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Pakistan's real 1,000-year war

By Shekhar Gupta
April 02, 2016 11:33 IST
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'Pakistan needs to be constantly at war with somebody, ultimately resulting in it waging war on itself and its own people,' says Shekhar Gupta.

The aftermath of the terrorist attack at a public park in Lahore, March 27, 2016. Photograph: Mohsin Raza/Reuters

IMAGE: The aftermath of the terrorist attack at a public park in Lahore, March 27, 2016. Photograph: Mohsin Raza/Reuters


The late Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto once famously promised to fight a 1,000-year war with India. In the summer of 1990, his daughter Benazir too repeated the same call. These were the controversial, and still historically contentious days when Pakistan is believed by many (including this writer) to have sent a nuclear threat, conveyed by the late Sahebzada Yaqub Khan, then foreign minister, to his Indian counterpart Inder Kumar Gujral.

Prime Minister V P Singh's government, propped up by the BJP and the Left from outside and undermined by everybody inside -- from Devi Lal to Chandra Shekhar -- had generally been circumspect. Finally, V P Singh had to respond in Parliament, and he did so calmly.

Those who threaten 1,000-year wars, he said, should first see if they will be able to last even 1,000 hours of fighting. A thousand hours, I calculated, wasn't going to be a short war. It would be 42 days and thereby a week longer than the 1965 and 1971 wars put together.

Since I was then writing the India Today cover story on the stand-off, I sought out one of India's sharpest military analysts, Ravi Rikhye, and we gamed a 1,000-hour war -- with the first presumption, of course, that India wins it.

We estimated the numbers of aircraft, tanks, soft vehicles, and lives that winning such a war would consume, the ordnance that would be fired, the other economic losses -- and thereby arrived at a humongous cost of victory.

This proved our second presumption: That a war, however short and favourable, would be unaffordable and yet not resolve the real issues with Pakistan. For effect, we added that we won 1971 and yet, two decades later, we were on the verge of yet another war.

We got duly lambasted (today you'd say trolled) by Indian strategic experts. The strongest objection was that we had taken replacement value of equipment -- tanks, airplanes, missiles -- and not their depreciated value, as these had been sitting in our inventories for ever. Our counter, that the history of warfare shows victorious armies invariably replace old equipment with new, as we did after 1971, was laughed away. We were condemned as stupid peaceniks.

The analysis was considered so pacifist that several prominent Pakistani newspapers reproduced it, copyright being among the least important of the laws we can't enforce in each other's territories. But one went too far. It lifted and published a simple facsimile of the entire article, which used the familiar surrender picture of the 1971 war featuring Generals Niazi and Aurora in Dhaka -- the caption saying that the war was decisive and yet solved nothing, so another will be a stupid idea.

Next morning the paper's editor and owners got calls from GHQ. How could they publish Indian warmongering and that picture? The paper apologised on its front page, and then published a series of articles by a retired PAF air marshal on how Pakistan would demolish India within three days in a new war -- ending by besieging Jaipur on 'D+3,' at which point India would sue for peace, not merely giving up Kashmir but also agreeing to be balkanised into many nations of 'manageable' size.

A full 25 years later, we need to reflect on that Pakistani 1,000-year war call again, and in a fresh perspective, away from the old planes-and-tanks, or nuclear missile template.

Accordingly, I put forward two new propositions: One, that a 1,000-year war is not only truly on, it is now in its 70th year, having begun in 1947. And the second, quickly, before you label me a 'Sanghi-come-lately,' that it is a war that mostly one country (Pakistan) is fighting, and essentially with itself.

I am not of the school that believes in the inevitability of the country's self-destruction. I believe, on the other hand that Pakistani nationalism has evolved into a very strong, coherent force.

The issue is that its national coherence has been drawn from an ideology which is based as much in Islam as in paranoia about India. You imagine a stronger, bigger and 'more cunning' India constantly plotting your dismemberment and then keep fighting it. Effectively, you've invented a windmill nightmare and let it rule your minds.

This has led to the evolution of Pakistan into a strong but unique nation-State. Neither fully Islamised like, say, Saudi Arabia or run by clergy like Iran, nor the military dictatorship it used to be -- but not a true democracy either.

It is the classical case of a national security State with all its characteristics: Pride, nationalism, defiance and also suspicion and prickly defensiveness -- a State looking at its front- and back-yards, and sideways all the time, in fear and anger. Not an Islamic/jihadi State but a militaristic one that uses jihad where it is useful and fights it where it is a threat.

Much confusing news has come from Pakistan in the past three weeks. We saw Pakistani women beat us and the West Indies (eventual finalists) in the T20 World Cup, and they were not exactly turning out in headscarves. We also had the Easter blasts targeting Christians in Lahore and at the same time supporters of Maqbool Qadri, the executed assassin of Salman Taseer, laying siege to Islamabad.

The blast was carried out by a Wahhabi Deobandi group, whereas the Qadri supporters were members of Sunni Tehrik, followers of Barelvi Sufism. But just before this, didn't we see that old Canadian-Pakistani nutcase Tahir-ul Qadri lionised in India, notably by our prime minister, as a moderate at his Sufi convention in Delhi?

I emailed my Pakistani friend and columnist Khaled Ahmed to help me make sense of this. These were two different and rival streams of Barelvi Sufism in Pakistan, it seems. One (Sunni Tehrik) wants to see corpses in Islamabad. The other, our favourite Tahir-ul Qadri's, had laid siege to the same capital in cahoots with Imran Khan and on behalf of the army, to put the newly-elected Nawaz Sharif in his place.

So the same Mr Qadri that we hail as moderate played the army's political storm-trooper. The same army has launched a big operation now against his fellow and (rival) Sufi Barelvis -- but continue patronising Lashkar and Jaish.

This is the definition of a national security State: Where the army or security establishment defines and fights the enemy, and the rest of the institutions, even the clergy, help them achieve this supreme priority.

Two unusual new books on Pakistan have given us fresh insights on this pot of contradictions. Unusual because one, the late B G Verghese's A State in Denial has been published posthumously; and the other, Husain Haqqani's Between Mosque and Military, is an updated new edition of his 2005 original.

Verghese says Pakistan has cast off its vibrant and diverse heritage -- to interpret itself through medieval notions and a singular focus on a vastly exaggerated Indian threat. Mr Haqqani begins with 1947 when, he reminds us, his country inherited one-third of India's army but only one-sixth of its GDP. Pakistan, he says, 'expanded the magnitude of security threats to match the size of an army inherited from the colonial era.'

Having done so, and after convincing successive generations of this threat, Pakistan has defined itself as a national security State which needs to be constantly at war with somebody.

This ultimately results in it waging war on itself and its own people, as in Waziristan and the Frontier; on its own institutions, like elected governments; and on its own economy and creativity, as by feeding friendly lashkars that sanctify terror as an instrument of State power.

This is why we must ask if Pakistan has hurled itself into a 1,000-year war, mostly with itself.

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