Pakistan-India: Ten challenges for the way forward for Modi
by Javed Jabbar
How to live with the sobering effect of wielding State power when in the mind and body there linger the addictive effects of the intoxicant stimulants of pre-poll rhetoric?
The task is made even harder by the fact that the Pakistan-bashing jibes, threats and slogans were more than mere transient rhetoric. They sprang from — or spring from — a long-held ,deeply -rooted conviction that the very formation of Pakistan was the outcome of a conspiracy to prevent the emergence of the mythical Mahabharat. Reference is made to the uncontradicted reports that recently approved school textbooks in Gujrat State define the concept of Mahabharat to include Afghanistan to the West and Myanmar to the East, Nepal to the North and Sri Lanka to the South, as also including Pakistan and Bangladesh in between.
By and large, citizens and gullible voters around the world reflexively adjust and lower their own expectations once the results bring to power the pre-poll speakers of hype and hysteria . But then there is always the Opposition to subtly or crudely taunt the new office-holders about the pre-poll rhetoric becoming post-poll rubble. With the ruling party’s own internal pressure groups , and its external institutional patrons there to stir the conscience about threats and promises made: the brew thickens.
Finally, there is one’s own image staring back in the mirror every morning as the Chief Executive begins his spartan, disciplined day. If a new course of building better relations with Pakistan were to be pursued,will not the eyes ask the question as to how the gloating Modi masks of pre-May 2014 are gradually changing their features instead of remaining replicas of the original? As in every other nation-State, the harsh realities of using nation-State power soon after taking charge of public office bring forth unlikely new checks, restraints and high -risk consequences that inhibit letting pre-poll heat coming to a boil.
How to prevent the recurrence of elections in Indian States over five intervening years between one Lok Sabha poll and the next one, from compounding the previous challenge?
In other words, how to keep stoking the anti-Pakistan sentiment as an additional vote-getting factor without upsetting the apple cart at the Central, Union, Federal State level?
The Pakistan factor is a variable electoral factor, from one Indian State or region to another. Internal, domestic issues probably always hold primacy over the paranoia about Pakistan .Yet the 29 Indian States are not quite surgically separated from each other. They are body parts of a single form. Wherever used, the Pakistan-baiting does have some spill -over effect.
Analysts in Pakistan have mistakenly assumed that the anti-Pakistan factor in Indian political discourse is principally relevant to the North and some part of the Central-West regions of India i.e. Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra to name only two. Whereas the 2014 poll results showed that, for unexpected reasons , and with the abiding anomalies of the first-past-the-post system, the BJP obtained two out of three Lok Sabha seats in Jammu and Kashmir in the North while also, way down in the South, managed to retain or to add seats in States such as Karnataka and Goa.
So to pander to emotive, low-risk polling campaign issues becomes an almost continuous, ceaseless process in India. Unlike Pakistan, where elections for both the Federal and Provincial legislatures are held simultaneously. One remains conscious of the enormous size and logistical complexities in India with regard to holding simultaneous polling. But Central and State polls could be held on the same simultaneous-staggered schedule that the Indian system manages so well for the Lok Sabha polls. This simultaneity may well notably liberate campaign clamour from the clutches of hate-speech, against both internal and external adversaries, real and imagined.
Yet such a change may not alter the reality of the second challenge. Even when unusually heavy firing is conducted by Indian Forces along the LoC in Kashmir as part of the run-up to the polls for the Kashmir State Assembly in December, and dozens of innocent civilians killed in Pakistan as a result (with the additional sting of insensitive remarks made by the Indian Defence Minister and others about “ scoring “ higher casualties than the other side ), venomous , verbal firing on Pakistan in some other States and on virtually all Indian electronic news media , continues unabated.
There is a perverse price to be paid by the neighbours of the world’s largest democracy which is also a 24-hour, 365 days, round-the-clock, round-the-year, round-the-five-year-term electoral democracy.
