NON-FICTION: PROVOCATIVE OPINIONS

Updated 25 Apr 2017

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Haqqani states that Jinnah and Gandhi were passionate about good ties between the two countries | Dawn file photo
Haqqani states that Jinnah and Gandhi were passionate about good ties between the two countries | Dawn file photo

The writings of Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistani ambassador to the United States, academic and adviser to four Pakistani prime ministers, are interesting for a variety of reasons. His perspectives on Pakistan’s foreign policy, economy, the Kashmir dispute, and complex India-Pakistan and Afghanistan-Pakistan affairs are quite different from what we often get to read in print or hear on live television. Whether one agrees or not, the author undeniably provokes his readers to think.

In his latest book, India vs Pakistan: Why Can’t We Just Be Friends? Haqqani makes a strong case for friendship between Pakistan and India while highlighting the difficult challenges ahead.

Haqqani’s razor-sharp analysis compels one to acknowledge that he has an eye for detail and understands that geo-politics are less about right and wrong or sentimentality and more about pragmatism. From his insights as an insider on Pakistan-India relations, Kashmir and the nuclear bomb, the author explains how terrorism in Pakistan and the growing Hindutva and radicalism in the Indian polity are factors responsible for shrinking spaces for friendship between the two nuclear states.


Husain Haqqani’s book, while advocating pragmatism over ideology, glosses over important elements


Haqqani’s book consists of five chapters. In the first chapter, ‘We Can Either Be More Than Friends or Become More Than Enemies’, he drives home the point that Pakistan is not the country that its founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah wanted it to become. Jinnah wished for India and Pakistan to have “an association similar to that between the US and Canada.” Quoting Jinnah’s biographer Stanley Wolpert and historian Rajmohan Gandhi, the author argues that both M.A. Jinnah and M.K. Gandhi were passionate about good ties between the two countries.

The second, ‘Kashmir is Pakistan’s Jugular Vein’ is very interesting as far as Kashmiri readers are concerned. In this chapter, Haqqani concedes that India hasn’t behaved well, especially in its brutal militarisation of Jammu and Kashmir and frequent human rights excesses, but he sounds more critical of his own country’s official policy on Kashmir. He describes Pakistan’s Kashmir policy as an emotional one and blames it (Pakistan) for “near pathological obsession with India.”

Strangely, the author doesn’t talk about India’s paranoia regarding Pakistan, or how large sections of India’s corporate media feed on daily diets of anti-Pakistan rhetoric.

According to him, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015 did not make any impact on the global stage. It, according to the author, only made headlines in Pakistan. “Of the 193 members of the UN, Nawaz Sharif alone spoke about Kashmir. This was a far cry from earlier times,” Haqqani writes. In 1948, a majority of the UN’s 58 members sided with Pakistan while the UN Security Council also passed a resolution calling for a referendum in Jammu and Kashmir. The UN also argued that the people of Jammu and Kashmir deserved self-determination.

The author’s main contention is that Pakistan’s “rhetoric on Kashmir” does not interest the world community any longer. He holds Pakistani soldiers and military planners responsible for a “lack of strategic thinking” while urging Pakistan to understand this to change its policy for good.

Haqqani rues that Pakistan ignored the advice of former Chinese president, Jiang Zemin, who told Pakistan’s parliament in December 1996, “[i]f certain issues cannot be resolved for the time being, they may be shelved temporarily so that they will not affect the normal state-to-state relations.” To build his case further, the author argues that “the proliferation of Kashmir-oriented jihadi groups — such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad — and their attacks on India’s civilian population have eaten away international support for Pakistan’s position.” It is precisely here the author misses an important context: the re-emergence of indigenous rebellion in Kashmir, the growing popularity of the armed rebels that do not harm civilians, and Kashmir’s romantic civilian uprising against the Indian state.

