An awful lot can be said about the India-Pakistan conflict and what is said is heavily dependent on how the writer sees the world and what he or she wants it to become. Now that the latest round of proposed “National Security Adviser Talks” has fizzled, a lot is being said about who is to blame and what to do next. I thought it would be a good idea to just step back a little from the (necessarily and correctly) petty tactical maneuvers behind the talks and their cancellation and look at the (somewhat scary) big picture and then try to see what the possible futures look like. The last section is my personal obsession and can be skipped.
So here goes:
Kashmir is a disputed region that is claimed by both India and Pakistan. Pakistan holds one chunk of Kashmir (now administered as Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir) and India hold another. Without going into the details of whose claims are how good and what the UN resolutions really say, let us note one fact: Pakistan wants to change the status quo in Kashmir. India pays lip-service to the notion that it wants the Pakistani part of Kashmir, but in practice India looks like it will go along with keeping the status quo. So as far as Kashmir is concerned, India’s interest is to have Pakistan STOP trying to change the status quo (especially via terrorism or military force; India knows that complaints in international forums and human rights clubs are not a significant issue if kinetic actions cease). Pakistan’s interest on the other hand is to force India to give up its part of Kashmir, i.e. to CHANGE the current borders and administrative arrangements. In this sense the positions are not symmetrical.
Pakistan has tried various things to change the status quo. When India was partitioned, the princely ruler of Kashmir dithered about his choice (whether to join India or Pakistan). At that point, we tried to force his hand by sending in tribal irregulars to grab Kashmir by force (and we nearly succeeded; tribal lashkar were entering Srinagar when the Indian army intervened and pushed them back). After the tribal lashkars were forced back, regular army units joined the fight and both sides fought to a standstill by 1948 and then agreed to take the issue to the UN. Neither side did what the UN resolutions demanded (details vary depending on whom you ask). But the bottom line is that India held one part of Kashmir and we held the other and of course, both sides refused to budge from where they were.
In 1965, we tried operation Gibraltar to “liberate” Kashmir by sending in commandos who were supposed to spark a general uprising. The general uprising never happened and a conventional military offensive (operation Grandslam) was stopped after some early success and led to a short general war (the 1965 war) which was pretty much stalemated when both sides threw in the towel and agreed to a ceasefire. Again, opinions and details vary depending on who you ask, but no one can deny that the borders looked about the same after the 1965 as they did before it, so our attempt to change the status quo had again failed.
In the 1971 war, India defeated our forces in East Pakistan but nothing much changed on the Western front. The status quo in Kashmir remained more or less the way it was before the war (though definitions and fine details of the boundary changed a little and diplomats argue forever about how many angels now dance on which pin).
In the late 1980s a widespread revolt did break out amongst the Muslim population of the vale of Kashmir and in the 1990s we vigorously promoted an Islamist-Jihadist insurgency staffed by Pakistani as well as Kashmiri militants. The revolt and the subsequent Islamist insurgency (the two are not the same, though details and definitions can be argued about endlessly) shook India’s hold on Kashmir for a while and both India and the local population paid a very heavy price, but by 1999 it seemed that the insurgency itself was not going to drive India out of Kashmir and our civilian PM was thinking of making peace. The army stepped in to nip this in the bud and launched a limited war in Kargil, but failed in it’s objectives (tactically and strategically unsound to begin with) and got a bit of a scolding from the Americans in the bargain; always a net negative for us because Uncle Sam has historically paid for a lot of our “national security” upkeep.
In 2001 our brothers in Afghanistan (who provided strategic depth and much more for the Kashmir Jihad) got into trouble with America and were forced to temporarily relocate to Pakistan. Pakistan was also forced to tamp down the Kashmir Jihad in the generally “Jihad-unfriendly” atmosphere that followed and India has been able to use the breathing space to restore some degree of peace in Kashmir. But while we have kept the Jihad on a tight-ish leash (Mumbai 2008 being the biggest, though not sole, exception), we have not shut down the Kashmir branch completely. And of course, we have not changed our “principled stand”. We still want to change the status quo in Kashmir. The problem is, how is that to be done?
Since 2001, there have been several rounds of peace talks and many proposals for a peace settlement in Kashmir. Pakistan is of the view that even though our guerrila and military efforts failed to dislodge India from Kashmir, we still have a good claim on the state and India should agree to a substantial change in the current status quo in order to make peace with us and to have peace in the subcontinent. On the other hand, the dominant Indian view seems to be that since Pakistan has already “tried it’s worst” and failed, it should not expect to receive on the negotiating table what it could not win on the ground by force.
