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|August 16, 2001||
T V R Shenoy
Let's dispel the myths
History tells us that both India and Pakistan achieved independence from Britain simultaneously. Why then do the two countries celebrate their Independence Day on different days?
It is just another of those weird things that continue to divide Indians and Pakistanis. And trust me, there is no dearth of issues to quarrel about.
But I really do not want to reduce this column to a catalogue of charges and counter-charges. Let me focus, instead, on a couple of myths -- important ones since they are the ones that ultimately affected the downfall of the Agra summit.
The first myth, the one that is widely touted as fact in Pakistan, is that India is tired, worn out, by the horrifying bloodshed in Jammu & Kashmir. The second myth, a delusion that continues to affect Indian calculations, is that Pakistan is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy because of Western, chiefly American, sanctions.
Let me begin by bursting the Indian bubble. It is true that Pakistan is in economic distress. Its president and its finance minister have admitted as much quite openly. But there is a huge difference between being in distress and being on the deathbed. If anyone in Delhi's central secretariat thinks that Pakistan may fall apart because of economic reasons, well, think again.
Here is one reason for this belief: the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has agreed to grant Pakistan $1 billion worth of crude oil. A billion dollars isn't what it used to be, but that should still go a long way in easing minds in Islamabad's finance ministry.
On June 15, Pakistan was forced to ask Belgium to reschedule a payment of 81.53 million Belgian francs. If Islamabad had to worry about such sums, think how much Saudi Arabia's generosity would have helped.
Second, what effect exactly have those much-ballyhooed sanctions actually had? India shrugged them off without bothering too much. (They are more of a symbol right now than a genuine irritant.) Have they had any greater effect on Pakistan?
One school of thought states that the Pakistani economy has been badly hit by sanctions. I question this facile assumption. Pakistan's economy may be smaller, less industrially developed, and far less diversified than that of India, but that is protection of a kind in itself. I fail to see how economic sanctions of the kind imposed by the Clinton administration in 1997 could possibly hurt an agrarian, rather feudal economy.
If you ask me, the major blow suffered by Pakistan was a self-inflicted wound -- Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief's decision to interfere with the outflow of foreign currency in 1997. That did more to destroy confidence than anything the United States could have done.
Pakistan has more than its fair share of economic problems. But the chief causes are poor management and corruption. If anyone believes that these will drag Pakistan to the negotiating table, then they are just plain wrong.
Of course, Pakistan's leaders can still prove me wrong. They may still take idiotic decisions as Nawaz Sharief's regime did. But waiting for sanctions to have an effect is pretty poor tactics!
Moving on, I would add that waiting for an enemy to tire out isn't exactly a great strategy. Contrary to what anyone in Pakistan thinks, terrorism and the counter-insurgency in Kashmir have not led to any weariness in Delhi.
One common analogy has it that Kashmir is India's Vietnam. Frankly, this is a poor comparison.
Vietnam was far from the United States and its fall had no impact on American security. The fall of Kashmir to foreign domination is a matter of vast consequence to India's defence. And here is another point, which Pakistanis fail to recognise: Kashmir is central to India's sense of identity.
From Jawaharlal Nehru down, India's leaders have done their best to project a nation that is secular, one where people of every creed are citizens with equal rights. It was this argument which Nehru used when some members of the Constituent Assembly wanted to make India a 'Hindu' state. Jammu & Kashmir, India's only Muslim-majority state, is a major part of the secular country created by India's founders.
What happens if Kashmir is gifted away? Isn't India then implicitly agreeing that Muslims and Hindus cannot live together? The implications of that argument are frightening.
I have given you what one may call the moral and the security reasons why India will never agree to give up Kashmir. There are also some more, shall we say, political reasons.
First, India is a democracy and it will be political suicide for any party even to suggest ceding Kashmir. Even speaking of converting the Line of Control into an international boundary is dangerous.
Second, for all the bloodletting, Indian decision-makers are not really affected. Going back to Vietnam, the American establishment didn't consider withdrawal until their children on American campuses began to protest. Well, there is no draft in India. And, frankly, I am hard put to recall politicians whose children serve in India's armed forces. (Come to that, none of my children's school friends do so.)
Let us face it -- there is no fatigue among the leaders or the people of India. I have been reading of the so-called 'Chenab solution' being touted in some circles in Pakistan. (Briefly, it suggests redrawing the boundary along the lines of the River Chenab.) I fail to understand why India would agree to surrender tamely the Kashmir valley as well as chunks of Jammu and Ladakh (including Kargil). This is mere daydreaming, not a blueprint for a solution.
Will Pakistan be forced to the negotiating table by economic sanctions? Is India tiring of the decade-old militancy in Jammu & Kashmir? Much as some sections in Delhi and Islamabad might wish otherwise, these are fantasies. Recognise them for what they are -- or we will be stuck where we are on August 15, 2051.
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