Sharat Sabharwal quotes former Minister Aitzaz Husssain to state that Pakistanis ‘have been told that their very identity was their un-Indianness: banish this thought from their mind and the country will collapse’.
Ambassador Sharat Sabharwal has had the unique distinction of managing complex relations between India and Pakistan at crucial junctures, as he has served there both as Deputy High Commissioner from 1995 to 1999, and as High Commissioner from 2009 to 2013, where he has been witness to various facets of Pakistan—both negative and positive. His book, “India’s Pakistan Conundrum”, published by Routledge is, therefore, written with the knowledge and insight of a practitioner but also with the wisdom of his depth of knowledge and understanding of the multiple dilemmas that shape the relationship. The book, therefore, brings a much needed clarity on key issues that shape this critical relationship.
The book is laid out in two parts, with Part I examining the nature of the Pakistani State and how it impacts India to include chapters on religious extremism, the economy, which depends on an external patron, the Army, which is described as a “state within a state”, the ethnic fault lines, what drives Pakistan hostility towards India and “Whiter Pakistan”.
Part II covers key issues of India-Pakistan relations and India’s policy options. This has chapters on all the major issues to include Jammu & Kashmir, terrorism, trade, other outstanding issues which include Siachen and Sir Creek, our shared heritage, engaging with the real power centre, water, MFN and Pakistan’s fault lines, the nuclear dimension, isolating Pakistan, the issue of dialogue versus no dialogue and the way forward in managing the relationship. Each chapter has been deeply researched with detailed quotes from various sources to back his observations.
Pakistan has defined itself as the antithesis of India. It craves parity with India in spite of the differences in size, potential and comprehensive national power. In this quest it has “turned itself into a rentier state, ready to do the bidding of an external patron, willing to underwrite its ambitions vis a vis India financially and militarily even at the cost of the interests of its people”.
While writing about religious extremism, the author clearly brings out the changes that have taken place in the Constitution, which included declaring Ahmadis as non-Muslims as well as the traditional Shia-Sunni divide and the divide within the Sunnis between Deobandis and Barelvis. “Religious sentiment has often been pandered to in order to make up for the shortfall in governance” and “the Army has also provided patronage to different religious parties and groups to advance its agenda within and outside Pakistan”. “Spread of religious hatred through school text books has been a long standing problem”. Education has become a purveyor of religious extremism.
As regards the economy, “Pakistan’s policy of maintaining an adversarial posture towards India, entails a heavy burden on its economy, which together with the tendency to live grossly beyond its means has forced it to look for an external patron to underwrite its economy.”
The Army has been in direct rule for 33 years under military dictators but even when not in charge directly it has controlled governance, particularly foreign and security policies. The Army has not lacked in instruments to maintain its iron grip. The DG ISI is next in importance to the Army Chief and the ISI “has been involved in scuttling democratic functioning and fomenting trouble for inconvenient civilian leaders”.
The Army, apart from controlling the levers of the state directly or indirectly, has also built a large economic empire, which in the form of Fauji Foundation, Army Welfare Trust, Shaheen Foundation and Bahria Foundation have diverse business interests. Ironically, in spite of Pakistan’s hostility towards India, the Fauji Cement Company exploited a commercial opportunity by exporting a large quantity of cement to India.
The author quotes former Minister Aitzaz Husssain and states that Pakistanis “have been told that their very identity was their un-Indianness: banish this thought from their mind and the country will collapse”. It is in the institutional interest of the Army to sustain this hostility in order to justify itself as the guarantor of Pakistan’s physical and ideological frontiers and maintain its tight control.
The author writes that Pakistan “has shown remarkable resilience in the face of adversity” and as long as the Army remains “a largely disciplined and professional force” having at its disposal a rapidly growing arsenal of nuclear weapons, it’s unlikely to fail in the near future.
Part II is the key, covering India-Pakistan relations to include J&K, which is always placed on a higher pedestal in any discussion. However, it’s like talking to the deaf due to the wide gulf between the positions of India and Pakistan and the trust deficit. Even during the Kargil conflict the Pakistanis “proposed a time schedule for a solution of the Kashmir conflict” and Sartaj Aziz even proposed that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visit India on his return from China in end June 1999. However, as the military balance shifted in India’s favour, this was shelved. In fact, Bruce Reidel also states, “that Sharif insisted that Pakistan would withdraw its forces provided India committed to settling Kashmir within a specific time frame. ‘If I were the Indian Prime Minister,’ Clinton shot back, ‘I’d never do that.’” There is no doubt that Pakistani policy of cross border terrorism and threat to the security of this very sensitive region are very much alive.
