put Pakistan on the defensive-and not merely diplomatically. Since the Shimla Agreement of 1972, India has reposed faith in a democratic, stable and united Pakistan as being the answer to permanent conflict. It is time this assumption was reviewed.
Gul, for all his fanaticism, was absolutely clear about what he saw as the road Pakistan must take. Ideally, India shouldn’t give a damn about how Pakistan handles itself internally. However, when the national philosophy of Pakistan starts impinging on its own larger well-being, it is only proper to ask whether India’s faith in One Pakistan should endure. The Gul doctrine can be applied both ways.