Peaceniks and pragmatists on both sides have proposed that we could agree to keep the status quo on borders (India keeps their Kashmir, we keep ours) but should give substantial autonomy to each side and allow freer movement across the border,so obviating any need to adjust borders and fight wars.
This sound good (and I personally think it is the nearest thing to a doable deal) but hardliners on both sides reject any such deal. At it’s core, the objection from the Indian side is based on lack of trust. Some Indians think they detect a scheme to use autonomy and softer borders to prepare the ground for bigger future demands (supported by an anti-Indian Kashmiri Muslim populace). Extreme Hindutvadis may also feel that any compromise with Pakistan is unacceptable and the long term aim should always be to one day destroy Pakistan and reabsorb it into India (or to absorb at least the Indian half of it, the Afghan and Baloch half are welcome to their own states).
Hardline Pakistanis meanwhile think acceptance of the current boundaries means giving up on the dream of ever seeing a Kashmir united with Pakistan and is a betrayal of the ideals of the Pakistan movement. More to the point, the security establishment feels that if peace comes, can disarmament and loss of domestic power and status be far behind?
Pragmatic peaceniks know that the fears of hardliners are not unfounded. But we do feel that those fears are unhelpful for the bulk of the population and stand in the way of a doable deal that can be made to work for all sides.On peace being prelude to another attempt at taking Kashmir away, well, we would say that India is not run by children. If India could stop us in the 1990s when the world was not so anti-Jihad, when India was poorer, when its armed forces were less equipped and when it’s establishment was at least as corrupt and incompetent, why should it lose control in the future when all these factors may change in India’s favor?
For the Hindutvadis, I would say this. Yes, you may never see the Indus basin, home of the Rig Veda and site of so many historic Sikh and Hindu sites returned to Mother India, but worse things have happened in history. Maybe you can take it as the price “Mother India” has to pay for having been conquered and ruled by invaders for so many centuries and for not being able to assimilate them into India more fully. Maybe, as Don Corleone said, “there just wasn’t enough time”.. Meanwhile, enough local people were assimilated into the conqueror’s culture to such a degree that they no longer think of themselves as Indian. IF Indian-ness is truly deep rooted and desirable (and this conversion is actually a bad fit for our deeply Indian culture), then their descendants may drift back. If not, maybe it is time to move on.
On the Pakistani side, yes, I think the ideals of the Pakistan movement will be betrayed by such a deal. But really, even you guys cannot seem to agree on what those ideals were in the first place. Maybe the whole partition thing was a bad idea. Why make it worse? It cannot be reversed, but at least it should not be made worse. Let it go. What’s next? 200 million Indian Muslims added to Pakistan?
And yes, if we don’t get Kashmir the coming conflicts over water may find us forced to trust India and international mediation. But the Indus waters treaty has worked for 50 years. If we have peace and increased trust, we may be able to work it out in the future too. In any case, what is the alternative? It’s not like all our attempts to get Kashmir by force have been hugely successful to date. Sure, we would be nicely placed if we owned ALL the rivers from Tibet to the sea, but we don’t. China and India happen to be upstream. But then again, many other nations with rivers that run down from other countries don’t control their destiny all alone. They have to make deals and manage. Deals are easier when you are at peace.
And finally, the security establishment and it’s fear of irrelevancy and demotion: no such luck. This is not a valid fear at all. Guess who will get all the Amul franchises when peace breaks out? Yes, cousin Jimmy and retired Brigadier uncle! Money can be made in many ways. You can make it in peace rather than war. Collect tolls. Distribute movies. Arrange concerts. Set up businesses.You know you can do it. And security? it will be an even bigger headache after we betray the two-nation theory and try to hold Pakistan together for Chinese transit companies and Qingchi makers. Endless Islamist, Baloch and Mohajir insurgencies loom on the horizon. Maybe even a Maoist one will break out if poor people get shafted extra-hard. Your jobs are safe.
This is the case for peace. What is the hardline case?
