Watchful inaction, with some active sensing, is a prudent course
C Raja Mohan offers a realist perspective on the developments in Pakistan and offers a prescriptions for Indian policy going forward:
Given the historical burden, New Delhi is condemned to deal with whoever is in power in Islamabad; India also has no incentive to disturb the current relative tranquillity in the bilateral relationship.
Although India might be unwilling to admit it, this war against Islamic extremism across the Durand Line between Pakistan and Afghanistan could redefine the security politics of the subcontinent.
Taken together, these trends point to Pakistan’s dangerous loss of territorial control over its tribal frontiers to the west. For the first time since independence, Pakistan faces an existential threat to its security from its western borders rather than the eastern frontier with India. It is this structural shift in Pakistan, rather than the question of democracy or the personal fortunes of General Musharraf, that is consequential for India. If the Pakistani army fails to regain control over its western borderlands, the entire subcontinent will pay for a region-wide surge of religious extremism and terrorism.
As it comes to terms with an unusual security challenge from its west, India must construct a different template for its Pakistan policy. New Delhi must move from a mere refusal to take advantage of Pakistan’s current internal crisis to a series of considered step—including troop reductions in J&K and greater cooperation across the international border—to signal India’s positive support for Pakistan’s territorial integrity.
As the Durand Line dissipates, India must contribute its bit to holding the line against resurgent extremism on the northwestern marches of the subcontinent. A democratic Pakistan would surely have been better positioned to win this war. India, however, does not have the luxury of choosing the political system in Pakistan. [IE]
In other words, who rules Pakistan is not quite as important as how stable the balance of power is. Raja Mohan’s conclusion presumes that the instability along the Durand Line and loss of territory in the Pashtun belt will destabilise the balance between Pakistan and India. Or that India’s support for Pakistan’s territorial integrity will be reciprocated by the Pakistan Army. These may well turn out to be the case, but it’s necessary to be sure. Just as it would be imprudent to translate Schadenfreude into actions that might further destabilise Pakistan, it would be imprudent for India to engage in actions that would prove gratuitous in hindsight. Not least because it is unclear who India should be dealing with. There is indeed a case for reviewing troop deployments in Jammu & Kashmir—as articles in this month’s Pragati and by Praveen Swami in The Hindu suggest—but that decision should be taken on its own merits.
Ideally, a stable, peaceful and internally reconciled Pakistan is in India’s interests. However, while a total collapse of Pakistan will certainly be undesirable, a breakaway state along the Durand Line need not necessarily be such a bad thing. Yes, as long as the state is illegitimate and constitutes nothing more than a ungoverned space that hosts al-Qaeda related organisations, it will remain inimical to India’s interests. But if the state were to somehow acquire legitimacy and become a ‘normal’ state that does not share a border with India, then it should be possible for India to work out a modus vivendi with it. How likely is the latter? Exteremly unlikely, it would seem, but we don’t really know. India would do well to spend some effort to find out. As The Acorn argued recently, “this is the time to plan for the day when inaction would no longer be possible”.