How to take the giant internal, personal, psychological leap and the external political leap of finally, belatedly expressing at least a single, unequivocal statement of remorse and regret for being Chief Minister of Gujrat in 2002 when the massacre of Muslims became, for several days, de facto official policy?
And how to do so without appearing to become weak in the eyes of one’s own electorate? And remain acceptable to one’s historical patron-institutions that have nurtured and facilitated promotion to Union level?
The domestic, internal aspects of such a hypothetical statement of remorse even short of an apology are ostensibly, inappropriate —– for the one , out of every four Indian voters who actually voted for BJP and Mr. Modi in 2014, the potential gains in stature and credibility, both internally and externally are of enormous and pivotal potential, particularly for Pakistan.
The ideal statement advocated herein, even 12 years later, would transmit a bold signal to both Indian Muslims and other minorities that this Indian PM has entered into a new phase of personal and political development. It would indicate that, instead of following the downward spiral of regression which afflicts many leaders brought to power either by elections or by force, here is an individual who has consciously chosen to take a spiral staircase upwards to a new level of self-critical humility and authentic respect for non-Hindus.
The Gujrat episode was not, and is not a purely internal Indian tragedy. Its external human, and political ramifications were even then immediately apparent. Though human memory can be erratically short and, fortunately, sometimes quickly forgiving, the glaring absence of a single word of empathy and regret by Mr. Modi has helped make this issue an enduring source of concern for a pre-dominantly Muslim Pakistan.
The awareness in Pakistan of this lack of remorse deters any real acceptance of the Indian PM as a leader who genuinely bears goodwill for Muslims, be they in Pakistan or India. Nor are most people in Pakistan impressed by the opportunistic U-turns taken by the USA, UK, the EU and others who now welcome Mr. Modi merely because of the electoral mandate that he has secured.
Pakistanis, like Indians , are aware that Mr Modi’s new overseas friends are motivated by their own State interests , by potential economic benefits, by the diplomatic norms that obligate acceptance of public office-holders. It is ironic for Pakistanis — who have survived four military interventions — to remind themselves,and the world that election results do not necessarily reflect the existence of fundamental values of compassion and concern among poll-winners for victims of communal violence only 12 years ago.
How to develop a truly non-hegemonistic vision for India that is not obsessed with size, scale, growth, economic power, military power et al ?And how to become a moral and ethical super power, an entity of credible, non-coercive, persuasive authority ? In other words, how to develop a heart that is large enough to match the spread of its land and the splendor of its people?
That proposition is eligible for a top prize in the Annual Global Festival of Fanciful Notions reportedly being planned by the United Nations.
Yet, notwithstanding all of the Indian Union State’s protestations of pristine innocence, expressed from time to time by each Government, the sheer size and un-stated ambitions of the region’s largest country are unmistakable and evident to every neighbor, specially Pakistan.
How to relate well with Pakistan as the only neighbor unwilling to accept condescending patronage from its larger neighbor, even when such patronage is offered as pure benevolence rather than as manipulative support or sincere aid?
The PM of India has every right to visit all the other SAARC neighbors which, in turn, have every right to welcome him, with or without announcements of aid as recently made on his maiden visits to Nepal and Bhutan.
With Pakistan , the predictable puzzle without an easy or apparent solution is that no offer of Indian aid similar to those offered to Nepal and Bhutan is likely to be made, nor to be requested or accepted. Except in a time of extreme natural disaster such as the earthquake in Northern Pakistan in 2005.
In official discourse, multi-lateral as in SAARC or in bilateral talks, when they do occur, the term of “partnership” or “equal partnership” is the language actually used. “Patronage“ is not part of the formal lexicon of diplomacy. But, like calling a spade by its full five- letter name helps to make a dent in the ground , it is similarly necessary to bluntly refer to India’s penchant to be patronizing . Because though the possession of nuclear weapons is a kind of equalizer, the Indian State has a proclivity almost historically ingrained, and frequently discernible , of subtle arrogance towards its smaller neighbours motivated by comparative size.