Note that the two sides do not have symmetrical aims. Pakistan’s aim is to force India to make concessions using the threat of renewed support for Jihadis, Khalistanis, Maoists, NE Separatists etc, to force India to make concessions. India’s aim is to prevent Pakistan from making such an attempt. In order to see decisive change in this respect, India also wants clear and decisive action against the Mumbai attackers. Such action is not just desirable because a heinous terrorist crime was committed and its perpetrators have not yet been punished (though I personally think that is a good aim in itself) but because such action would be the best evidence that Pakistan is no longer committed to the Jihadist option against India. If Pakistan does this, India will almost certainly be willing to make at least a cold peace. Thus, when I speak of an Indian hardline case, I do not mean the extreme Hindutvadi case of wishing to reabsorb Pakistan “with extreme prejudice”.
The Pakistani hardliners case is qualitatively different. We are the party that wants a change in borders or at least some major move towards Kashmiri autonomy that we can accept as a halfway house to union with Pakistan. We have tried to force this change using proxies as well as the regular army and we have (till now) failed. But our hardliners think the failure is not as final as it seems. Our options are still open. Now that America is getting out of our hair, and China wants us more than ever (or so we think), we can deploy the threat of revived Jihad and Khalistan to ask for concessions. If India does not make concessions, we may have to move beyond the threat. Those willing to use these levers (rather than those just wanting to threaten to use them) are probably in a minority even in Pakistan. But the minority has the Paknationalist narrative on their side. So they can get their way because they control the Pakistaniat narrative and when push comes to shove, their opponents cannot muster good arguments without challenging the core narrative. All else being equal, the national narrative wins.
So let us suppose the hardliners win the argument. Do they have a case in the real world? i.e. can they win?
That depends on what weight one assigns to different factors. Pakistan has a proven record of deploying proxies and supporting insurgencies. All talk of Balochistan and MQM notwithstanding, India does not have such a record in West Pakistan. Even though Doval sahib has reportedly said “we can hurt them more than they can hurt us using these same tools”, an objective observer would have to say the edge lies with Pakistan. Our use of proxies has a record of “success”. India’s (in West Pakistan) does not. And Indian internal security institutions are already stretched thin and their state is known to be rickety and inefficient. Advantage Pakistan?
On the other hand, India is the bigger power. It has the bigger armed forces (even if they are weaker pound for pound; I am not saying they necessarily are. Maybe they are not. But the point is that even if they are somewhat less efficient than Pakistan’s armed forces (superior American weapons, less waste and corruption in procurement and weapons systems, higher asabiya??) they are so much bigger that they probably have a conventional edge. What if they actually use that advantage? Well, we don’t know for sure until they do, but these are two nuclear powers, Everyone gets nervous. So the threat of force is in India’s favor, but even India would prefer that it not be put to the test.
It may be that in a few years India will be in a position to impose penalties with less fear of things getting out of hand (or going unexpectedly badly) but it is not in that position yet (wet dreams of ultranationalist Indian notwithstanding). Even though India may be able to prevail in a conventional confrontation, it will not do so without considerable cost; costs that may set back the economic takeoff that is India’s best chance of breaking out of the glorious poverty that has long defined it.
So, the bottom line is, we don’t know if the hardliners on either side can win. It is best not to put their theories to the test.
Best case scenario: that MNS and his government manage to reach out to Modi and BOTH sides are mature enough to understand that it is in the interest of both nations not to put the hardline options to the test. Even while MNS is not in a position to bypass GHQ and the Paknationalists, he can arrange for lower profile meetings, smaller deals on trade, tourism and transit, and other baby steps.. And if things go well and Indian development continues to accelerate then Pakistani economic needs, increasing economic disparity and international pressure may force even GHQ to give up on Kashmir. Then we can think of flashier and bigger peace moves and start dreaming about a South Asian Economic Union.
What will really happen: probably a few more bumpy years, but no serious war. Things will limp along, till peace slowly settles around the exact same borders we have had since 1948.
Finally, a few words about why I regard the hardcore “ideology of Pakistan” as a threat to peace: The Turko-Afghan Delhi Sultanate is the charter state of “Hard Pakistani Nationalism”. Muslims live in all parts of India and (especially in parts of the South) their presence is not necessarily connected with the Turko-Afghan invasion and colonization of North India. But the Muslim intellectuals that laid the intellectual basis for the struggle for Pakistan saw themselves as the inheritors of the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal empire.
