Khuda Hafiz Pakistan

Walls are better than bridges

Nirupama Subramanian, The Hindu’s outgoing Islamabad correspondent, files her last report from the country (well actually, city) she covered for the last four years. Indians and Pakistanis, she concludes:

“cannot be friends as long as we continue looking at each other through the narrow prism of our respective states. Pakistanis must locate the Indian within themselves, and Indians must discover their inner Pakistani. It would help understand each other better, and free us from state-manipulated attitudes. In our own interests, it is up to us, the people, to find ways to do this.” [The Hindu]

The sentiment is genuinely heartfelt. Unfortunately, it contradicts the findings she lists earlier in the same essay.

First, she makes the fundamental error that the power of “the people” works in similar ways and extents in the two countries. A popular idea cannot be politically ignored in democratic India. Now unless she feels that crowds of Indian-loving Pakistanis (note: not India-loving Pakistanis) will storm the GHQ and change long-standing state policy, the argument that the Pakistani “people” matter (if and when they change their minds about India) is naive.

(As an aside, It is unfortunate that Ms Subramanian too succumbs to the tendency to do India-Pakistan “equal-equal” in order to appear objective. When both Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh went against popular opinion to reach out to Pakistan, how can she justify her charge that the Indian political class cannot be entrusted to find the middle ground?)

Next, despite personal goodwill and individual friendships, will Pakistanis as a “people” ever abandon their hostility towards India? Ms Subramanian writes:

I would have heated debates with Pakistanis who consider themselves modern, enlightened, liberal and secular but would suddenly go all Islamic and religious when it came to an issue such as Kashmir, seeming no different from their ultra-conservative compatriots who protest against the clamping down on Islamic militancy in Pakistan as harassment of “brother Muslims.” They could tout jihad in Kashmir as legitimate even while condemning the Taliban who threaten their own modern, liberal lifestyle, despite the knowledge that the distinction between the two kinds of jihad, or the two categories of militants, is at best an illusion. [The Hindu]

To believe that it is possible for either the Indian state or the Indian people (acting as individuals or civil society) to perform psychotherapy on a national scale requires either conceit or naïveté. There is nothing in Pakistan’s social, economic and demographic indicators to suggest that endogenous change on a sufficient scale and pace is even possible. Colin Powell got it right in 2005 when he complained, self-servingly, that Indians were more concerned about the jihadis who infiltrated last week rather than Pakistan in 2020 “a nation of 250 million with a per capita income much lower than yours, literacy rate half of yours, a drying river-water system, dead industry, fundamentalism and nuclear weapons.”

Why do sensible, intelligent and well-informed people—like Ms Subramanian—routinely end up offering wishfulness as policy? Part of the reason is that there is an underlying presumption that “peace” is intrinsically a good thing and necessary for India’s development. If that presumption is challenged—there is another way for Ms Subramanian to sign off: Pakistan’s problems are its own, if it is lucky it will somehow solve them. The task before India and the Indian people is to make sure those problems don’t spill over any more than they already do. The solution might be to focus on building strong walls and well-guarded fences—not little bridges. Yes, Khuda Hafiz Pakistan.

Update: Nirupama Subramanian simply rocks in this interview with an ignorant-but-opinionated Pakistani television host. (linkthanks Nerus)

64 thoughts on “Khuda Hafiz Pakistan”

  1. Sorry, disagree with this post. Subramanian’s points in the original article are quite well-made. The more Indians and Pakistanis meet, the more they find that they have a great number of things in common. Sometimes it takes a mere sense of humanity rather than cold calculations of ‘national self-interest’ to connect with one another as human beings.

  2. @Arvi,
    You dont seem to understand the usefulness of a threat to go to war and keeping that option open – with the United States, the more irresponsible you behave, the more they take you seriously and the more they are forced to come up with something to pacify you. This whole “wrath of US” is for cowards like India – you know who should be more afraid of the wrath ?? Pakistan – and look where they are and where India is after 9/11.

    I have seen this behavior of the US repeatedly with Iran, Palestine, Pakistan and other rogue states. The US takes you for granted, the more and more you try to accomodate your interests with theirs.

    After the Parliament was attacked, India should have gone to war – we achieved practically nothing because of that standoff other than proving to the world and ourselves that US mediation alone can resolve the situation. and worse that it is needed in the first place or otherwise a nuclear conflagration would devastate the continent.

    What India has repeatedly shown is that it has a very high level of tolerance to terror attacks on its citizens – so forget about going to a “hot war” but at the very least all economic, diplomatic relations with Pakistan should be cut off – and after that is done, they could have planned covert operations inside Pakistan especially in Karachi and areas close to AfPak.

    The Iranians are now training Taliban inside Iran to go after US personnel in AfPak – and guess what,they now have more leverage with the US than ever before. They have repeatedly upped the ante’ as far as their nuclear program has gone and the US has been able to do next to nothing about this.

