Fattening the Pakistani elite

…might work

In today’s Viewfinder at Yahoo! India columns Amit Varma says he sees “three distinct kinds of forces in Pakistan.”

One, the jehadi groups, which grow larger and more extreme because of self-perpetuating feedback loops, but are by no means the whole country. Two, the military establishment, whose incentives, as I wrote in a column three years ago, are aligned towards continuing the conflict with India. They have supported the jehadis, and have waged proxy wars through them, but are now under pressure to withdraw this support. And three, civil society, which wants what people everywhere want: peace, prosperity and a good future for themselves and their children. This, I believe, is most of Pakistan.

The stronger civil society gets, the weaker the support for extremism, and the more tenuous the military’s hold on the country. This is why I support increased trade and cultural exchanges with Pakistan (which is mutually beneficial anyway, as it’s a positive-sum game). I don’t think it’s contradictory to take a hard line towards Pakistan’s terrorist infrastructure and a soft line towards their artists and businessmen. Both have the same end in mind. [Yahoo! India]

Like Amit, I too support increased trade and cultural exchanges with Pakistan. But for a very different reason.

Far more than civil society, trade—more than culture—will benefit Pakistan’s elite society. To the extent that it does, and further, to the extent that this creates vested interests among Pakistan’s rich and powerful to prefer stable bilateral relations, better trading relations will be good for India.

Since there is no direct empirical evidence, this is only a hypothesis. But it is verifiable, involves modest risks and is reversible. Which is why I have argued that India should consider unilaterally dropping trade restrictions. Cultural exchanges might not work the same way because they won’t fatten up the Pakistani elite as commerce is likely to.

So you do not need to believe that a Pakistani civil society will rise, will challenge extremism and dismantle the military-jihadi complex to consider the merits of the trade argument. But it’s important to recognise that better trading relations will, at best, reduce Pakistani attacks against India. Destroying the military-jihadi complex is an entirely different and a much more important project.

16 thoughts on “Fattening the Pakistani elite”

  1. I agree, Nitin, freer trade will certainly change the incentives of Pakistan’s elite. My piece was limited to talking about group polarisation, though, so my comments were made in that context.

  2. Ah… the famous Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention. Fair hypothesis…

  3. I think there is one more force to contend with in Pakistan- feudalism. Large parts of Pakistan are, I understand, still under the influence of ‘sardars’ and feudal chieftains/land owners. They too see a threat in a free, progressive Pakistani society, democracy if you wish, because progress means better schooling, judicial laws, and authority to the people. This directly impinges on the influence they currently wield.

  4. The whole idea is based on the mistaken conception of a civil society that is independent and exclusive of the military establishment. For that matter, the very idea of a clean trifurcation of pakistan into 3 groups is juvenile.

    Nitin refers to the MJC without making the point that the MJC by itself invalidates the idea of this separation. There is also an analogous Military Civil Complex with its own dynamics. And a Civil-Jehadi complex (all mosques, religious orgs aren’t declared jihadi affiliates. Most pak journos are only happy to see 26/11s). left leaning types in india, reading Dawn and all get a foolish conception of a liberal progressive pakistan that only exists on the newsprint. Verma suggests that most pakistan falls within the ‘civil’ group without giving any justification for this assumption. If pakistani civil society ever had to chose between india (business interests or no business interests) and its own army, only an idiot would bet on the former. Would it still reduce attacks on india? — not if india doesn’t have the option to hit back (or a leadership unwilling to). If we want to reduce attacks on india, increasing business linkages isn’t the decisive factor, but india’s (covert) counter strike capacity is.

    and also, lets not forget that most ‘civil’ pakistanis (and prob muslims across south asia) are even more virulently anti-(hindu) india than the pak army itself is. try living in a muslim majority area anywhere in the subcontinent.

  5. I read Acorn because of the general no nonsense opinions & due critisism of the Liberals / left leaning types – and some smart comments.

    This piece and first comment is an exchange of “I am okay – you are okay” type.

    Can we see Nitin’s view on this “group polarization” Varma & the TOI “Aman Ki Asha” type people talk about ?