This does not mean that the Delhi Sultanate was foremost in the minds of everyone who wanted Pakistan. Not at all. It may not have been the proximate motivation for most of the supporters of Pakistan. Left wingers for example point to the “Muslim salariat” and its fear of being outcompeted by the more educated Hindu middle class. Or at the fears of the North Indian Muslim-feudal elite that had been pampered and protected by the British but that saw unpleasant changes coming in the wake of independence and democracy if Hindu-dominated mass parties came to power. Others have more fanciful theories; e.g. a prominent progressive Pakistani politician has written a book trying to prove that Pakistan was just the natural outcome of “Indus man” going his own way, distinct from the rest of India, as he has always done. Why “Indus Man” was more North Indian Feudal and Bengali than Punjabi (and many other inconvenient facts about history) get in the way of that theory, but the point is, the theory is out there and like most theories (even the silliest ones) there is some evidence for it if that is all you want to look for.
There is even a popular theory that Jinnah never really wanted Pakistan and the demand was more or less a bargaining chip that got out of hand. But hardcore Pakistani nationalists understood then (and understand now) that Pakistan must identify itself with the Turko-Afghan invaders, must reject the previous culture and religion of the inhabitants of this region (as a pre-enlightened state that we gave up once we adopted the superior religion and culture brought in by Islamic invaders), and must see itself as the “Un-India”; not just a political unit of greater India that happens to be mostly Muslim, but a separate nation that consists of people who do not share a common culture with the rest of India.
This understanding appears, at one level, to be a fringe view. Among Pakistan’s small super-elite the most educated segment consists of Western-educated intellectuals who, like their Indian counterparts, get 90% or more of their knowledge of history, sociology, culture and even religion from Western sources, in Western languages. Among this super-elite, the dominant mode of thought is not “hard paknationalism” or Salafist Islam, it is Eurocentric neo-orientalism (a bad term, I know, but this post is not long enough to accomodate a detailed description, you can guess what I mean), leaning heavily towards postcolonialism and postmodern Marxism. Meanwhile among the barely literate or illiterate masses, the inherited wisdom of their own older cultures (from Pakhtunwali to rural Punjabi values to Sindhi and Baloch culture, with all their subsets and varieties) still guides life far more than any superficial snatches of propaganda they may have picked up from the modern mass media and mass education.
But “Pakistaniat”, based on the Delhi-sultanate-charter-state view that I sketched above, rules supreme in official propaganda, in mass media and especially in modern mass education. This version of Pakistaniat is so ridiculous in the eyes of the Western-educated super-elite commentators that they not only reject it as ridiculous, they find it hard to even take its presence seriously. Their books and articles (and these are, of course, most of the books and articles the highly educated read, within Pakistan and even more so, outside of it) do not engage with this Pakistaniat because “the eye cannot see what the mind does not know”. But enough about them. We can see this paradigm in operation if we wish, and it turns out to be the one guiding our foreign ministry, our defence services and our intelligence agencies. It is the historical myth promoted in our educational institutions. And it is the one we use when we name our most important weapons. It is a framework that matters. Not the only one, but very much an important one. And critical when it comes to relations with India. You can see more on this topic in my previous posts here and here, but it is easy to see why this narrative to the extent that it remains a real factor in Pakistani opinion, is a hurdle to peace. ..
I believe the Indian secular state narrative is not a mirror-image obstacle to peace. The hard-Hindutva narrative does have the potential to obstruct peace (not just because of what it says about Pakistan but because it raises the possibility of new partitions within India), but it is not yet the official core narrative of the Indian state and until it becomes so it is not the equivalent of the Paknationalist story. And no, I don’t think the election of Modi constitutes such a point in itself; even Modi pays lip service to secular democratic India, and in these things “lip-service” is the point; it sets the parameters for public debate and restrains excesses. A lot of what is still powerful in our religious culture (fanaticism, unwillingness to marry across religious boundaries, inability to tolerate literary and artistic expressions considered offensive, etc) is restrained by this modern Western import. At some point our modernizing indigenous culture will meet the decaying karma of British liberalism and hopefully this union will occur in a happy zone and not in the dumps. But until then, this Western liberal import is a positive factor that India maintains closer to the modern ideal than we do. And that is why their national narrative can live with the present borders, but ours finds it harder to do so because ours demands more than what we got in 1947.