    The lesson for India and any other country is this – if you are going to accomodate to US interests, expect to be rolled over repeatedly if you dont stand up for your interests.

  3. @ NS

    “You dont seem to understand the usefulness of a threat to go to war and keeping that option open – with the United States, the more irresponsible you behave, the more they take you seriously and the more they are forced to come up with something to pacify you”

    This does not work. Making a threat that you cannot execute is dangerous if not foolish. You don’t want US to place India in a “special countries” list, do you?Neither you want the US India relation to go back to Cold War era, do you?

    Having said that, I totally agree that US should be asked through back channels and put pressure to reign in the terror from Pak. But to expect that US has full control in this (over Pak) is also a little bit naive and simplistic. In any case I think such talks have taken place in private after 26/11.

    Fact is, at the end of the day, US can punish India much more severely than India can do to US. And THAT matters. It’s easy to come up with “epithets” like “cowards” etc but what THAT means is India can only “talk” to US and try to “reason”. Unless you want India to end up like Iran or NoKo!!

    On a positive note, I think that “reasoning” and “persuasion” have found some takers in US foreign policy establishment. Mainly the neocons who have a favorable view of India.

    But yes, this Obama admin is bad for India. Most likely he will be a one time Prez I think. We will see. I see nothing positive coming out of his term.

  4. If the US has so much leverage on terrorism from Pak why are OBL and Mullah Omar still hiding in plain sight over there?

  5. The terror tactic even if replayed hundreds of times cannot beat the strategy of strong economic growth and extensive industrialization.
    War again? Why give losers a re-match? India needs to wait out the Pakistani implosion.

  6. Fact is, at the end of the day, US can punish India much more severely than India can do to US. And THAT matters. It’s easy to come up with “epithets” like “cowards” etc but what THAT means is India can only “talk” to US and try to “reason”. Unless you want India to end up like Iran or NoKo!!

    @Arvi,
    That is being terribly defensive to say the least. What exactly is the US achieving by “punishing” India ? And if you have not noticed, if they think that doing something that is negative to India’s interests is ok as long as it serves US short term interests, they will do it without batting an eyelid. In fact they may not even bother that it is negatively affecting India.

    And all this happened when India has been at its best behavior heeding EVERY SINGLE REQUEST from the U.S. No war after Parliament attacks, repeated terrorist acts cluminating in Bombay 2008. It has gotten to the point where the US takes India pussilanamity for granted. “Talking” and “Reasoning” are for people who cannot stand up for their interests. In that regard it suits India really well.

    Iran and NoKo are failed authoritarian states that have very little in common with India. And if we could act with half the tenacity that they possess, you and me would not be having this conversation.

    On a positive note, I think that “reasoning” and “persuasion” have found some takers in US foreign policy establishment. Mainly the neocons who have a favorable view of India

    Actually neo-cons have been supportive of India for quite some time – they dont really need a whole lot of persuasion to begin with. Most people think that they are not pragmatic enough, but no one denies that they try to be on the side of pro-democratic forces.

    But with the debacle of the Iraq war, their standing has been severely eroded. It is very possible that the very sections of Iraqi polity who are dead set against the US may be kingmakers in the new Iraqi Govt – this would complete the debacle for the neocons.

    In short, India playing the good responsible nation has landed it in a very disadvantageous position to say the least.

  7. The terror tactic even if replayed hundreds of times cannot beat the strategy of strong economic growth and extensive industrialization.
    It is very easy to say that – but it is the nature of a weak state that cannot even provide security to its own citizens and leaves them like lambs that are about to be slaughtered.

    So far India’s weakness has not impeded it economically – but terror attacks are not exactly going to inspire investors to do business in a country – if and when similar attacks happen in the future, it will further heighten the concerns of enterprising businessmen, domestic or foreign.

    There is a price that is being paid for this “Chalta Hai” attitude.

    War again? Why give losers a re-match? India needs to wait out the Pakistani implosion.
    A Pakistani implosion is the last thing the US wants – it is concerned that this implosion will not just be limited to the sub continent and may very well reach the US homeland. It has dealt with Pakistan with a mixture of extreme fear and extreme patience and now gratitude/kindness.

    Expecting Pakistan to implode/disintegrate is rather wishful thinking on the part of India and does not take into account American efforts to stop just that scenario.

    I also read K Subrahmanyam’s piece -i respect him but i simply dont agree with him.

    Here is the money quote
    The US strategy appears to be like that of Delilah — sleeping with the enemy to disarm him. India cannot object to that. But since India is the primary victim of Pakistani terrorism, if India is not taken into confidence in regard to their broad strategy vis-a-vis Pakistan, in the absence of cent percent trust and communication India may be compelled to act, in case there is another major terrorist provocation in ways that may not be entirely in alignment with US strategy. US authorities should bear this in mind.