Pakistan is the only State in South Asia unwilling to be over-awed by mere size and scale, leave alone potential patronage by Indian aid, however well-intended.
How to develop within the PM’s Secretariat and attendant Ministries and wings, and perhaps more importantly at the highest levels of the BJP and its allied patron- institutions, a more correctly informed, nuanced, insightful appreciation of the multi-layered complexity of the society and the State of Pakistan?
A small part of the intelligentsia in India sometimes reflects this capacity. But the over-whelming dominance of a mis-informed, simpilistic, stereotypically predictable set of presumptions prevail in most segments of both society and State in India, including news media . This vacuum reinforces and expands the ignorance and the misperceptions.
The absence of accurate knowledge about Pakistan becomes an impenetrable wall. There may be accuracy in pin-pointing targets for military action, if decided upon. There may be effective intelligence-gathering of some aspects. Yet, despite the fact that there are probably more centres and scholars in India doing Pakistan-specific research than , correspondingly, in Pakistan conducting detailed analysis of India’s vast complexity , the quality and depth of understanding about contemporary Pakistan that one comes across in general among opinion-makers, political leaders , media figures in India is below par for so vital a course. India is in good company: the same is true for the USA, UK and Europe.
Challenge no. 7
How to ensure that, in actual practice, as distinct from theory and stated public policy, the Indian military enables and supports political, civil initiatives by India’s elected government to resolve issues with Pakistan such as Siachin and Sir Creek instead of exercising the veto power which it has come to exert over the past several years?
With the present Indian Government’s ideological origins being even more militaristic in tone than its predecessor, posing this particular question seems redundant. A cynical view in Pakistan may be that it is actually the hard-headed, feet-on-the-ground Indian military that might serve as a cool-headed restraining influence in a possible situation when the political leadership could urge the use of disproportionate force.
Notwithstanding India’ s commendable electoral continuity over six and a half decades , unlike the interruptive contrast with Pakistan , the heavy and persistent deployment of troops in Jammu and Kashmir , specially post-1989 , and in the North-Eastern States as well , for tens of years , imbues the Indian military command with a weightage that weighs in with opinions at crucial stages in the formulation of certain , not all, political policy decisions. This is true of other major countries . Whether it be the USA whose military is deployed in overseas countries for geo-strategic aims rather than on its own territory, or whether it is China whose military has historically been fused closely with the Party’s ideology and political policies , the military’s perspective has to be taken note of with due respect. After all, when it comes to the crunch, it is the soldiers out in the field who pay the highest price possible, with their lives , if necessary. And the same applies in Pakistan.
But in India one senses that the ” the lady protests too much ” about how unqualified is the political, civil factor in shaping Defence policy or military matters simply because there has never been a military intervention in the elected continuity of a democratic order.
Challenge no. 8
How to revive the Musharraf – Manmohan Singh back- channel process on Kashmir, without being misperceived , or be accused by one’s own ideological extremist-partners of opting for a ” a soft-out “, leave alone being accused of merely following in the tracks of the Congress Party?
For all one knows, and one knows more and more about less and less — and less and less and less about more and more.
However , going by the astounding lack of discretion and restraint shown in Pakistan in recent times , if not in India as well, in publicly referring to the imminence, or the currency of a back-channel process on Kashmir , one will be pleasantly surprised if a publicly-lip-sealed dialogue is actually taking place.
The whole point about the back-channel is secrecy, not publicity, which is the quickest way to kill potential cures for lasting sores.
To its credit, the longest-running,(since late 1991 ) , quiet, (not officially secret), non-media-reported (by choice) bilateral Track 2 Dialogue between the two countries known as the India-Pakistan Neemrana Initiative (IPNI) has managed to keep its mouth shut for over two decades. No credit is claimed for any success, or a micro-move forward. Yet, to date at least, every single Government that has come to office in both countries — and there have been plenty since 1991 — has either permitted or encouraged IPNI to continue. Something somewhere may be getting done. For instance, simply practicing the art of listening to each other, without the posturing that is inevitably brought on when there is a media gallery expecting to be played to.
