Old challenge, New Approach
AMRITSAR reconfirmed Pakistan remains a target of joint criticism by India and Afghanistan. Much of domestic and international opinion by and large concurs with such criticism. Such is the failure of our Afghanistan and India policies. They cannot and will not be redressed by those who can only construct self-serving narratives. Control of our Afghanistan and India policies remain with those who are neither authorised nor qualified for the task. The situation is similar for much of our domestic security and political policies
Our India policy impacts our Afghanistan policy. This is not to say Pakistan’s Afghanistan policy should run through Delhi. But to a great extent it does because our short-sighted and incompetent policymakers effectively insist that it does — with consistently negative results. Consistent with Einstein’s definition of lunacy, our adherence to such an India-focused Afghanistan policy is endlessly pursued in the hope that, somehow some day, it will produce positive results! We remain obstinately India-centric in the conduct of our Afghanistan policy, which has always alienated Afghanistan. It wilfully ignores the sensibilities and self-image of our Afghan brethren. Moreover, history testifies that any policy towards Afghanistan that provokes Afghan resistance is doomed to failure.
While Afghanistan cannot be treated as an aspect of our India policy, the state of our relations with India does impact on the range of options we can avail of to improve our relations with Afghanistan. This is because any significant and sustained improvement in our relations with India may (a) incline us to re-evaluate our dysfunctional strategies towards Afghanistan and (b) reduce India’s incentive to use its influence with Afghanistan as an option against Pakistan. For Pakistan to be simultaneously locked in a zero-sum relationship with two of its most immediate neighbours is pure folly. Pakistan can never be stable in such a situation.
India is, of course, the greater challenge because it is by far the bigger country and there is a long and cumulative history behind the current relationship. Moreover, Pakistan cannot control and contain the longer-term consequences of a hostile relationship with India. In the case of Afghanistan, the ‘differences’ are much more recent and far less profound even if they are not insignificant. Pakistan as the larger country is more able to lend a positive orientation to the development of the relationship. This would enhance our ability to cope with the challenge of India. We should, accordingly, ensure that the India-Afghanistan-Pakistan trilateral dynamic does not remain a vicious circle for us.
Pakistan cannot control and contain the longer-term consequences of hostile ties with India.
Let us very broadly consider the policy challenges posed by India (and Afghanistan in a following article). In our relations with India we are confronted with six basic questions. (i) Where are we today in our relationship with India?; (ii) where should we want to be in our relationship with India?; (iii) why?; (iv) what is the cost of staying where we are in our relationship with India?; (v) what are the main obstacles to moving towards where we want to be in our relationship with India?; and (vi) how can we overcome these obstacles?
Broad answers to each of these questions are:
(i) We are today by and large where we have been for the past 70 years in our relationship with India which ranges from bad to very bad to conflict to relative improvement and back to bad;
(ii) We should want to move away from a silly, boring and dangerous relationship, especially given that we are both nuclear weapons states with a second strike and in search of a first strike capability against each other. We have no shared nuclear doctrine to minimise the potentially fatal risk of a misperception of an imminent nuclear threat or a miscalculated response to conventional aggression. We should also move towards a more sustainable working relationship pending a breakthrough on the core concerns of both countries ie Jammu and Kashmir and the use of terrorist violence including non-state actors as policy instruments;
(iii) Continued uncertainty and tension will hinder Pakistan in attracting sufficient FDI for a sustainable growth rate of eight per cent per annum to reduce its growing pool of the unemployed and thereby strengthen political stability;
(iv) The costs are ultimately existential for Pakistan as they involve the risk of becoming a failed state incapable of allocating the resources required to meet the survival challenges of 2050 including climate change and massive environmental destruction, and a population approaching 400 million of whom only a small fraction will have sufficient education, technical proficiency and family-supporting jobs to economically survive. This would inevitably lead to fascist political leadership offering calamitous solutions. CPEC can at best mitigate some of these lethal costs, and only for a while;
(v) Our major obstacles are our short-term and often zero-sum approach to resolving long-standing issues and our structural inability to learn from repeated failure and frustration; and
(vi) We need to adopt a longer-term policy perspective in which sensible short-term policies can cumulatively develop direction, momentum, understanding and support; similarly our security policies need to be embedded in our development and transformation strategies; and our civil-military relations need to be embedded in the constitutional and democratic imperative of civilian supremacy.
Finally, Jammu and Kashmir is a core issue for Pakistan. Positive movement on it is essential for progress in relations with India to be sustainable. India’s position regarding Kashmir is obdurate, rigid, dismissive of Pakistan and wrong. The major powers are only concerned over the possibility of nuclear conflict. They will not countenance any use or threat of use of nuclear weapons by Pakistan in any foreseeable situation. These are givens.
Within them, Pakistan must address India’s core concerns and move towards a principled compromise settlement acceptable to the Kashmiris. This is possible despite India’s current obstructionism provided Pakistan has confident and far-sighted leadership that is morally and politically able to communicate with its own people and assert Pakistan’s survival and transformation interests. Impossible? Only if our grasping and greedy elites are allowed to continue to subvert our people’s interests.
The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.