    Well, if the US has not taken India into “confidence”, it means that it does not want to- and deliberately so – India has so far failed to act and repeatedly accquiesed to US requests – why can this not be expected to continue ? What exactly is India’s breaking point according to KS where it stops listening to the US ? And what exactly will India do?

    After all there have been atleast 6 major terror attacks on India in the last 6 years – nothing has provoked India to do anything, nor has it made America change Pakistan’s behavior about deploying LeT and the Haqqani network .

    Frankly India is caught in its own rhetoric and has no idea on what is coming next and is basically begging the US to reign in Pakistan – something that it has been trying to do for ever with very little to show for it.

    I cannot WAIT for the US to get the hell out of the region.

  8. @ NS

    You need to read the last 2 sentences carefully.

    But since India is the primary victim of Pakistani
    terrorism, if India is not taken into confidence in regard to their broad strategy vis-a-vis Pakistan, in the absence of cent percent trust and communication India may be compelled to act, in case there is another major terrorist provocation in ways that may not be entirely in alignment with
    US strategy. US authorities should bear this in mind.”

    This is as far KS will go him being diplomatic and a “strategist”. But he is alluding to what u and another poster said – using the “escalation” with Pak (I don’t like the word war!) as leverage against US. And getting them to make their munna.

    As I said b4 the fact that there has been a lull in attacks after 26/11 (Pune bakery blast notwithstanding) suggests that India mite have already been doing a bit of it. But ultimately the success of this “strategy” comes down to 2 things:

    1. How much leverage does US have over terrorist army?
    2. How much leverage terrorist army has over LeT and other groups that target India?

    I don’t have clear answers to either of the two!

  9. @ NS

    “I cannot WAIT for the US to get the hell out of the region.”

    Not sure about that. In any case don’t think US will jus pack their bags and leave. Anyways looks like their “presence” in Pak is gonna be even longer judging by the “socio-economic” development programs in the pipeline for Pak. We will see.

  10. @Arvi,
    1. How much leverage does US have over terrorist army?

    I. Not much – not when it has to depend on the Paki army for logistics. but more importantly the US military leaders have now settled into a rather chummy relationship with the Paki military’s top leaders. All these weapon transfers INSPITE of known Paki perfidy tells me that the US is putting waaaay too much faith in the Pakis.

    i am not sure if they even want use what ever leverage that they do hve.

    2. How much leverage terrorist army has over LeT and other groups that target India?

    No large terrorist group can exist without the patronage of the Pakistani army IN Pakistan – if that were to happen it only diminishes the military… and they would never stand for that.

    The LeT is an instrument of official Paki military state policy. They need the LeT for purposes of plausible deniability – the only reason that they will disband them is when the military feels that Pakistan’s very existence is threatened by an external power to such an extent that it cannot afford to allow LeT thrive any more.

  11. @NS,
    “It is very easy to say that – but it is the nature of a weak state that cannot even provide security to its own citizens and leaves them like lambs that are about to be slaughtered.
    So far India’s weakness has not impeded it economically – but terror attacks are not exactly going to inspire investors to do business in a country – if and when similar attacks happen in the future, it will further heighten the concerns of enterprising businessmen, domestic or foreign.”
    Why do you assume that India cannot secure it’s citizens? The fact that we have a rotten neighborhood guarantees that the stench is going to reach our house. We can minimize the attacks, not eliminate them. An India threatening a war against Pakistan is a far lousier business prospect. Right now, security is only a cost of business, not only here but in many places around the world. War, on the other hand is a surefire signal to pack up and run.
    The cost of overreaction is far more, even for a USA attacking an Afghanistan. That is why terror tactics are employed in the first place. It is asymmetric.

    “A Pakistani implosion is the last thing the US wants”
    ” – it is concerned that this implosion will not just be limited to the sub continent and may very well reach the US homeland.
    It has dealt with Pakistan with a mixture of extreme fear and extreme patience and now gratitude/kindness.”

    So long as Pakistanis are willing to blame non-state actors and offer them as scapegoats(Read NWFP, Balochistan), the justification for all out war against Pakistan does not exist.

    “Expecting Pakistan to implode/disintegrate is rather wishful thinking on the part of India and does not take into account American efforts to stop just that scenario.”
    The problem is a fail safe implosion which will de-fang their military mullah complex. US doesn’t believe that it is possible. India does not believe it is desirable. The fear is that an imploded Pakistan will only create a more concentrated toxin.

  12. Ms Nirupama Subramoney is a journalist of note and she has given her views of Pak-India relations after spending four years in Pakistan. I totally agree with her that the citizens of both countries must promote person to person relations much more vigorously. It’s up to the ordinary people at grass-roots levels to get to know one another better – because Indians and Pakistanis share a common culture and heritage even if they belong to all types of faiths.
    A start is being made once again with the reported marriage of Sania Mirza to Shaob Malik. This is great. Let’s hope the couple will be left alone when they marry in April.

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