Pakistan’s use of proxies to attain its foreign policy objectives is as old as its inception. He says that “his interlocutors strongly condemned the Mumbai attacks but beyond that there was an attempt to evade responsibility and play up Pakistan’s sense of victimhood”. He writes that the push for placing Pakistan on the FATF grey list came from the US, who were keen to pressurize Pakistan for supporting the Taliban but also states that it is “unlikely to be blacklisted by FATF”.
On Siachen he says, “Pakistan’s reluctance to record the AGPL and almost exclusive focus on demilitarization has remained a hurdle in resolving the issue and also raised doubts on its intentions.” However, with the growing Chinese presence through the CPEC in “Gilgit-Baltistan”, the complexities are very different.
As regards people to people bonhomie, this cannot “transform the nature of relationship”, though it remains an important policy option in conjunction with other instrumentalities.
Ambassador Sabharwal talks of the meeting of the Indian Defence Attaches with Lieutenant General Shuja Pasha the then DG ISI and his proposal “to have composite delegations from both sides with civil, military and intelligence officials to discuss various issues”. However, while it is useful to maintain such contacts it is unlikely to “transform Pakistan’s fundamentals in the absence of a strategic shift in their world view”.
The nuclear dimension is covered in great detail. Ambassador Sabharwal talks of being summoned along with the then Indian High Commissioner Satish Chandra at midnight on 27 May 1998 by Foreign Secretary Shamshad Ahmad to be told that there was credible evidence that India was going to attack their nuclear facilities by an F-16 stationed at Chennai and were threatened “massive retaliation”. When told that India did not have F-16s, they said the aircraft “could be Israeli”. Pakistan also took up the matter with all P-5 countries in their capitals and through their missions in the UN. The author feels this was because Pakistan was on the verge of carrying out their nuclear tests and were nervous about their site being attacked or it could also be to divert the world’s attention at a critical time.
However, what I do not agree with him is his feeling that Pakistan’s nuclear capability has placed a serious limitation on India’s ability. “Can any responsible leader authorise a consequential conventional military strike, capable of giving a decisive blow to Pakistan, on the assumption that it will not escalate to the nuclear level”. In fact India has the ability to pursue conventional operations under a nuclear umbrella and the disparity in conventional capability is what is worrying Pakistani strategists.
The China-Pakistan relationship has emerged as its most important one and they both share strategic congruence. It’s multi-dimensional to include arms, nuclear supplies, trade and development of infrastructure through CPEC and the Gwadar port. China has repeatedly backed Pakistan at all international forums including blocking the designation of Azhar Masood as an international terrorist.
He clearly brings out that both people come from the same stock and the Pakistanis are hard-working and resilient and talented, but their positive potential has been stymied by the Army dominated national security state and a mindset poisoned by propaganda. Recently the sponsored terrorist groups have crowed its horizon eclipsing any positive trends. But he feels that there is a body of people who don’t see eye to eye with these short-sighted state policies and their thinking has been influenced by the information revolution. He feels the “information revolution has made it difficult for the state and security establishment to control the national narrative”.
Both countries being immediate neighbours cannot wish each other away. The two countries have talked with the sound of guns looming but loud sounds bring intervention from other countries. He quotes a conversation between Prime Ministers Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif “regarding how third parties serve their own interests”. Being a diplomat Ambassador Sabharwal believes, “diplomacy and dialogue have a place even in a most difficult relationship”.
Describing the way forward he writes, “while continuing to focus on Pakistani terror in the bilateral and regional context, we need to renew and reiterate the vision of co-prosperity in the region”. The economic gap between the two countries is widening and Pakistan cannot prosper until it revises its internal and external policies.
The Pakistani establishment and particularly the Army see India as its “eternal threat” and “eternal enemy” and perceive an existential threat from India. Today unless Pakistan changes it has the choice of making increasing budgetary allocations to its armed forces and going broke or persuade China to underwrite its expenditure and in return serve their interests. However, he writes; there is work to be done at home to change their behaviour “by equipping ourselves better to counter its hostile actions and denying it the opportunity of fishing in troubled waters in Kashmir”.
It is an extremely well written and detailed book which will serve as a valuable reference for those readers who wish to have a deeper understanding of Pakistan. It covers aspects of a very vexed relationship going into the historical context and the contours of the evolution of the issues confronting Pakistan and their impact on the relations with India as well as the challenges faced by those dealing with this relationship.
Unfortunately, Pakistan has single mindedly continued with its revanchist agenda. Its policies have unleashed forces that pose a threat to India and the security and stability of the region. Madeleine Albright had correctly summed Pakistan up soon after the Mumbai terror attack by saying; “it has everything to cause an international migraine”.
Maj Gen Jagatbir Singh, VSM (Retd) is a retired Indian Army officer.