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The elusive search for Peace: India & Pakistan

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A student of Indian politics, Western Philosophy currently in love with the works of Roger Scruton & Karl Popper

Lord Palmerstone, Prime Minister of Britain in mid 19th century and a consummate diplomat, made a comment in the House of Commons that is now accepted as a self evident truth. He said “We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow”.

Let us for a moment break from the tradition of uncritical repetition of this statement and reflect on what it implies. First inference to be drawn is that a nation state is a rational actor capable of defining and pursuing what would be commonly agreed to as its “interests”. Second inference is that foreign policy is essentially transactional in nature and any dispute with another country can be resolved so long as a non-zero sum game solution can be found wherein the resolution is seen as promoting the “interests” of the nation states involved. Aberrations can occur for example Germany under Hitler was not a rational nation state; certain governments may value immediate political popularity/ ideological dogma above long term national interest. However governments change and over a period of time one would assume that actions of a nation state will approximate to the inferences implied above.

From this and similar reasoning we have been told that there is no reason why India & Pakistan cannot peacefully coexist since there are no “perpetual enemies”. Anyone who questions the consensus that a solution exists (waiting only for political willpower on both sides) is labeled as ignorant or worse a warmonger. I, however, believe that such optimism for India Pakistan relations is misplaced. In using transactional framework of diplomacy / dispute resolution analysts and policy makers are ignoring the inherent antagonism in the self definition of the two nations.

Before we proceed further let’s reflect on what certain commonly used terms mean. What do we mean by Nation and how do citizens of a nation come to form it and identify with it? A Nation is a socially cohesive political entity, a political expression of the first person plural. Social cohesion is a prerequisite since Political unity is made possible by social cohesion and depends on it. However political unity on its own cannot produce social cohesion. Thus being a nation demands a pre-political identity with which its inhabitants identify and associate amongst themselves creating a citizenry. This identity is the foundational definition of a nation on which the edifice of political unity is built i.e. this is the “Self definition of the nation”. It is important for us to clearly identify the central tenets of the “Self Definition” because it is this which cannot be compromised. Any situation in which a nation is faced with an outcome that may lead to a loss of its self definition will not be contemplated unmindful of the instrumental benefits that such an outcome may have. It is here that the transaction theory of international relations fails.

It is easy to identify the pre-political identity in European countries, common language, common history, a line of kings that ruled roughly the same territory as the current boundaries, rituals, culture provide the identity around which the nation is built. India does present a unique problem as the sheer scale of diversity dwarfs any social / cultural identifier that could apply to all its inhabitants. To quote another British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill this time “India is merely a geographical expression. It is no more a single country than the Equator”. It is not difficult to see his consternation as none of the European ideas of nationhood could be applied to India. To him and the bulk of western observers India was an artificial nation, in time they expected that India would Balkanize as linguistic, religious and racial minorities would raise demands for their separate nations. However that hasn’t come to pass and not for the lack of trying (think ULFA, Khalistan, NSCN IM). The glue that has held us together is found in a diffuse yet significant shared cultural history which has made our way of life distinctive. The myths, folklore, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Thirukurral, Jataka tales, fables of famous kings like Akbar & Krishnadevaraya  and the caste system (practiced even amongst those who converted from Hinduism into more egalitarian religions such as Islam/Christianity) gave us ways to identify with each other and more importantly differentiate us from those who did not share this inheritance. The Indian pre-political identity then rejects the easy straitjackets of religion/ language/ race but draws sustenance from a evolving but continuous way of life shaped by our ancestors and bequeathed to us as a people.  This, coupled with democracy and protection of dissent has been enough to keep us together as citizens, to inspire loyalty to our nation and fraternal feeling for those who co inhabit this land.

Pakistan, on the other hand, was created on a much simpler but specious idea of “One religion one nation”. Jinnah started with a slightly different idea, he believed that Muslims as a minority will not get justice/ representation in a Hindu majority nation hence they needed a separate one. However, by the time Pakistan was created its foundational identity became Islam. The first person plural of Pakistan derived not from shared cultural inheritance but from adherence to a single religion. Now we start to see the inherent antagonism of the two ideas. India was not only a secular state it went one step further and declared that religion was irrelevant to the national identity. Pakistan placed religion at the heart of national identity.

