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Is Pakistani leopard changing its spots?

By Colonel ANIL A ATHALE (retd)
March 25, 2021 10:58 IST
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All Pakistani moves towards peace will be seen as tactical compromises, to be abandoned when the situation changes, observes Colonel Anil A Athale (retd).

IMAGE: Pakistan army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Photograph: @OfficialDGISPR/Twitter

On March 18, 2021, Pakistan's all powerful army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa issued a call to India and Pakistan to bury the past and look to a future of peaceful relations that would benefit both countries' fight against poverty.

General Bajwa echoed similar sentiments expressed by Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan a day earlier at the first Islamabad security dialogue.

These statements came on the back of a renewed ceasefire along the Line of Control agreed to by the directors general of military operations of both countries a few days earlier.

The official Indian reaction has been one of cautious optimism.

Many Indians are sceptical and see this as a tactical move.

Pakistan presently confronts a grave economic crisis and is facing Western pressure after being put on the terror finance 'grey list'.

Pakistan is also worried that its close ties with China will come in the way of American and its allies' aid in light of the America-China Cold War that seems just over the horizon.

The answer to the question of whether there is a genuine change of heart in Pakistan or whether this is merely a tactical move is extremely important for the Indian policy response.

But before we understand this and find an answer, it is necessary to examine the basic premises on which Pakistani policies were based for last 73 odd years.

Many Indian analysts have been putting the entire blame for Pakistani hostility at the door of the Pakistan army and its vested interests. This is only partially true.

The Pakistan army could not have sustained this posture for so long unless there was widespread popular support for it.

Some of these notions about India are/were held widely and the Pakistan army merely reflected this truth.

Pakistan believes that India is an artificial creation and in time it will break up into several states and Pakistan will emerge as the single biggest State on the subcontinent.

This found its most eloquent expression in very colourful language by Pakistan's then military dictator General Ayub Khan during his visit to the US in July 1961.

When I studied the John F Kennedy archives, I discovered that Ayub confidently told President Kennedy that India will not last 10 years and will break up.

It is another matter that within that time frame it was Pakistan that actually broke up into two parts.

In the early 1960s, Pakistan gave full support to Naga and Mizo rebels. This notion of the fragility of Indian unity found an upsurge in the 1980s when Pakistan (aided and abetted by the US and the UK) supported the Khalistani separatist movement in Punjab.

In newspaper columns and in popular writing, Pakistan still believes that insurgency is still rampant in India's north east, contrary to the situation on the ground.

It is this notion of an imminent break up of India that has been responsible to sustain Pakistani hostility and aggressive posture towards India.

There is also a lingering jingoism born out of the notion of Pakistan's 'martial races' versus Indian 'banias'.

A veteran of the 1947 Kashmir conflict, the late Lieutenant General Eric Vas once told me that the Pakistan supported tribal raiders' vehicles had 'Chalo Delhi' written on it.

Pakistan's failed Operation Grand Slam in the 1965 War envisaged Pakistan armour reaching Delhi.

As a real world consequence of this mindset, in the 1965 War, Pakistan dropped its elite Special Service Group commandos at the Adampur and Halwara airfields in Punjab, nearly 200 km from the border.

One Pakistani soldier being equal to ten Indians was a belief that engendered many Pakistan military adventures from 1965 to Kargil 1999.

But the most fundamental premise of Pakistan, certainly since the 1980s, is that Pakistanis are not of Indian origin, but Arabs/Turks/Iranians who have conquered the land called Pakistan.

Brainwashed through a warped curriculum, most Pakistanis believe that their history begins in the seventh century with conquest of Sindh by Mohamamd bin Qasim.

All past before that date is rejected as myths and stories.

General Bajwa's appeal to bury the past and start afresh is indeed laudable. But before one buries the past it is incumbent to know the past! Without knowing or acknowledging the past, how do we bury it?

Is Pakistani society prepared to acknowledge its Indian roots, own up Mohenjadaro, Taxila and the Sanskrit grammarian Pannini?

These are very basic and important issues and only if one finds indications that Pakistan is indeed reverting to Jinnah's vision of Pakistan being a homeland for Indian Muslims and not an exclusivist Islamic State, that one can start the long overdue peace process.

Till one does not see any indications of this fundamental revision, all Pakistani moves towards peace will be seen as tactical compromises, to be abandoned when the situation changes.

The history of Indian initiatives from the Nehru-Liaquat Pact of 1948 to Vajpayee's bus initiative and Modi's sudden Lahore visit has taught us this lesson.

Military historian Colonel Anil A Athale (retd) is a former Chhatrapati Shivaji Chair Fellow at the United Services Institute of India.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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