At independence in 1947, both India and Pakistan inherited British colonial institutions that they did not destroy and replace in one violent revolution, but that they were to use and modify over time until they became Indian and Pakistani institutions (even violent revolutions use existing institutions to some extent, but lets not quibble about details). The Karma of British Raj was bound to decay with time, but a new national feeling and national traditions would gradually replace what was being lost or modified. In Pakistan, the process at the top (less so at the bottom, where the decaying hulk of colonial rule is still the only administration in town) was beset from day one with the problem of marrying its dysfunctional and superficial foundational myth with actually existing realities and this problem remains unsolved to a large extent, but today’s post is about India.
The Indian army remained closer to the mold of the British Indian army than Pakistan’s army. Politicians remained in charge at the top and (perhaps consciously, one must assume that some of them have brains) kept the army on a tight leash. This also meant the army remained relatively inefficient compared to Pakistan’s “one-window operation” run by the army chief with little or no interference from bloody civilians. The army was also encouraged to maintain its British traditions to a very great extent (again, one must assume that some politicians had brains) and those traditions kept army matters relatively insulated from the much muddier evolution of “Indianization” in the civilian sphere. Optimists must have hoped that Indian civilian traditions will improve faster than British-Indian military traditions decay and one day the trends will meet happily in the positive region of the graph. So how is that going?
Not as well as hoped. Current army chief General VK Singh got involved in a very public dispute over his birthday. A weak and incompetent civilian govt seems to have consistently bungled the handling of the matter. And now, in his last days, the chief has managed to muddy the waters in spectacular fashion with leaked letters and hints of factionalism in the army high command. The whole affair may blow over with a competent next chief and competent next cabinet, but right now, it doesnt look too good.
I would say the odds are in favor of the fuss blowing over and settling down. And life (and India) will go on. But for the sake of argument, let us assume this is a symptom of serious internal decay and not just one chief and one defense minister who don’t know what an unholy mess they are making here (and one weak PM who cannot seem to get it under control). What if this gets worse?
Indians can comment on what it means for them, but for Pakistanis, it will not be good news. There is simply no way Pakistan can remain unaffected by any obvious hiccups in Indian affairs. Pakistan can (I know, it sound optimistic to me too) become a reasonably stable and functional postcolonial state without going through a bloody revolution (in fact, in Pakistan’s case it can become a stable and functional state ONLY if it successfully avoids the revolution). But to do so, the narrative of parliamentary democracy, civilian rule, compromise, peaceful borders and so on will have to dominate. And if India cannot seem to make it work, then it can never come to dominate in Pakistan. If India starts down the African path (I am not saying it will, this is probably a storm in largish teacup, but just assuming it does), Pakistan will then be dominated by the narrative of Madina e saani. The results for the entire region will be terrible. South Asia, without the successful evolution of Indianized Western style democratic institutions and a broadly secular India, is a zone of conflict. And the narratives driving that conflict will be religious, ethnic and caste-based and results (especially for North India-Pakistan…I am told the South is different, who knows) will be very violent and very nasty.
Addendum: The Indian Express has published a story that shows how serious the rift at the top was in January (I am not saying there was going to be a coup, I think Nitin Pai has it exactly right in his analysis). The problem here is not that the Indian army may try a coup. The problem is that this exposes how pathetic the standards of governance at the top of the ruling elite really are. This is not yet down to Pakistani standards, but the viceroy would not be amused.
I am still hopeful that even Pakistan will develop in a way that reasonable order and freedom can coexist and most of the population can get food to eat and I am not saying this is the end for India. But its not their proudest moment.
Just as a “what if”, what if things get worse rather than better with time? If India goes down, can Pakistan survive? maybe some rump Muslim warrior state would emerge from the chaos, maybe even one much bigger than the current Pakistan, but I dont see that as a step forward. Imagine the chaos in the region! The whole place could turn to glass if we ever launch our semi-functional weapons…Again, I dont think that is likely, but just imagine the possibilities..(Razib thinks it might be Panem? But i think if the current model gets totally discredited and sinks, the next step is total war and once modern states are out of the picture, the Muzzers have the edge, though maybe I shouldnt count the Sikhs out).
Need I repeat, this is just playing with unlikely scenarios. Mostly likely, the system will survive.