Seen from this prism the issue of Kashmir is not just a territorial dispute, it is a clash of ideas. The continued presence of a Muslim majority state in India is a negation of the idea on which Pakistan is founded. For Pakistan to accept that Kashmir will and can exist as a peaceful integrated state within India is to accept that the whole idea behind the creation of Pakistan was a hoax, a lie perpetrated by Punjabi Muslim landowners. This is why in face of continued military defeats, economic hardships Pakistan has not acted as a rational nation may be expected to i.e. scaling back its demands and looking for a negotiated settlement. For Pakistan the only defeat is to do nothing, to passively accept the situation on ground. Those who advocate a negotiate settlement and formulas such as conversion of LOC into international border or plebiscite or some other variation do not realize what is at stake. Conversely for India to give up on Kashmir or on Punjab in the 80’would have provided a post facto justification to the idea of Pakistan. Thus the matter is equally important to India’s self definition. We cannot give an inch, for the other side sees it not as compromise but as a sign of weakness and more importantly as proof that their idea of national identity is the correct one.

Under these circumstances what should be the policies/ actions that the Indian government should pursue? We should first of all purge ourselves of this negotiated settlement trap. Pakistani Army is now not only the guardian of Pakistan’s borders but also of its identity. Thus to the religious definition of the nation has been added a false sense of martial superiority that is impervious to facts of military defeat. So any Track 1/ Track 2 and other sundry wastes of diplomacy are hoping to overturn not only conflicts rooted in national identity, false sense of superiority but also to take away the raison d’être of the Pakistan army’s stranglehold on the nation. Well good luck with that.

For India the solution also does not lie in going to war, for any reduction in Pakistan’s capability to wage war makes no difference to its intent to continue fighting. The fight has been partly outsourced to religious fanatics and frankly there is no shortage of crazies that believe murder is the surest way to heaven so Pakistan is not going to lack proxies.

For India the solution, I believe, lies in pursuing three broad policy actions. The first and easiest is to improve border surveillance, perimeter defense in high value target areas. Essentially a robust military response to improve the kill ratio (number of terrorists killed for every loss of an Indian soldier) and reduce ingress of terrorists. Army establishment has become casual as evidenced by needless loss of life in attacks on Army camps, reversing it is the first order of business. This has to be coupled with a visible reduction in number of soldiers on routine picket duty in residential areas. Better intelligence should replace mass cordoning and search operations that serve to bring latent resentment towards Indian state to surface and interfere in daily life.

Secondly Indian government has to engage with the valley on equal terms and not as a munificent ruler doling out favors or passing strictures. They are our people; they have an equal claim on our nation and the protection, freedoms that our constitution guarantees to all its citizens. Unlike Pakistan the people in the valley are not fighting the idea of India. Their demands, at the extreme end of the spectrum, are couched in the rhetoric of self determination, Kashmiriyat, independence but these are negotiable and can be accommodated within the panoply of a federal democracy. The demands are more for dignity, equality, development rather than any distinctive idea of Kashmiri nationhood. This is why the visible reduction of Army from the daily life of Kashmir is essential. No Indian condones stone pelting, flag burning but these are to be recognized for what they are – tantrums of misguided youth with too much time and resentment at their hands actively co-opted by a foreign power. They can and must be won over to the Indian side before Islamic extremism takes route. Extreme right wing view may be to deport such people to Pakistan or worse but do we give up on our fellow citizens so easily. Reprehensible though the acts of some Kashmiris may be they are not beyond redemption. We are fighting for a united India and that places the burden of integration of disgruntled members of our citizenry on us.  We have already had success in Punjab and Assam where similar disenchantment was in vogue not long ago so an honest attempt has a good chance of success. This will be the true victory of our ideals.

Thirdly and the most difficult is to promote the fissiparous forces in Pakistan, essentially pay them back in the same coin. Many analysts say that a stable, democratic and peaceful Pakistan is the best guarantee of peace. I guess they conveniently ignore Kargil. India has to continuously demonstrate that the idea of Pakistan is built on specious logic. Bangladesh was one proof but it has been rationalized by Pakistani myth making as internal sabotage and an effeminate Bengali race not worthy of a nation whose name means “Land of the pure”. As centrifugal forces in Balochistan, NWFP gain ground the limitations of religion as source of national identity will get exposed. One only needs to think back to the Soviet Republic, it was engaged in an ideological battle with the US on how society is to be organized. Victory came to US only when USSR collapsed under the weight of Socialism’s contradictions and complete collapse triggered a new self definition. The same thing needs to happen to Pakistan and India has to help it along. The Modi government has made a good beginning and needs to get more involved and creative. Liberals worried that this will create a moral equivalence between India and Pakistan are the same ones who think ISI funded crowds at their seminars in Pakistan are crying for “Aman ki Asha”.

Hardnosed realism and open acceptance and love for our fellow citizens in Kashmir will carry the day.

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A student of Indian politics, Western Philosophy currently in love with the works of Roger Scruton & Karl Popper
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