Mastering the language of strength
Do you hear a single Pakistani diplomat complaining about how England and America have no right to be in Afghanistan because it is part of Pakistan’s sphere of influence? Why is it that Pakistan has one set of standards for the West and another for India? Vir Sanghvi examines...columns Updated: Oct 09, 2009 13:17 IST
I am getting increasingly tired of people — well-meaning Indians and not so well-meaning Americans mainly — telling us that we have to look at the problem of terrorism from Pakistan’s point of view. We should accept, we are told, that we have not given Pakistan any proof about Hafiz Saeed or the 26/11 plotters that will stand up in a court of law.
Besides, we are advised, we cannot expect the Pakistanis to hand over terrorists to a country like India against whom there is so much public sentiment. Moreover, India is interfering in Pakistan’s internal affairs and its area of influence. It is arming Balochis and establishing a presence in Afghanistan. In the circumstances, we should accept that Pakistan has gone as far as it can in meeting our demands.
The most annoying thing about these arguments is that they seem superficially reasonable. Surely, as a liberal democracy, India must respect the rule of law and understand the need to provide proof. Can’t we accept that Pakistani public opinion is against us and so the Pakistani government must tread carefully? How can Pakistan stand by and watch while we establish a presence in Balochistan? And so on.
But, of course, none of this is really reasonable. And the best way to demonstrate this is to look at the way Pakistan has responded to the Western war on terror. In that case, completely different standards apply.
Let’s take the issue of proof first. Responsible Indians such as Home Minister P. Chidambaram say that we have handed over more than enough evidence about Hafiz Saeed. Plus, our intelligence agencies insist that there is a full dossier packed with evidence against the 26/11 plotters.
Nevertheless, let’s accept, for the purposes of argument, that Chidambaram and the Indian government are lying. Let’s take the Pakistani claim that there is no proof that will stand up in a court of law against these people at face value.
But now, let’s cast our mind back to a few years ago when America launched its reprisals for 9/11. At the time, the only evidence against Osama bin Laden consisted of intelligence chatter and speculation. There was no concrete proof at all.
And yet, George W. Bush was able to say that America wanted bin Laden ‘dead or alive’. The Pakistanis did not for a moment dispute America’s right to apprehend bin Laden. There was not even one cheep about proof or evidence from Islamabad.
Further, over the last few years, Pakistan has turned over a steady stream of al-Qaeda officials and sympathisers to the US without bothering to make any case in the law courts. And America has been content to lock all of these people up in such prisons as Guantanamo Bay without worrying about the need to prove a case or hold trials.
How is it that when it comes to people who attack America or the West, there is no question of proof, of the need for evidence or the will of the law courts?
Why do these considerations only emerge when it comes to people who kill Indians? You could argue, as some Pakistanis do, that you cannot compare America and India because public sentiment is so strongly aligned against India that any Pakistani government that cooperated with Indian investigators would be in trouble with the people.
But first of all, this argument amounts to accepting that there are different standards for those who attack America and those who kill Indians. It only offers a justification for those double standards. And secondly, it’s not even true.
Every single poll that has been taken in Pakistan over the last six years will tell you how much the Pakistani people hate America and Americans. The vast majority do not believe in the legitimacy of the so-called American war on terror. And a majority actually support Osama bin Laden.
And yet, when it comes to handing over terror suspects to the hated Americans, the Pakistani government cheerfully ignores public opinion. This excuse is reserved for India.
The stuff about interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs is as unconvincing. Even if Pakistani claims about R&AW’s involvement in arming Balochi rebels are to be accepted, this hardly constitutes massive interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan.
On the other hand, what the US Army is doing is certainly a massive blow to Pakistani sovereignty. American forces roam around the tribal areas openly engaging in battles with Pakistanis and American drones routinely bomb Pakistani targets. This is not a mere allegation like the one about R&AW and Balochistan. It is a well-documented fact that nobody contests.
And yet, have you ever seen a Pakistani leader demanding that a joint statement issued at the end of a summit with the US includes a reference to America’s interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs?
So it is with Afghanistan. We claim that our involvement there is of a humanitarian nature. The Pakistanis say that we should have no involvement whatsoever. Afghanistan is part of their sphere of influence.
Even if you were to accept the ludicrous Pakistani position on Afghanistan, what about America’s involvement in that troubled nation? American and British soldiers are actively engaged in waging war in Afghanistan.
Do you hear a single Pakistani diplomat complaining about how England and America have no right to be in Afghanistan because it is part of Pakistan’s sphere of influence?
Why is it that Pakistan has one set of standards for the West and another for India? As we have seen, it can’t be because Pakistanis love America.
The only answer possible is: they fear America; they fear its clout; they fear its strength.
According to President Musharraf himself, the Americans threatened to bomb Pakistan back into the Stone Age if it did not cooperate with the so-called war on terror. This so terrified Musharraf that Pakistan swiftly dumped its Taliban allies and quickly fell in line.
Like all sensible people, I have no desire to see India go to war with Pakistan. Nor do I believe that diplomacy between neighbours should be conducted on the basis of threats. India and Pakistan have to learn to co-exist.
But when you consider the differing responses that Pakistan has given to America and India, you cannot escape one conclusion: the language that Islamabad understands best is the language of strength.
That’s a lesson that all Indian governments should never forget.
The views expressed by the author are personal.