PS: A couple of clarifications (since people have asked)
1. Don Corleone saying “there wasn’t enough time”. That quote is from the famous garden scene in The Godfather (see below at 2 minute onwards). The thought I had in my mind was that by 1800 the Turko-Afghan colonization of India had run out of steam. Large areas of India were dominated by the Sikhs and the Marhattas and the remaining Turko-Afghan elite were so Indianized that the thought of going home or asking for reinforcements from Central Asia was dying out. At the same time, much of India was pulling ahead of Central Asia in warmaking technology and even in Asabiya (clearly illustrated by the fact that the Sikh Kingdom ruled parts of Afghanistan instead of vice versa; a fact that gifted those parts to West Pakistan 😉 ). It was the British who froze the North Indian Muslim elite in place and allowed visions of “our greatness till the British came along” to take hold. Given more time, Indians (Hindus, Sikhs AND Muslims) may have fought over many things, but none of the rulers would have imagined they were Central Asian any more.
2. A number of friends have objected to my characterization of “extreme Hindutvadis” as desiring an eventual reabsorption of the Indus valley into Greater India. Two points: One, I did say “EXTREME Hindutvadis”. I am well aware that most Indians would prefer not to add to their current headaches by absorbing Pakistan into India. But the dreamers are out there. Take my word for it 🙂
Two: even the extreme ones rarely imagine a straightforward reunion of current West Pakistan with India. The idea is more like “you, being wrong in so many ways, will fall apart. All sorts of shit will happen. Then the kids may come home crying to mama”. I am not saying this will happen, just reporting that its out there 🙂
3. Others are offended that I have not mentioned the desires of the Kashmiri people. I think the desires of the Kashmiri people are rather mixed-up at this time. First of all, the Hindus and Buddhists would prefer to stay in India. The Muslim majority may wish to leave India, but it is not clear that a majority now want to go to Pakistan. That leaves independence and neither India nor Pakistan will permit that and both are strong enough to prevent it. Case closed.
4. About my “optimistic” best case scenario, see more here. It would have made this post too long (though the link is an old post, some of which I may modify if written today).
punched in the mouth. (Mike Tyson)
Post post-script: Friend and uber-intellectual Ali Minai added a comment that I am posting here in its entirety:
I would make two additional points:
1. There is another sense in which the Kashmir situation is asymmetrical, though you do allude to this indirectly. There is a real separatist movement in Indian Kashmir with real buy-in from a significant (possibly growing) segment of the population. There is no such separatist challenge on the Pakistani side. Thus, in real terms, Kashmir is a much more “actual” problem for India than for Pakistan. It is true that Pakistan has failed to change the status quo of the borders, but the price of that “failure” has been paid more by India than Pakistan – if we do not count the jihadi menace afflicting Pakistan now as part of that cost. As long as this calculus obtains, I don’t see the true decision-makers on the Pakistani side budging. India may think it can counter this by supporting separatism elsewhere in Pakistan, but it just isn’t the same.
2. The hysteria created by the Indian TV news media is truly a phenomenon in its own right. There is a corresponding process in Pakistan, but it pales in comparison. This may have gone into overdrive post-Mumbai, but is not caused by that horrific event. I have been watching the evolution of this ultra-hyper-super-duper-nationalist media in India with considerable horror for many years since long before Mumbai. Unlike the jingoism in the Pakistani media which is: a) mostly incompetent; and b) leavened by a fair amount of serious punditry, a lot (not all) of the TV news media on the Indian side is superficial and “Fox-y”. The print media, in contrast, is much better – better than Pakistan’s – but we all know that print is dead 🙂
Both you and I recently had a more-or-less friendly twitter argument with a well-known Pakistani anchor/pundit who thought that India may soon go the way of Nazi Germany. In my opinion (and yours, I think), that is absolute crap. It just cannot happen in India, with its huge population, its diversity, its inherent tumult, its philosophical traditions, its socioeconomic stratification, etc. However, India, Pakistan, and any other country, can be subject to nightmare transformations. Some would say that it has already happened in Pakistan, but such nightmares are possible also in India. It’s hard to predict what the form will be – it will definitely not be Nazi Germany! – but the danger is limitless with the involvement of two nuclear states. The world can barely survive a dysfunctional Pakistan; it cannot survive a dysfunctional India. As such, India has a greater responsibility to remain serious, gracious and sagacious even in the face of provocation. When it too turns to provocation, I think it is time for everyone to get very nervous.
I think a serious case can be made that we are at the beginning of a great worldwide “unravelling” – brought on by climate change, demographic pressures, terrorism, etc., all feeding into each other. Perhaps in a hundred years, the period when liberal democracy thrived in half the world and the rest aspired to it will be seen as a quaint interlude in a multi-millennia history of war, misery, oppression and autocracy. But that hasn’t happened yet, and what occurs between India and Pakistan may be one of the most important determinants of its likelihood.