Pakistan: Need for a Perspective

M.L. Sondhi

Shakti International Review, 1986

There are many who think that India is pursuing a will-o’-the-wisp in assuming that there are favourable circumstances for peace diplomacy towards Pakistan.  There are three courses open to the Rajiv Government:  India can place the onus on Pakistan for failure to consolidate the peace after the Simla Agreement and direct national security planners to safeguard our vital interests against an enemy whose national and religious passions militate against a secure peace.  The starting point of this approach would be to take all realistic measures against Pakistani nuclear blackmail and to rule out all talk about a new era of negotiation.  India should stand firmly on the soil of reality and deploy various instruments of statecraft and coercive action to prevent Pakistan achieving a nuclear status, Or, India can attempt to concentrate its efforts on measures which can raise the cost to Islamabad of the ill-conceived efforts to pursue political vendetta and revanchism against India, particularly its malicious support to “Khalistan” irredentist forces.  To pursue this approach New Delhi could engage in a full-fledged confrontationist role or at least wait and watch hopefully while the long-term crisis of the Pakistani political system unfolds.  Or, finally New Delhi can make a contribution to regional détente by avoiding exaggerated polemics but at the same time developing a more profound knowledge of the factors leading to tensions, conflict, ethnic violence and arms races in the sub continent.  In this approach, India can pursue vigorous criticism of Pakistani militarism and revanchism without raising obstacles to a realistic kind of cooperation.  While fully protecting Indian national security, India would make a constructive contribution to economic, cultural and political dialogue on a bilateral plane with Pakistan and on a multilateral basis with all the SAARC countries.

The paradox in Indian thinking on Pakistan consists in the fact that it is precisely our strategic relationship with the Soviet Union, which although it makes any Pakistani adventures against India fraught with great risk, comes nowhere near dealing with the roots of Indo-Pakistan tensions.  In retrospect we can see that the Tashkent settlement did not provide a propitious regional environment as a superpower enforced termination of conflict does not always lead to a stable peace.  On the other hand the Indus-waters Treaty signed at Karachi by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Field Marshal Ayub Khan on 19th September, 1960 is an excellent example of an alternative way to alleviate situations of tension and to effectively safeguard peace and cooperation.  India should maintain the military means to punish Pakistan if it acts dangerously or imprudently against our country.  But launching psychological warfare against Pakistan on each and every issue does not provide real answers to our security needs. If we do not slow down the arms race between India and Pakistan we will invite even greater Super Power competition in the subcontinent and lead ourselves ultimately to a fatal impasse.  An over-concern with worst case assumptions can never produce the conditions for reciprocal security.  Also at issue is whether Indian policy makers have adequately understood the conditioning factors in the domestic environment of Pakistan and taken a close look at the factions, pressure groups and interest groups in the Pakistani militarised political system.  If India can conduct a more serious strategic discussion with Islamabad, New Delhi will gain a more intimate knowledge of the leadership dilemmas in Pakistan. India could convince important groups in Pakistan of the risks of becoming embroiled in war by allowing its territory to be used to prepare terrorist acts or other forms of violence.  The geo-political role of Pakistan in the context of the Soviet expeditionary forces in Afghanistan calls for an imaginative response from India with the ultimate objective of decoupling US and Soviet security from the subcontinent.  While not underestimating the forces of revanchism and militarism in Pakistan, India has to aim at a comprehensive peace settlement which ensures a Soviet pullback of their troops and the return of the Afghan refugees from Pakistan to live again peacefully under a non-aligned and independent Afghan government.  It would be extremely short-sighted on the part of India to give a freer hand to Soviet hardliners in the hope of teaching a lesson to Pakistan. The present timing appears to be right to build on the desires of the Soviets, Americans, Pakistanis and Afghans to structure and carry out a NAM-cum-UN initiative for a peaceful resolution of the Afghan imbroglio.  Fortunately India has enough elbow room from both the Super Powers, which Pakistan has not, to modify Soviet and American perceptions of their self-interest in a regional context.  To start with India should be more forthcoming with relief assistance to Afghan refugees in Pakistan thus recognising a common humanitarian responsibility in the subcontinent.  India could also work actively for a stand-still on the use of force by Soviet troops and the Afghan Mujahideen and utilise our experience in Sri Lanka to harmonise the rigid positions of the two antagonists.  There is no contradiction in acknowledging the special relationship between New Delhi and Moscow and at the same time articulating criticism of the Soviet role in Afghanistan.

It is to be expected that the peace diplomacy by India will come up against some obstacles.  There cannot be a radical transformation of the situation overnight.  In the light of the havoc wrought by the Iraq-Iran war, special priority must be given in Indian policy-making to the political costs of an Indo-Pakistan war resulting from confrontationist policies.  There are systemic and technical considerations which weigh decisively against a lightning six day war between India and Pakistan.  By their fratricidal war, both Iran and Iraq have played into the hands of the super powers.  The failure to secure a meaningful end to war cannot achieve any political results even if one side has demonstrated effectively superior war-fighting capability.  In spelling out the perspectives of our Pakistan policy, Indian decision-makers must recognise the fact that Pakistan has become progressively disenchanted with American ability to protect its interests. It would be, therefore, a complete mistake on the part of India to refuse to initiate a discussion of substantive strategic questions on the ground that Pakistan is tied to the apron strings of Washington.  Although like the other Super Power, the United States will not willing give up its power position in any Third World country, the development of a modus vivendi between India and Pakistan will erode America’s role as the saviour of Pakistan.  If decision-makers in New Delhi and Islamabad realise that neither of the Super Powers can offer political or military panaceas to sub-continental problems, both must give up maximalist claims and arguments, and start working on confidence-building measures.

The summit session of SAARC was an opportunity to demonstrate India’s political will and resolution to attain good neighbourly relations.  Even though the Rajiv Government has inherited a confrontational pattern with Pakistan, the onus is on India to actively seek to reduce the level of uncertainty and instability in the pattern of India’s policy vis-à-vis Islamabad.  We must look beyond the horizons of the 1980s and work for substantial changes both in the regional and international environment.  Past experience suggests that we should maintain our defence and deterrence capabilities against Pakistan.  But it is equally important that we should not over-estimate the dangers with which Pakistan can threaten India.  The pursuit of regional détente with Pakistan should be a principal goal of Indian foreign policy.  India has enough political strength to cope with Pakistani operations of a sub rosa nature such as its help to the “Khalistani” cause.  By stabilising the framework of regional relations and security through a regional détente India can work towards a more general agreement on the renunciation of force in South Asia.  Constructive diplomatic and military moves can only result from intensive and serious negotiations.  Unfortunately some members of the Indian strategic community (and their counterparts in Pakistan) are insisting on maintaining rigid maximalist positions and thereby directing all analyses and arguments into the area of worst-case assumptions.  The only way out is to base our political perceptions and assumptions on an orientation towards political and strategic equilibrium, which in turn can be translated through a broad range of treaty commitments between India and Pakistan building further on the basis of the Simla Pact.  We need not close our eyes to the differences in the political goals of India and Pakistan but it is both prudent and realistic for India to regulate its political and military relationship with Islamabad to make it profitable and attractive for the latter to overcome its narrow conceptions and to join India in a community of thinking appropriate to the structure of world politics in the next century. 
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