DAWN - Opinion; January 28, 2002

Published January 28, 2002

How to deal with India

By Syed Talat Hussain


THE events of the last few weeks reveal the pressing need for Pakistan to formulate a long-term strategy to deal with India. Despite the visit of quick fixers like the American secretary of state, Colin Powell, and the United Nations secretary-general, Kofi Annan to this part of the world, there is no let-up in India’s bellicosity. Nor have its policy-makers sobered up.

The habitual finger-pointing towards Pakistan in the aftermath of the Kolkata killing, the testing of nuclear-capable inter-continental ballistic missile, and a mulish resistance to the idea of dialogue with Pakistan are different facets of the same problem: India’s attitude towards Pakistan remains nasty, brutish and hostile. And not many in the world are willing to make Delhi change its vicious ways. This means that for all practical purposes Pakistan is pretty much on its own in dealing with the challenge from India.

The first element of the long-term India strategy has to be an informed understanding of its strengths and weaknesses. In other words, we have to know our enemy. India’s challenge to Pakistan is not just military or nuclear; it is also economic, diplomatic, intellectual and internal.

For instance, Delhi’s present threat of imposing a war on Pakistan, coupled with the possibility of launching a catastrophic nuclear attack, is a military ploy meant to draw Pakistan into a conflict that would debilitate its economy to a point of collapse.

Similarly, the international drum-beating about Pakistan being a haven of terrorists is aimed at destroying Pakistan’s post September 11 goodwill, smearing its image across the world, among people so paranoid that they see a terrorist lurking even in their own shadows.

In the same vein, the studied contempt with which Delhi’s conceited politicians have responded to Pakistan’s many gestures, even bold initiatives, is of a piece with that country’s assumed air of superiority — the message to Pakistan being that there cannot be a peace between unequals.

We must understand what is driving and keeping India on this mad policy course towards Pakistan. It is not just the Hindu revivalists who infest the ruling party’s ranks, or sharp-shooting hawks like L. K. Advani who underpin the illogic of inflexibility which characterizes Delhi’s attitude towards Pakistan. It is a combination of economic progress, military strength, media-marketing, diplomatic work of a whole decade involving talks with foes (China), cementing of relations with friends (Russia and Israel), cultivating new allies (Iran), and the deepening of its relations with Washington that form Indias foreign policy assets.

However, all these years that we have been locked in a bitter conflict with India, we have acquired a holistic view of its strong points. Which is quite remarkable considering that the outcome of all modern wars depends critically on the range and accuracy of information — not just about strategic targets and military assets, but also about the minds that make policies and the modern political and social currents that are shaping their responses. Also without this kind of information-based knowledge it is next to impossible to form our own responses to the enemy’s moves in a crisis like the present one correctly.

The poverty of our knowledge of India is reflected in the fact that hardly anyone in the whole country can claim to be an India expert on the strength of a life-long dedication to the subject, and that no book worth the name has been authored by a Pakistani on India that records and analyses the changes taking place in that country. Other than the government-controlled Institute of Regional Studies, no scholarly energy goes into researching India. As a result, public discourse on how to deal with India has been characterized by a lack of intellectual depth and maturity. At the policy level it has made the country’s responses mostly reactive, swinging wildly between peace calls and war cries.

All this would have to change. A more balanced outlook on India, which fuses all essential factors comprehensively and keeps the course of policy steady under all circumstances will have to be grounded in an informed perspective. We cannot be relying just on press clippings, intelligence assessments, or the high commission’s debriefings or cables for finding out the strengths and weaknesses of India. Much of this

task will now have to be performed with the labour of scholarship.

The second prong of the strategy to deal with India is of course economic. It is a fact that the primary reason many of India’s hawks have been so emboldened as to actually assume that they can impose a war on Pakistan is because of the brittle state of our economy. It is brave of our Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz to say that with $ 4.8 billion forex reserves, Pakistan can absorb the impact of war.

But absorbing the immediate jolts and shocks of a war is different from sustaining a long military engagement — precisely what some in India think they can impose on Pakistan and get away with it. It has become abundantly clear that a viable, effective defence strategy cannot be formulated without the centrepiece of a strong economy that has the resilience to back counter offences in a war situation.

With the drying up development coffers to oil the defence industry already evident, an all-round economic growth, including the growth and development of our human resource, is a must. It is in many ways our first line of defence. As a head of the board of directors of a multinational business corporation recently told one of our ambassadors to Europe: “I would have been your biggest supporter in the campaign to convince the world that India should be restrained, if I had a business stake in your country.”

The third prong of the long-term strategy to deal with India is internal. The time has come for serious soul-searching on the domestic front. Lack of a fully functioning political system — any system — is not just a blot on our international image but a severe handicap in the way of working out a consensus-based national policy towards India. Corruption, self-seeking politicians and frequent martial laws have all demoralized the people who need a sense of direction and abiding faith in the longevity of a system that works to their advantage.

We cannot handle foreign policy and defence challenges if we are in a state permanent internal crisis, or if we are endlessly searching for a formula for political stability. It does not have to take a war with India for us to realize the importance of internal unity. The mere threat of war, and the little help that we are getting from the world, ought to be enough to drive the message home.

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