Civilians in rural Kashmir often form human chains to shield the armed rebels and disrupt cordons laid by the government forces during encounters through chanting freedom slogans, pelting stones and demonstrations. They appear willing to pay the price for their expression. Pakistani flags replace shrouds as Kashmir’s dead rebels and civilians are lowered into the ground.

The author does not mention these facts. He is well aware of the global opinion on Kashmir, but seems unaware of the ground reality.

Talking about Kashmir’s historical context, Haqqani is of the view that “[t]he Muslim League had missed the boat on winning Sheikh Abdullah over, but Pakistan could have built on a standstill agreement it signed with Maharaja Hari Singh and sought his accession to Pakistan.”

The author notes that Pakistan paid a huge price for cultivating jingoism, as it lost East Pakistan in 1971. He mentions that Pakistan did manage to garner global support for Kashmir from 1948 to 1963, waged war in 1965, supported the armed rebellion of 1989, and also attempted to alter the Line of Control during the Kargil conflict in 1999. None of these efforts, he claims, have met with real success.

Haqqani asks these questions: “Is Kashmir really Pakistan’s ‘jugular vein’ if the country has survived for 69 years without it? If it is not critical for the survival of either India or Pakistan, should the two risk mass destruction over a quarrel they have not been able to resolve for so long?”

In the third and fourth chapters, ‘We Should Use the Nuclear Bomb’ and ‘Terrorism = Irregular Warfare,’ he is more critical of Pakistan’s policies than India’s. In the last chapter, ‘The Space for Friendship is Shrinking,’ the author argues that 69 years after Partition, it is unfortunate that “the anger and rhetoric of Partition forms part of transmitted memories while the reconciliatory statements by Gandhi and Jinnah after Partition do not.”

The author argues that “Islam and anti-India sentiment are the cornerstones of the ‘ideology of Pakistan’ and it is often the fear of India that makes Pakistan do what it does. He quotes Khaled Ahmed, one of Pakistan’s leading thinkers: “Pakistani nationalism comprises 95 per cent India hatred.”

At the end, though, he warns that “the attempts to saffronise the curriculum have encouraged chauvinism in India. There have been suggestions that maps of India at schools should include ‘countries [such as] Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Burma’ as they are all ‘part of Akhand Bharat’.”

The author inscribes that both Pakistan and India have given priority to ideology over pragmatism, but in his view, Pakistan needs to acknowledge the difference of size between the two nations: “Pakistan is India’s rival in real terms only as much as Belgium could rival France or Germany.”

Haqqani articulately mentions that India’s population is six times larger than Pakistan’s while its economy is 10 times bigger, but what he skips in this context is Pakistan’s all-weather friendship with economic powerhouse China, its growing strategic proximity to India’s old ally Russia, and the diplomatic warmth that it enjoys with many other countries. Besides, there is no analysis of the multi-billion dollar China Pakistan Economic Corridor or its possible positive impact on Pakistan’s economy.

Talking about the path ahead, the author advocates Pakistan-India friendship, trade ties, people-to-people contact and opening of borders, etc, while recommending shelving of the Kashmir issue temporarily so that some progress is made in other key areas.

Haqqani seems fully aware of the dangers, too, as he points out that Pakistan and India are unlikely to throw their borders open to each other. This lack of faith in each other, he argues, makes both countries see students, businessmen, doctors and patients, even musicians and artists, as “potential spies.”

The book ends with an Urdu poem by Fahmida Riaz titled ‘Tum Bilkul Hum Jaise Nikle’ [You turned out just like us], translated into English by Shabana Mir. Through this poem, Haqqani conveys how India is becoming more like Pakistan, as religious frenzy in India seems to be prevailing over pragmatism.

The reviewer is a journalist, columnist and political analyst based in Srinagar

India vs Pakistan: Why Can’t We Just
Be Friends?
By Husain Haqqani
Juggernaut, India
ISBN: 978-8193237250
200pp.

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, April 23rd, 2017