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This article was first published 9 years ago  » News » Why peace with Pakistan is difficult, if not impossible

Why peace with Pakistan is difficult, if not impossible

By Colonel Anil A Athale (retd)
July 16, 2015 15:02 IST
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Indian soldiers patrol along the Indo-Pak border


'For a long time Pakistan dreamt that India would break up and that it would be the predominant power in the region,' says Colonel Anil A Athale (retd).

The Indian and Pakistani prime ministers met at Ufa in Russia on the sidelines of an international summit and decided to resume dialogue. Indians have seen this drama of talks alternated by tensions or a terrorist attack in India so many times that it is difficult to be optimistic this time.

Why is it so difficult for the two neighbours to have normal relations?

Here is an attempt to clearly outline some underlying factors and realities that are the cause of a troubled relationship.

Six of the seven nations in this region are territorial status quo powers, minor border disputes notwithstanding. Pakistan is a revisionist State that seeks to alter the territorial status quo in Kashmir through force (overt or covert) and openly backs separatists there.

For a long time it dreamt that India would break up and that it would be the predominant power in the region. Off the record conversations of even a rational ruler like Ayub Khan is evidence of this. Pakistan found willing listeners to this fantasy in its Western allies who also believed likewise.

India is the home of a unique Indic civilisation and is not a mere nation State. India is ten times larger than the other States in the region and its pre-eminence is an existential reality.

India has sought political and military power (including nuclear weapons) in order to safeguard its independence of decision-making in the political and economic sphere. In that sense, her approach to military power has been minimalist.

Pakistan consisted of four Muslim majority provinces in undivided India that seceded in 1947 after the departure of British imperialists. It sees its military as the sole safeguard of the nation and its ideology of being the 'homeland' for the subcontinent's Muslims. Since the 1998 acquisition of nuclear weapons, it also sees itself as a 'Fortress of Islam.'

Most of the period of her existence, the military has ruled Pakistan, directly or indirectly. The military rule is justified on the basis of an ongoing threat from India. Military cadets at Pakistan's military academies learn that the very reason for Pakistan's existence is the 'liberation of Kashmir.'

Since 1998 Pakistan has been erecting replicas of missiles named after Ghauri, Abdali and Ghaznavi at major street intersections (named after Muslim invaders from the Afghan provinces of Ghowr, Kandahar and Ghazni).

Thus, an adversarial relationship is a necessity for continuing military dominance has been carefully nurtured over the years. Economic, social or political reform/progress has been a low priority for Pakistan.

Throughout the Cold War and later during the Afghan War (1979 to 1989), Pakistan evoked American power to strengthen itself militarily and American and Gulf aid to survive economically. The Gulf oil boom also helped. Close to 20 per cent of its GNP at one time was contributed by money orders from the Gulf.

With the end of the Gulf oil boom and the end of Cold War, Pakistan's economy has been growing at around 3 to 3.5 per cent while the population continues to grow at 2.5 per cent annually. The armies of unemployed and unemployable youth have found a vocation in jihad.

Lack of democracy and predominance of the military has meant that scarce resources have been diverted to defence at the cost of economic and social sectors.

These retrograde forces have gone unchallenged so far. Even if the social and political reform process begins now, its effects will only be apparent within 20 years or one generation.

For the short and medium term, Pakistan will continue to remain the breeding ground of terrorism as socio-economic forces, combined with radical Islam, forms a volatile cocktail.

The cult of suicide bombing is an effort on the part of radical Islamists to rectify the technological imbalance vis-a-vis the State. The goal of the radical Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan is to overthrow the existing order and replace it with Islamist ideology. Even those opposed to the violent means have deep empathy for this ultimate goal of the Islamist forces. The extraordinary success of Al Qaeda or now the Islamic State or the Taliban cannot be explained in any other way.

Why is it that Pakistan, that is one tenth the size of India, constantly strives for parity with India and feels threatened?

Bangladesh, a Muslim majority country of equal size to Pakistan, does not feel threatened by India (in terms of Indian invasion and absorption) nor for that matter tiny Bhutan or Nepal. Why does only Pakistan feel that India is threat to its existence?

Why does a slum dweller in Karachi feel it his religious duty to cross the border into India and kill women and children or attack the Indian Parliament?

The roots of Pakistani hostility go beyond the Kashmir issue.

In the immediate aftermath of the war of independence of 1857, in which the Muslims played a prominent role, the British implemented policies that marginalised the Muslim military class. But within 50 years, as the Hindus began to vociferously demand freedom, the British began to tilt in favour of Muslims.

Yet it is to be noted that the British raised many battalions on regional lines (the Gorkhas, Sikhs et al). The clever imperialists were careful not to have pure Muslim units in the British Indian Army.

