Listening to Professor Sondhi in Lahore
An Analysis by Khaled Ahmed
The Friday Times (Pakistan’s First Independent Weekly Paper)
July 25-31, 2003

A visiting Indian intellectual, Professor M.L. Sondhi, was invited to a session of the Pakistan National Forum on 8 July 2003 to speak on The Future of India-Paksitan Relations at Punjab Civil Officers Mess, GOR-1, Lahore. Colonel (Retd.) M. Ikram Ullah Khan introduced the speaker as the scion of a distinguished family of Jullundher that had made Lahore their home and contributed to its culture. He referred to Prof. Guru Dutt Sondhi of the Government College Lahore and his daughter Sonu who was present at the lecture. Mrs. M.L. Sondhi turned out to be from a Madrasi family whose father represented Congress in Lahore and was close to Lala Lajpat Rai and ran the life insurance company at Lakshami Chowk with which Lalaji’s Arya Samaj social work had become associated.

A rightwing view of India: The substance of Prof. Sondhi’s talk was intellectually competent. He wanted India and Pakistan to think strategic. He had much to say in criticism of Indian leaders and their policies. He was carefully muffled about Pakistan, the only mild criticism he offered was about Pakistan being too ‘tactical’ in its thinking. The thrust of his speech was that Vajpayee was a great statesman who wanted sincerely to solve India’s problems with Pakistan ‘irreversibly’ despite all sorts of impediments within his own party and the opposition. He thought India was made to think anti-Pakistan and devise anti-Pakistan policies by the Soviet Union. He condemned Nehru’s socialism and held him (and Mountbatten) responsible for creating a moth-eaten Pakistan (‘why did you accept that?’) and the Kashmir problem. ‘Chacha’ Nehru was not loved by children; they in fact ran away when they saw him; Gandhi was actually loved by children. He mourned the rejection of the great free-market economist Shenoy and claimed that he was personally responsible for bringing him back when India finally gave up its socialism and turned to free market and a high growth rate. He said strategically speaking India needed high growth rates to feed its large population and it could only achieve these rates if it reached accommodation with Pakistan. He held that poverty was more of a crisis in India than in Pakistan.

Emphasis on new strategy: He said Vajpayee would deliver real and permanent peace on the basis of the perceived national interests of both sides, whereas the Gujral Doctrine sought to isolate and sideline Pakistan as the small state next to India. On the other hand, Vajpayee was willing to break the mould and embark on a new course as he had done this.

With Vajpayee the two countries would have to first arrive at their separate strategies. From the booklet he distributed to the audience, his idea of ‘strategy’ was what the ‘leaders of Germany, USA, China, Egypt, Israel, North and South Korea have done in changing radically their conflicted relationships into one of confidence-building and conflict resolution’. The central point in this ‘strategic thinking’ is security in all its manifestations, economic, social and military.

The booklet was a part of a larger publication that emerged out of a two-day India-Pakistan seminar that he had held in July 2001 as Chairman of the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) from which he was ousted by the BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi who thought the seminar had given away too much to Pakistan on the eve of the Agra Summit.

Prof. Sondhi hinted that he had helped create new thinking about Israel in India. He said it was up to Pakistan to respond strategically to India’s new policy towards Israel. Once again he wisely played down the true contours of his Israel policy, even to the extent of running down the Jews a little in deference to the audience. Back in September 2000, Prof. Sondhi had made a presentation at the Brookings Institution in Washington titled Democratic Peace: US-Indo-Israeli Strategic Cooperation on how the US could broker an Indian-Israel deal to confront Islamic fundamentalism and dictatorship. The gist of his advocacy went like this. India and Israel should move on the basis of strategic-military commonalties: Israel should be helped by India to maintain its defence industry in the face of larger adversaries, and Israel should help India in upgrading its defence equipment. It should project its power by strengthening India’s ballistic missile defence (BMD) system and development of second-strike capability through a submarine-borne nuclear delivery system. It could consider offering to India some of the anti-ballistic missile technology it obtained from the US as the relationship advances. In return, India can offer Israel partnership in the Indian Ocean – an arrangement that will integrate India’s regional status with Israel’s technological ascendancy. Israel’s defence industry is not helping much in relieving the burden of the defence budget which is extremely high at 10 percent of the GNP as against approximately 2 percent in the case of India. According to an Israeli source, Israel’s defence industry needed to export 75 percent of what it made to be viable. India, a big buyer in the field, could actually bail it out economically.

Lahore responds to Sondhi: The audience at GOR Lahore was top-of-the-line: generals, journalists and politicians of proven credentials. General Nishat Ahmed led the military side while ex-governor Shahid Hamid and intellectual-politicians Haneef Ramay represented the political elite along with at least two PML(Q) provincial ministers. Among the journalists were Mr. Majeed Nizami and Mr. Mujibur Rehman Shami. Everyone asked very pertinent questions after the lecture, including Umar Shami and Mrs. Ramay. Prof. Sondhi was shown due respect and there was some appreciation of his ability to speak freely about the foibles of Indian politicians and their policies towards Pakistan.

One can perfectly understand as valid the technique employed by him to draw the Pakistani side out even if that meant muffling some of his well known views expressed elsewhere, including the booklet he handed around before the talk. However, Mr. Majeed Nizami, who entered the room after Prof. Sondhi had spoken, chose ‘not to be taken in’, a right no one could contest. He asked some pointed questions too.

Showing great respect to Mr. Nizami, Col. Ikram Ullah Khan thought he could ask Prof. Sondhi to repeat the gist of his talk, which looked somewhat awkward and was not done in keeping with the vocabulary used on Hindus by his newspaper Nawa-e-Waqr. Mr. Nizami started addressing Prof. Sondhi as masharaj, which somehow the latter did not register. Then Mr. Nizami got Col. Ikram Ullah Khan to convey his apt observation that India had grabbed Hyderabad and Junagarh illegally before occupying Kashmir and was therefore not trustworthy. Col Ikram Ullah Khan was in the process of ‘conveying’ Mr. Nizami’s message to Prof. Sondhi in his characteristic unctuous style when Mr. Nizami called out: iss kay agay lait hi jayain (why don’t you grovel in front of him?). He then proclaimed that India had always sought to attack Pakistan but now Pakistan was ready for war (ham jang kay liyay tayyar hain). Prof. Sondhi seemed miraculously hard of hearing, even when Mr. Nizami remarked to the photographers busy snapping the Indian guest: aap film zaya kar rahay hiam (you are wasting film on him). When Prof. Sondhi appreciated General Musharraf’s tactful diplomacy in the United States, Mr. Nizami muttered that General Musharraf too was from the soil of Delhi!

Prof. Sondhi kept asking for a ‘psychological assessment’ of the Indo-Pak relationship. He was himself practising a valid psychological technique on an audience in Lahore that he probably knew would be very hardline.

Although long-term strategic thinking doesn’t go in favour of Pakistan’s revisionist posture, there is no doubt that sooner or later it has to formulate its strategy vis--vis India to handle the problem of a 50-year epochal bilateral war tied like a steel-ball to its economy. Prof. Sondhi was offered ‘tactical’ reactions while most who could talk ‘strategically’ held their peace because that would have meant breaking new ground and, in some quarters, heresy.
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