From foe to friend

December 18, 2018


The writer is a Senior Fellow with UC Berkeley and heads INSPIRING Pakistan, a progressive policy unit.
The writer is a Senior Fellow with UC Berkeley and heads INSPIRING Pakistan, a progressive policy unit.

PRIME Minister Imran Khan recently invoked Franco-German peace to urge old rivals India and Pakistan to make peace too. But like so many of his ideas, this one is naïve given how that peace emerged. Using a noble anti-imperialism cry, Germany often attacked France and others. Fed up with wars in Europe, global powers finally imposed regime change and pacifism on it by occupying it for long.

But distant Pakistan-India conflicts don’t affect world powers enough to risk invading nuclear states. At most, they may impose ineffective sanctions. This raises a tantalising issue. Who would they see as Germany here? The instinctive Pakistani response may be India. But, the merits of the Kashmir cause aside, they admonish us as the instigator of the ’48, ’65 and ’99 conflicts and cross-border attacks. So it’s unwise for us to harp on the German model.

Let’s review other cases where foes became friends, especially split states with border disputes. Left holding at high cost only a few small towns surrounded by rebels, Sudan wisely — albeit surprisingly — let South Sudan split after a long war. But India is more in control in Kashmir. The split didn’t resolve the status of Abyei, an oil-rich area, leading to many skirmishes. South Sudan is now too beset by internal wars to press its claim. In terms of parallels, Pakistan is more beset by internal wars, though their scale is much lower.

Who would they see as Germany here?

Eritrea split from Ethiopia after a long war. There was initial amity, both being run by Tigrinya tribe ex-rebels which had separately fought a pro-Moscow Ethiopian regime. But ties later soured over a border town (Badme). After a bloody war, the UN brokered truce and then arbitration, giving Badme to Eritrea. But big brother Ethiopia rejected the ruling. Alert Pakistani minds may see parallels. The bigger state from which the smaller one split here rejects a UN ruling too. The UN didn’t award Kashmir to Pakistan, but ruled for a referendum which may lead to that outcome if held. Eritrea too pursued freedom based on claims of being a nation, despite being multi-ethnic and never having been a united free state ever. So the parallels increase.

The parallels may appear even more seductive for Pakistani minds given the rapid recent happy ending where the bigger state agreed to give Badme to Eritrea after a transformational leader Abiye Ali won power in Ethiopia. This talk of a wise leader making huge changes may feed perfectly into Imran’s naïve narratives about the power of such leaders (like him, in his view) to make history.

But having perhaps built up too much excitement, I must sadly deflate it now. Ethiopia’s generosity on Badame reflects mainly not the wisdom of one change leader, but its extended rapid growth. This catapulted a change leader to power as it can’t grow further with its old controlled sociopolitical system. With this rapid growth, fight on an obscure town distracted it from bigger goals. So the parallels end. Kashmir is not an obscure town but a strategic region. India has already seen prolonged rapid growth without it showing generosity on Kashmir but only on smaller, Badme-scale, tiffs with other neighbours. But China has made big compromises, though only tactical and not permanent ones, in pursuit of fast growth. With its split province Taiwan and other foes, it has ignored border issues and engages economically with them to strengthen itself.

Among other cases, Japan, Iraq and Serbia too were pacified only after defeats and regime changes effected by the West. The US and Moscow became less hostile, again only after a regime change in Moscow, forced in its case by economic and state collapse. Such collapse is unlikely here. But parallels-wise Pakistan faces more endemic economic woes. Jordan and Egypt made peace with Israel but under unelected regimes seeking US favours to survive. Again, it is Pakistan which has often had unelected regimes seeking US favours to survive but they too haven’t bent much on Kashmir.

So globally, it is not the wisdom of great leaders but forced regime change in one state which has mainly made foes become friends or at least less hostile. Other causes are economic growth, US alliance and internal conflict. But on most such factors, it is Pakistan which is weaker. Still, its relative weakness will not force it to eschew Kashmir. However, nor will India’s growing strength entice it to eschew it either, unlike Ethiopia. This creates a clear stalemate on a permanent solution. That leaves the China tactical model as the only one worth invoking, however alien and shocking the idea of ignoring territorial issues for economic progress may seem to fossilised hawkish minds. If both states demilitarise their conflict and reach an interim solution on Kashmir to focus on economic ties and growth, amity could reach South Asian shores too.

The writer is a Senior Fellow with UC Berkeley and heads INSPIRING Pakistan, a progressive policy unit.

Published in Dawn, December 18th, 2018