  6. What needs to change in Pakistan is the mind-set of the average Pakistani. While on one hand they condemn terrorism in all its forms and in the same breath, espouse the cause of jihad in Kashmir. From the view point of an average Indian, this is self-contradictory. No amount of cultural exchange or normalisation of trade and commerce with Pakistan is going to bring about any change in Pakistan’s India policy. Even post-Kargil or post-Mumbai 26/11, there does not seem to be any appreciable change in Pakistan’s approach to tackling India-centric terror groups. I agree with the views of gbz.

  7. Actually both the pakistani military elites and the suave civil society are one seamless community and not separate groups. To win over one to contain the other is a delusion.

  8. Amit Varma said we shouldnt talk about Pakistan as if it was one monolithic entity. Cricketers are different, he says.

    But looking at what Pakistani cricketers say or do, I have my doubts:
    Sohail Tanvir talking about the Hindu zahaniyat.
    Shoaib Malik apologizing to muslims worldwide after losing trophy.
    Saqlain Mushtaq saying he’s first a Muslim and then a Pakistani.
    Javed Miandad’s son is married to Dawood Ibrahim’s daughter.

    Amit Varma also says most of Pakistan wants peace, prosperity and a good future. (By peace, I infer peace with India is included). Please see what Col Athale thinks

  9. Must confess I fail to understand the Indian desire for engagement, whether with Pakistani elite or its civil society

    I suppose I do not subscribe to the former being amenable to notions of economic self-interest or the latter to pathetic entreaties for peace

    Instead, I’d suggest building higher and higher walls around such countries — physical, geo-political, economic, cultural, and anything else I can’t think of immediately. This is necessary to protect not just Indians but, as we saw recently in Times Square, all manner of everyone else as well

    The second layer of defense should be a willingness to go on disproportionate offense in the event of even the slightest transgression by the enemy state and its people

    Clearly, my recent St Lucia vacation to cheerlead the Indians has not pacified my hawkishness one bit 🙂

  10. Concur 100% with Primary Red’s suggestion of fencing off Pakistan. Pakistanis in any shape,size or degree of Pakistaniyat are to be treated with extreme prejudice. Let their fascist sickness wear off over the next 30 years. Then perhaps we will peek over the fence.

  11. The walls for people can co-exist with trade normalization.

  12. Hi,

    It is actually not clear from history that an increase in trade actually has much effect on whether or ot wars break out.

    England was a great trading country in the 18th century and had quite a lot of trade with France. This did not prevent the hostility between England and France from being a big theme of 18th century history.

    The British East india Company actually significantly increased trade between England and the Indian subcontinent. Very few people would argue that it was a force for peace between England and India.

    More recently, there was a high level of trade between France and Germany immediately prior to WWI. Arguably, the world then had freer trade then than it has now. Sadly, this seems to have had almost no effect on the tensions between Germany and France.

    In fact, if trade really promoted peace, why was Great Britain, arguably the greatest trading power in the history of the world, involved in so many wars while Sweden, which traded much less, was relatively peaceful?

    Not saying that more trade between India and Pakistan would be a bad thing. Just that history suggests that a higher level of trade does not necessarily promote peaceful relations between countries.


  13. Thank you all for some very thoughtful comments. Much of what has been discussed requires several full blog posts, so let me just note a few points:

    1. This is not about a general “trade stops war”/Golden Arches theory. This is a more targeted and strategic (in the game-theoretical sense) approach.

    2. That there are civil-jihadi & civil-military linkages is not disputed. Rather, that the military-jihadi complex lies at the root of the problem, and tackling it will address the rest (as the civilian set are bandwagoners).

    3. The project of destroying the MJC (and doing whatever is necessary in this respect, including severing external support, raising walls etc) can proceed independently of what I propose here.

    Milind – as for group polarisation, you must ask Amit Varma about that. It’s his argument.

  14. very valid point

    i.e. why Naraynmurthy expressed willingness to open BPOs in Pakistan.
    In fact US policy towards china or European policy towards Russia is shaped in large way because of their own business interests.
    An elite whose prosperity depends on trade with India is best insurance cover india can have against lunatic behavior of Pakistan establishment and dropping trade restriction will be like premium paid to buy this insurance.

    Neither strong india nor weak Pakistan offers this insurance.

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