Advances towards reconciliation on Kashmir — which, with the likes of Cyprus and Palestine ranks among the most elusively soluble crises lingering into the 21st century — through the Musharraf-Manmohan Singh back-channel formula were crystallized as the cumulative result of decades of previous, other and on-going processes, both off-the-record like IPNI , or on-the-record like some, as also helpful discourse in media , academia, and the political process.
Commencing with an attempt to define and demarcate a shared acceptance of the physical composition of J&K in the 21st century , the M-M formula aspired for sustained dialogue across the LOC between Kashmiris on both sides, accompanied by, or followed by authentic devolution of power and control from New Delhi and Islamabad, culminating in demilitarizing possibly the most militarized region in the world.
To set this as a challenge for a PM reportedly aiming to abolish Article 370 of the Indian Constitution — far from reconciling with Pakistan or with the Hurriyet approach — is , of course, to tilt at windmills.
Challenge no. 9
How to re-formulate India’s covert policy of countering Pakistan in Afghanistan and of supporting some of the armed secessionists in Balochistan — and elements elsewhere in other provinces — without weakening India’s capacity to remain a major regional power.
Just as Nepal and Bhutan have a special relationship with India , with respective divergencies, so too Pakistan , as an immediate neighbour of Afghanistan , has a far more legitimate interest in its north-western next-door than India does. Yet India is taking both a publicly healthy role — ie helping build hospitals, a parliament building, a highway etc — as also taking a very unhealthy interest in matters Afghan and Pakistan . Through funding support, through training, through weapons’ supply , through ” guidance ” for an assortment of elements which reportedly include fringe-fraud Taliban-types, terrorists , nationalists and soft assets in a few sections of media , civil society and politics.
Afghanistan’s relationship with Pakistan will always be far more multi-layered, inter-dependent and inter-woven than an Indian-Afghan relationship . By the unchangeable potency of geography , ethnicity , language, dialects, religion, sects, culture, trade, shared livelihoods, even shared villages, the Pukhtun parts of Balochistan and Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa provinces have virtually imperishable, irreplaceable bonds with Afghanistan, bonds in which a love-hate dimension also bobs up and down from time to time.
If India’s role in Balochistan is rationalized as pay-back for Pakistan’s covert role in Jammu & Kashmir , there is a fundamental flaw.
One is an officially, internationally-recognized , unsettled dispute which continues to remain on the unfinished agenda of the United Nations Security Council (having been brought there by India itself ! ) while the other is not so but is a Province with some very justifiably — and also unjustifiably — deeply disaffected people . Where India can perhaps afford its Maoist insurgency to spread from a small location to several States, Pakistan is more vulnerable to covert intrusion by India.
But it is apt to record the view that if India does intend to continue with its policies in Afghanistan and Balochistan , the fall-out will also reach India, and not remain confined to Pakistan.
Challenge no. 10
How to reach out to Pakistan, not with a ceremonial handshake at a SAARC summit but with a spontaneous hug, an embrace so warm, so infectious that, at one sudden stroke, the tone , the tenor, the tempo is newly energized ? And to do so, knowing full well that the Vajpayee visit to Minar-i-Pakistan was followed by Kargil, that the guilty of November 2008 have not yet been convicted . That, for its part, Pakistan also nurses its own valid grievances about the Samjhota Express, about numerous other incidents where Pakistan has been falsely implicated and accused.
Both countries face a future of increased internal volatility and uncertainty, of painful inequalities and inequities , of intense human needs and deprivations. Working together rather than working apart would be far more mutually curative, respecting each other’s evolving national identities and recognizing each other’s vital interests.
This is about remembering history, without being trapped by it. This is about envisioning a future full of risks, yet equally fulsome about a better unknown.