Consumed as we are with the hurly-burly of the General Election, we may have lost sight of an important development in our neighbourhood. As the Pakistan government tries to persuade the Taliban to retreat from its latest encampment a mere 100 kilometers away from Islamabad, the world — and Washington, in particular — has finally come around to the view that Pakistan is on the brink of becoming the next Afghanistan.
As the steady slide into Talibanisation continues, it is also clear that we are at a watershed moment in our policy towards Pakistan. We need to decide, once and for all, how we are going to treat our north-western neighbour.
There have been two broad strands in India's attitude to Pakistan. The first is the view of much of the media, many liberals, and a large chunk of the political establishment.
This view has as its basis the proposition: “A strong and stable Pakistan is in India's best interests.”
<b1>And how does India help bring this about? Well, according to proponents of this view, we must extend support to the democratic process in Pakistan and help civilian governments. We should encourage people-to-people contacts and abandon the Pakistan-is-an-enemy rhetoric. We must recognise that Indians and Pakistanis are really the same people, divided by unscrupulous politicians.
The contrary view is the position of the Army, the intelligence establishment and many security analysts. This view states that a strong and stable Pakistan is not necessarily in India’s best interests. A weakened Pakistan is often the best guarantor of peace. For instance, after the 1971 defeat, when Bangladesh broke away, Pakistan did India no harm for nearly two decades.
According to this view, we should never let our guard down, put no faith in the so-called brotherliness of the Pakistani masses, distrust every civilian politician and recognise that the Pakistan army’s raison d’etre is the alleged threat from India. Proponents of this view say that the only language the Pakistani establishment understands is strength and the best way to check the threat posed by Pakistan is by running clandestine operations inside that country and financing such local trouble-makers as the Baluchis and the MQM.
Of the two views, the first one has held sway for many years. The security establishment is treated with scorn by many educated Indians and its hawkish views are dismissed with contempt. During his brief stint as Prime Minister, Inder Gujral even asked the R&AW to roll up its clandestine networks within Pakistan, one reason why Indian intelligence now finds it so difficult to get accurate information out of that country.
But with the current situation in Pakistan threatening to spin out of control, this might be a good time to stop and think about our policy in the future.
My own view is that the “strong and stable Pakistan is in India’s best interests” proposition has failed. Over the last several years, we have done everything we can to help Pakistan. We have hosted General Musharraf, we have offered talks on Kashmir, we have supported civilian politicians and welcomed Asif Zardari with open arms. We have tried our hardest to understand the mindset of civil society, with a steady stream of Pakistani intellectuals arriving in India, and, each evening, our channels offer endless TV time to Pakistanis to tell us what their country’s position is.
Here’s what this policy has got us: General Musharraf is still blatantly hostile to India as his last rant at the India Today Conclave demonstrated. Asif Zardari has refused to help in the investigation of the Bombay attacks. Terrorists continue to be sent across the border to foment trouble in India. Far from following a liberal policy, the new civilian government has done deals with the Taliban and imposed the medieval Sharia law in parts of Pakistan.
All opinion polls suggest that the average Pakistani hates India, loves Osama bin Laden and believes that 9/11 was a Jewish plot to malign global Islam. Worse still, the evidence suggests that if you push the Pakistani masses about their true identity they would pick Muslim over Pakistani. Do you have to be a genius to see that the good neighbour policy has been an utter and complete disaster?
<b2>Is it not time to concede that General Musharraf’s attitude is symptomatic of the view of the Pakistan army: India is the enemy and must always be fought? Shouldn’t we accept that Pakistan’s civilian politicians are such untrustworthy sleazeballs that they make Mayawati shine like a goddess in comparison? Even if a crook like Zardari is sincere (which I doubt; his ultimate loyalty is to Credit Suisse) he simply does not have the clout to deliver on the kind of peace and love nonsense that he gushed about at the HT Summit.
More worrying is that Pakistan’s civil society seems to have only the most minimal commitment to the liberal values that we in India enshrine in our Constitution. Even someone like Imran Khan, who improved his mind at Oxford and developed his loins on Sloane Street, turns into a reactionary when he addresses his own people, going so far as to praise Sharia law.
What Indians find shocking is the extent to which so many educated Pakistanis seem unable to divorce their Islamic identity from political discourse. You and I can get up and say that Hindu fanatics are thugs and goons or even that Narendra Modi is a mass murderer. How many Pakistanis get up and say that about their own fanatics? We speak up for MF Husain’s right to paint Hindu goddesses in the nude. How many Pakistanis speak up for the Danish cartoonist?
As for people-to-people contacts, I am still in favour of letting Pakistanis come to India to see what a liberal society looks like. But I have given up all hope that it will make a difference to the general Pakistani mind-set. After all, if you’re dealing with a country whose people have bought Al-Qaeda propaganda about how all terrorism is really an American and Israeli plot, a people who are content to live off the Yankee dollar while simultaneously hating the US, and a people who venerate the suicide bombers that bin Laden dispatches around the world, then do you really believe that they will suddenly see the light when they land in Bombay and discover that our three biggest stars are all Muslim?
It’s gone too far for people-to-people contacts to make much difference.
So, what do we do? I think we should accept that the intelligence establishment may have had a point. We should resume clandestine operations, we should do to the Pakistanis what they are doing to us, and hit back every time we are attacked.
We should tell the US that we are tired of this policy of equivalence. When America attacked Afghanistan, we did not treat the US and Afghanistan as moral equals. Similarly, America should stop treating India and Pakistan on the same plane. One of us is the world’s largest democracy. And the other is a terrorist state.
But if we are to ensure that the world sees through Pakistan’s pretensions and recognises it for what it is, then we must first rid ourselves of our own illusions. Let’s stop kidding ourselves about the true nature of the enemy. Let’s recognise the magnitude of the threat — growing by the day as Taliban influence spreads — and work out a strategy to fight it.
The time for lighting candles at the Wagah border has long since passed.