A policy of denial and defiance

Vikram SoodWhat is with Pakistan’s rulers? Have they made their state a state in denial or are they themselves in a state of denial? It was both interesting and disturbing to see speakers from Pakistan coming on Indian TV channels with only one slogan: Deny and Defy.

It was like playing one of those class 5 school cricket matches where the umpire was from the batting side. Instructions to him used to be that LBW was not out. A snick behind the stumps or a run out, could be a maybe; acceptable when there were no alternatives left. That is how the debate has been childishly denying wrongdoing, being petulant and insensitive, blaming the victim and then threatening with continued misbehaviour.

There was a time when many nostalgic Indians romanced about a Greater India. That romance evaporated long ago, no one thinks about this any more. The reality is that we are now two different nations on two different trajectories. Let us stay that way, happy or otherwise but reconciled to be being good, if not cordial, neighbours. Surely this should be attainable.

Pakistani Rangers and IBSF personnel perform the ‘flag-off’ ceremony at the Wagah Border Post on Jan 15, after the desecration of an Indian jawan’s body by Pak soldiers

There are however two main problems that negate this hope. One is the typical response to the Indian assertion that Pakistan harbours persons like Hafiz Saeed and Abdur Rehman Makki for terrorism against India is that there would be a thousand Hafiz Saeeds and Makkis if the Kashmir issue is not ‘settled’. Translated, this means that the Pakistan state will continue to nurture, train, equip and send these jehadis into Kashmir and this justifies the killing of innocent citizens and non-combatants. Pakistan cannot hold this threat of use of terrorists against India, say that these terrorists are not under the control of the state and then talk of peace.

The second issue is the core. The biggest threat that Pakistan’s ruling class fears to its own existence is not just the strength of the Indian armed forces or India’s growing economic clout. The main threat is that the Indian Muslim feels much safer in India than the Muslim in Pakistan. This negates the Two-Nation Theory and successive Pakistani rulers, especially from the armed forces who fancy that they are the guardians of Pakistan’s ideological frontiers, have been unable to reconcile themselves to this reality. More Muslims have been killed by Muslims in Pakistan than anywhere else in the world in the last 65 years.

Negotiations between sovereign nations can be long and arduous especially between countries such as India and Pakistan given their troubled history. This does not mean that Pakistan has the liberty to periodically target jehadi terrorism at India and expect to get away with it forever. Patience is running out particularly after the Mumbai Terror of November, 2008. Retaliation by India is now demanded by the people as a sovereign right. This is NOT escalation. It would be escalation if Pakistan were to respond to India’s legitimate retaliation with further violence.

Pakistan’s rulers will give up almost everything and endanger their own country but will not give up belligerence and animosity towards India. India’s rulers will give up everything including their credibility but will not give up acquiescence and appeasement. The tragedy of our region is that both will change only when it is too late.

Successive Indian Prime Ministers have tried to walk down the path of peace but Pakistani roadblocks have simply changed location. It is therefore time to try something different because the alternative to peace does not necessarily have to mean total war nor the response to belligerence have to be surrender. Preaching peace from the pulpit cannot be an end in itself.

Neither India nor Pakistan can relocate but India’s options are getting limited and if Pakistan really wants to move forward it cannot keep jumping back to 1947. Besides, in their paranoia, many Pakistanis give themselves too much credit when they say that we covet their territory. There is no such desire in India. Instead, the goal has to be interests and security of the nation and not sweet nothings. India can live without trade with Pakistan, without MFN status and without transit rights to Afghanistan.

The usual discourse that India must help strengthen democratic forces in Pakistan makes good after dinner conversation but is misplaced. Only Pakistanis can do this for themselves; maybe a process has begun and India should simply wait for this to happen.

The writer is a former chief of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW)

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