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The Defeat of Pakistani Militarism
January 16, 2004
The recent Islamabad agreement between India and Pakistan is not significant in that it promises to bring some level of normalcy in the relations between the two countries, it is so in its tacit acknowledgement by Pakistan of the defeat of its two-decade old militaristic policy. Since, there can be no resolution to the Kashmir problem that is mutually acceptable to both countries, the agreement implies that the Pakistanis have agreed to put this issue in cold storage.
A Pakistani journalist has called it the mother of all deals -- the unthinkable U-turn, and I agree with that characterization. The setting aside of the Kashmir issue could be like the lifting of a neurosis, when the patient begins to see ordinary events in a new light, and Pakistan faces not just ordinary problems, but challenges threatening its very survival.
The sceptics will say that Musharraf's promise not to support terrorism is a promise he had made before, and not kept. The agreement to engage in a comprehensive dialogue does not by itself guarantee peace. While playing cricket, with new air, train or bus services, and cultural delegations traveling across the border, Pakistan may still be hedging its bets. Terrorism incidents continue within the Jammu and Kashmir state, and if Pakistan blames these on groups not under its influence, doesn't that sound similar to the claim that its export of nuclear technology was done by Abdul Qadeer Khan in personal capacity, and not by the Pakistani government? Furthermore, not all the Pakistani players are in favour of the agreement: the MMA, that rules two of the four provinces in Pakistan, is against normalization of relations.
Despite a sense of déjà vu in the recent happenings -- recalling as it does the Lahore Bus yatra of 1999 -- there is a crucial difference. The yatra was based on the hope that a grand gesture will help break with the past. Although publicized as Bus diplomacy, there was no bus ride within Pakistan. Fearful of the lack of support from the public, Nawaz Sharif had Vajpayee fly from Wagah to Lahore in a helicopter. The media did not reveal this inconvenient fact, and became accessory to the creation of a fantasy that was to have tragic consequences later in Kargil.
Now, there is rightful insistence that the negotiations must proceed in good faith. Pakistani assertions will not be taken at face value and there will be insistence on verification. Personally, I hope that Pakistan will be told that normalization of relations would require reform in education, since its textbooks -- and I am speaking here of the government schools and not the independent madrasas -- continue to poison the minds of the youth against India
The Islamabad agreement merely inks what has become an imperative in the globalized world. The Pakistani ruling class has taken its time to recognize the need for change. Its beginnings were in the abandonment of its Afghanistan policy that was compelled by the changed geopolitical situation after September 11, 2001. Pervez Musharraf, declaring this policy reversal in his speech to the Pakistani people, announced that that it was only a strategic decision, the truthfulness of which was confirmed by recent revelations that Pakistan continued to secretly supply nuclear technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya after that speech.
Now it is being recognized that Pakistan's real problem is that it is being left behind in its economic race with India. Pakistani economy has remained stagnant for the last twenty years, as it framed its national policies as a zero-sum struggle with India, confident that its support of cross-border terrorism was bleeding India. During this period, India, by focusing on development, carved out a niche in international industry, most notable in software and design, biotech, and automobile parts, and it has become the world's fourth largest economy. The annual US trade deficit with India is running at an impressive $10 billion, and it is expected to accelerate in the coming years. Pakistan has lost precious years when other Asian countries have forged ahead.
The militaristic policies of Pakistan were based on flawed assumptions that might have appeared sensible in the 1980s, when the Soviet empire fell. Scholars now assert that the popular view that the Soviet Union collapsed because of its war in Afghanistan and an unsustainable arms race with America is not correct. It did so because its centralized economy could not compete with the West.
Pakistan's policies were not just the creation of the generals, they had the support of the liberal elite. Pakistan was in a shadowland of its own making, a consequence of its unwillingness or inability to define its national vision. Torn between the desire to belong to the Indian subcontinent and West Asia, democracy and army rule, international law and covert war, it became hostage to an emotional attitude that fed upon its perceived grievances related to the partitions of 1947 and 1971. Worse, it looked back at colonial history for lessons.
The colonial era of conquest was driven by a desire to control raw material. In our current information age, physical control is expensive and a conquered land can hurt the empire's economy (as is being discovered by the US in Iraq). The Pakistani thinkers were wrong in their belief that controlling Central Asia, no matter at what cost to its institutions, would advance Pakistan's strategic interests.
The Pakistani U-turn is a recognition that time is running out for it. Its strategic importance and power, given the much faster development in other countries of south and east Asia, is weakening rapidly. No doubt, elements in Pakistan would want to continue with the covert support of the fighters in Kashmir. But this will not help Pakistani economy. Neither will it hurt India any more than was the case in the past decade in which, in spite of the problem with cross-border terrorism, Indian economy did exceedingly well.
It is in India's interest to see a prosperous Pakistan as a partner in general progress in southern Asia. However, the task from the Pakistani side will not be easy. Its transformation from a militaristic regime to a normal state will be challenged by many elements from within. The middlemen who have benefited from its covert nuclear proliferation and the jihadi groups will fight this change. We must hope for peace, but I foresee a fierce struggle within Pakistan. The recent assassination attempts against Musharraf are a foretelling of things to come.