The guns have fallen silent on the Line of Control. And so have the voices in the media. Now is the time to look at the assertions made during the recent India-Pakistan crisis. One school of thought deems war as the only suitable response to every provocation from Pakistan. They perhaps, and mistakenly so, equate war with obliteration of Pakistan. Pakistan is a country of 170 million, with a 5.5 million strong standing army and the fastest growing nuclear arsenal in the world.
Pakistan is not to India what Gaza is to Israel or what the Taliban in Afghanistan was to the United States. India is not going to militarily trample Pakistan and even if it tramples Pakistan without miraculously invoking a nuclear response, what is the end-state in Pakistan that India desires? Military victories are meaningless unless they are the means to obtain a political end. War, to invoke the oft-quoted Clausewitz dictum, is not merely an act of policy but a continuation of politics by other means. It is thus a political decision executed by the military. And media’s job is to report the war, not to provoke it.
This doesn’t mean that war with Pakistan is out of question. But war can never be the first response to every provocation. It has to be the final, absolutely final response, after all the political, economic and diplomatic options have been exhausted.
If calls for war are bad, suggestions that Indian actions have harmed democracy in Pakistan are worse. India is not responsible for democracy in Pakistan, or for that matter in Myanmar or in China. Yes, India should wish for a democratic Pakistan as it should for a democratic China, but why stop at democracy. India must also wish for a secular and liberal Pakistan, instead of the Islamic Republic that it currently is.
But India is not a neo-conservative state which is out with a mission to spread democracy in the subcontinent. Even so, if India has to help Pakistan become truly democratic, the only way to do so is by destroying the Pakistani military-jehadi complex. The perils of waging a war with a nuclear-armed adversary remain the same, whether you do it to spread democracy or to avenge the beheading of a soldier in Mendhar.
By batting for democratic idealism, India will in fact be going against the wishes of a majority of Pakistanis. In response to a question in the latest Pew Poll whether they prefer democratic government or a ‘strong leader’, 61 per cent of Pakistanis voted for a ‘strong leader’ and only 31 per cent for democracy, the lowest support among all the polled countries. In any case, the so-called democratic leadership in Pakistan has ceded the India policy to the generals at Rawalpindi. The only civilian leader who ran his own foreign policy was ZA Bhutto and he was even more rabidly anti-India than the generals.
Benazir was crucified because her minister allegedly shared the details of Khalistani terror training camps with India, and Nawaz Sharif didn’t last long after conceding Pakistan’s culpability in Kargil. Zardari couldn’t send the ISI Chief to India after the Mumbai terror attacks and his current foreign minister looks towards GHQ before making any statements about India. In fact, the 1990s, when democratically elected governments ruled Pakistan, were the worst years of jehadi terror for India.
Underpinning this misleading commentary is a fallacious premise that India and Pakistan are mirror images of each other. Indians (from four states) may be similar to Pakistanis but India and Pakistan are not. They are defined by radically opposed ideas and have traversed diametrically different paths since 1947. Look at the recent Freedom House report, Freedom in the World 2013. It is no surprise that Pakistan scores far worse than India on political freedom and civil liberties, but it is also less free than Jammu and Kashmir. And Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is among the least free regions in the world.
What are India’s options then? If Pakistan’s strategy is to prevent India’s growth at all costs because it fears India’s regional hegemony, then India’s best strategy is to grow rapidly. This would eventually make Pakistan irrelevant, even if it remains an irritant. Till that happens, India must ‘cross the river by feeling the stones’, and respond pragmatically to Pakistan’s provocations. These responses could vary from doing nothing to waging a war. Only then can India move on from the dream of peaceful coexistence to the reality of ensuring its own peaceful existence.
Sushant K Singh is Fellow for National Security at the Takshashila Institution and editor of Pragati-The Indian National Interest Review