In October 1906, a Muslim delegation led by the Aga Khan met the Viceroy and demanded separate representation for Muslims. Not just that, this delegation also insisted, and the Viceroy agreed, that the scale of this representation should not depend on their numbers but should take into account their past (of having been the rulers) and political importance. The Muslim League was established to press these demands that very year.

The Pakistan resolution, passed on March 23, 1940 at Lahore, declared that the Muslims in the subcontinent, not just in Muslim majority provinces, constituted a 'nation' and demanded a 'homeland.'

In the last attempt at Indian unity at the Simla conference in 1946, Mohammad Ali Jinnah demanded that the 23 per cent Muslims be given 50 per cent representation in Parliament!

Ever since Independence, this syndrome of parity has been kept alive. As Pakistan joined the western camp in the Cold War, the West with its superior resources ensured that Pakistan maintained military parity with India.

For the last six decades, India-Pakistan parity has been the mantra for the West and was the founding principle of the Western approach to the Indian subcontinent.

Under the 'homeland' concept, Pakistan laid claims to the loyalty of all Muslims of the subcontinent. Yet when asked about the fate of Muslim minorities in India, Jinnah cavalierly dismissed the question and left them to their fate.

Pakistan then went ahead with ethnic cleansing of non-Muslims. The population of Hindus/Sikhs that was around 13 per cent is today closer to less than 2 per cent.

In 1971, due to repression and the genocide tactics of the Pakistan army (according to the Pakistan-appointed Hamidur Rehman Commission Report 300,000 Bengalis were killed in a span of less than six months), the eastern wing separated and became Bangladesh. In 1990s the Cold War ended and the West no longer needed Pakistan as an ally.

But unmindful of the changed circumstances, Pakistan has clung to the notions of Jinnah and is now running an un-winnable arms race with India and bankrupting itself.

Ideally, after the secession of Muslim majority provinces, Pakistan's policy towards India ought to have been of peace and amity in the interest of close to 30 per cent of the subcontinent's Muslims left in India. Instead, it chose the path of constant adversarial relation and conflict.

Islamist religious schools as the breeding ground of the Taliban have been much in the news. What has been ignored is that even mainstream Pakistani schools run by the government have been indoctrinating school children with anti-India and anti-Hindu (for most Pakistanis the two are synonymous) poison.

Even a cursory study of text books for middle school prepared by the Lahore textbook board is enough. This has been going on since 1947 and especially after 1979 when military dictator Zia-ul Haq began Islamisation of the country.

A whole generation of Pakistanis has grown on this diet and the whole country lives in a make believe world as far as India is concerned. The propaganda on some Pakistani television channels is equally vicious and is carried on day in and day out.

In the Pakistani scheme of things, the ultimate power resides not in the people, but in Allah. Even the constitution or law is subordinated to the will of God. At a more dangerous level, any individual, including the ones in the armed forces and in charge of nuclear weapons, can disregard any orders on the justification that he has the access to the will of Allah.

One has noticed that even the opponents of radical Islam and Muslim liberals are forced to carry out their discourse in strictly Islamic terms quoting the Quran and the Hadith in their support. There is virtually no secular space. An extreme example of this mindset is the classic in chemistry books in Pakistan: 'When hydrogen and oxygen come together by the grace of Allah, water is formed.'

No Islamic society has yet shown the gumption to question this distortion. The tolerant form of Islam has long been practiced in many parts of India, South East Asia and Central Asia in form of Sufism. But as the world reacts to the intolerant strain of Islam, instead of introspection and reform, there is ingathering and the rise of a siege mentality.

It is indeed an irony that Islam that expressly forbids idolatry in order to keep itself away from the ills of ritualism and domination by the priesthood today has the strongest and most influential priesthood in the shape of mullahs and maulavis.

American and world pressure have often worked to defuse various crises in the subcontinent. The vicious anti-India propaganda on some Pakistani television channels and sections of the print media, however, continues unabated.

While it can be justified as the Pakistani rulers attempt to mollify public opinion that considers compromises as betrayal, it makes peace illusory.

In addition, Taliban and Lashkar-e-Tayiba cadres (estimated to be 30,000 strong) are restive, armed to the teeth. The Pakistani rulers's reluctance to act against the Lashkar shows the kind of base it has.

The long term prospects for peace are entirely dependent on the question whether a religious reform process starts in Pakistan. The world ought to give up the fiction that the present crisis is not due to the Islamic mindset. Only then will there be a chance for the painful reformation to start.

If it does not, then like many extinct countries, Pakistan may well be on its way to demise, not unlike the erstwhile Soviet Union.

It is the duty of the countries who for the last six decades fostered this parity syndrome and created Pakistan, to deal with their creation. Else, nuclear anarchy could well be unleashed in the world.

Image: Indian soldiers patrol the India-Pak border. Photograph: Rajesh Karkera/


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Colonel Anil A Athale (retd)