It is a matter of eternal wonderment whether Pakistan genuinely wants friendly relations with India. The speculation gets more intense when Pakistan provokes New Delhi through hostile acts such as ceasefire violations along the Line of Control or adoption of anti-India resolutions in its National Assembly. There are those who find India lacking in the peace initiative and see Islamabad as truly desirous of striking cordial ties with its neighbour. But let us face the truth: There cannot be lasting good relations between the two countries until Pakistan’s Army has a change of heart. That change is unlikely to happen in the forseeable future.
Every time a new democratically-elected government takes charge in Islamabad, hopes of a new chapter in the bilateral being written soar there and in India. It happened when Benazir Bhutto became Prime Minister in 1988 and again in 1993; and Nawaz Sharif became Prime Minister in 1990 and 1997, and again in 2013. The peace buzz had begun circulating when Asif Ali Zardari took over as President and a Pakistan Peoples Party Government with a ‘India-friendly’ Prime Minister assumed charge in 2008. Nothing good came out of the change for India. The civilian regime was either unable to cut the Army down to size or it warmed up to the anti-India elements or both. In the end, the army still called the shots.
There is no better place to understand the obstinacy and deviousness of the Pakistan Army than C Christine Fair’s book, Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War. It is commonly assumed that the Kashmir dispute is at the core of Rawalpindi’s hostility to India. Kashmir is just an excuse; if the issue did not exist, Pakistan (or more precisely, its army) would have invented it. Ms Fair observes, “Even if at some point Pakistan’s existential struggle with India could have been mitigated through a mutually agreeable resolution of Kashmir, this is certainly no longer true… Pakistan’s revisionism persists in regards to its efforts not only to undermine the territorial status quo in Kashmir but also to undermine India’s position in the region and beyond.” She accurately points out that “Pakistan’s conflict with India cannot be reduced simply to resolving the Kashmir dispute. Its problems with India are much more capacious than the territorial conflict over Kashmir.”
Rawalpindi is perfectly willing to bleed Pakistan under the misplaced notion that it is actually harming India. As Ms Fair writes, “Pakistan will suffer any number of military defeats in its efforts to do so (undermine India), but it will not acquiesce to India. This, for the Pakistan Army, is genuine and total defeat.” She hits the nail on the head; Pakistan has fought and lost to India in 1947-48, 1965, 1971 and in Kargil in 1999 -and yet, its Army continues to lead the people of its country up the garden path. This, despite then Pakistani General and head of Government Ayub Khan’s annoyance at having to wage a costly war over Indian territory. Fair quotes from a book that Gen Ayub Khan had, after the 1965 conflict, proclaimed that never again would Pakistan “risk 100 million Pakistanis for five million Kashmiris”. If only the coming generation of Pakistani leaders had heeded his words, even if uttered in a state of utter despondency and despair, things would be different.
The problem is the Pakistan Army’s hatred for the very concept of a progressive India embraced by the global community, as contrasted with a struggling Pakistan which the world is deeply suspicious of. It’s sadly obvious that by and large the people of Pakistan don’t realise their army is taking them for a ride. Ms Fair remarks, “Pakistan remains staunchly revisionist, even though its position, already untenable and destabilising, will become increasingly so in the future.”
It’s only the dreamy-eyed peaceniks in India, the ‘Aman Ki Asha’ types, who believe that by some miracle in the foreseeable future, the Pakistan Army will reform and extend us a hand of friendship. Fair observes this is not going to happen, because it is just not in the neighbourhood Army’s ‘DNA’ to do so. “The likelihood that Pakistan’s military or even its civilian leadership will abandon the state’s long-standing and expanding revisionist goals and prosecute a policy of normalisation with India is virtually nil. Even the 1971 catastrophic military defeat did not force Pakistan to revise its policies with regards to India.”
The author’s inclusion of “civilian leadership” in the indictment merits attention. As she reminds, “Even when not directly governing Pakistan, the Army has wielded enormous influence over the country’s domestic politics and has dictated its foreign policies.” Before those, in Pakistan and in India, who continue to be upbeat about Pakistan’s ‘sincerity’, cry foul, let’s understand what the Abbottabad Commission, 2013, which the Pakistani Government had established to probe the US raid on Osama bin Laden who had been hiding in Pakistan, had to say. Fair informs us that the commission concluded that while constitutionally, setting defence policy is the responsibility of the civilian Government, “in reality…defence policy in Pakistan is considered the responsibility of the military and the civilian Government, even if the civilian Government goes through the motions of providing inputs into a policy making process from it is essentially excluded.” This is the statement of an official panel. And, so, despite repeated setbacks and military humiliations at India’s hands, Pakistan sustains its offensive against its neighbour. A flummoxed Fair thinks aloud, “It is difficult to imagine what sort of defeat would compel Pakistan to abandon its persistent revisionism and its reliance upon the use of Islamist proxies under its expanding nuclear umbrella to pursue its revisionist (wanting to bring all of Jammu and Kashmir under its control) agenda.” This is so difficult to imagine that she only half-heartedly makes an attempt to explore a few possibilities, all of which presume that the army will be either shown its place or it will undergo a mindset change. She admits that “even if Pakistan were to undergo a permanent democratic transition in which civilians shaped foreign and domestic policies, it does not obviously follow that the civilians would abandon the policy of persistent revisionism with respect to India.”