Not dealing with India | Talat Hussain

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The 199th corps commander meeting last week expressed the apprehension that India’s unprovoked violations across the Line of Control and the Working Boundary pose a potential threat to regional stability.

The same week, the Foreign Office spokesperson accused India of sponsoring terrorism in Pakistan. The broad-gauge nature of these concerns left much to the imagination as far as the exact nature of the trouble that India is fomenting inside Pakistan as well as how existential the threat that emanates from Delhi is.

However, against the backdrop of recent events, it is safe to assume that the corps commanders’ concern is meant to convey the possibility of a real conflict involving conventional weapons. And because of the nuclearised environment, it is meant also to italicise the danger of the situation drifting towards a higher-grade crisis. Delhi’s terrorism-sponsoring effort is now summed up in the dossiers that are with the UN secretary general’s office. It is therefore fair to assume that the Foreign Office spokesperson, who did quote this fact, was repeating these charges as a reminder and did not necessarily have fresh examples to cite. Or if he had new evidence he chose not to share it.

What is not understood is who the audience of these statements is. It clearly isn’t India – a country that has defied all protests from Pakistan and has persisted with its policy of TCS: threat, challenge, scuttle. Perhaps it is the international community that we are speaking to. If so, that audience isn’t bending its ear to our case more than what it has already done, and so far this has not had any effect on Delhi’s dangerously obdurate behaviour. The combined number of last three years’ violations at the Line of Control is a staggering 945.

If India’s attempt to promote terrorism in Pakistan is still continuing, then that front is still open and active. The peak of the recent crisis in occupied Kashmir has already passed. Delhi has been able to get away with the murder of hundreds and injuries to thousands in the Valley of Sorrow. Our yearly pro-forma activities of marking Kashmir Solidarity Days are not impressing anyone. There has not been any evidence to suggest that holding seminars and issuing statements and tweets has gotten our call international traction. If international press coverage is taken as a guide to how much uproar we are able to create by warning India from hotel podiums, the result is quite disappointing.

Most probably then these statements about India pushing the region towards war and undermining Pakistan internally have domestic consumption more than regional or international market. And this is usual. Over the last many years we have been trying to convince ourselves that we have an India policy and that it is being run most efficiently. The fact is that we don’t have an India policy, so the question of running it efficiently or otherwise does not arise. What we have instead is a string of conditioned reactions and a superficial calculation about the domestic utility of statements that articulate these reactions. As long as we sound hard on India and as long as we are speaking the language that we believe we want to hear about ourselves, we pretend that we are handling India well. In essence, we are operating in an echo chamber.

This tendency was always evident but it became institutionalised over the past few years. While he seemingly tried to break from tradition and put out an engagement framework that tore into taboos, General (r) Pervez Musharraf was only complying with the requirements of the US administration that wanted Islamabad and Delhi to bury the hatchet so that maximum focus could be given to Afghanistan. The peace push during Musharraf was under-written by Washington and London. It did not grow out of any grand policy vision acquired through debate or by burning the midnight oil. Delhi played ball up to a point and only as long as it had the guarantee that it would not have to let go of the part of Kashmir that it occupies – a condition the Musharraf-led establishment was more than willing to accommodate in the name of soft-border arrangement.

What followed him has stayed till now, in a much aggravated form. Gen (r) Kayani spent his entire double career looking towards the north-west, leaving India engagement to the safe principle of letting sleeping dogs lie. Gen (r) Raheel wasn’t looking in any particular direction. His prime focus was on North Waziristan and even more specifically on himself. The two civilian governments since 2008 have been either too incompetent (the Asif Zardari led PPP government) or too clumsy (the foreign-minister-less Nawaz Sharif government) to take a long, thoughtful view of the challenge of dealing with a country seven times our size, and which is one of the world’s largest economies (and growing consistently).

With the civilians constrained and the army stalemated, the result could only be what we are facing now – bombast and statements replacing policy debate and thinking.

Moreover, there is such a high premium on hollow rhetoric about India that even hawks (and I am one of them) sound like crooning doves. You only have to watch a few of them on the screen to know what a sorry business they have made of the centrepiece of Pakistan’s defence and foreign policy – ie India handling. On the eve of the detention of Hafiz Saeed – another policy decision which, like allowing Indian movies to be screened in Pakistan, has been defended by invoking the national interest – there was such a media frenzy that it looked like the heavens had fallen.

Showbiz artists turned media con artists were heard beating their chests and any number of writers sounded so rattled as if the country had been sold for a pittance. (Ironically, while the army media representative defended the decision, many of those who appear on television styling themselves as unofficial reps of the army and the intelligence agencies were lambasting the step)

This is just a tip of the iceberg of muddle-headedness that our India policy has come to. We have reduced discussion on India to the constant peddling of the thesis that in the end ‘everybody would lose in a nuclear showdown’ – as if this is a reassuring scenario. We haven’t been able to ward off Delhi’s constant meddling across the Line of Control and the Working Boundary and have been feeling self-satisfied issuing statements about a ‘befitting response’. This is no policy. This is passing time and on the terms of events that India generates.

Can we get out of this echo chamber? That seems very difficult at present. To begin with, India remains totally obdurate. It sees no urgency in changing its stance. More important, in Pakistan, the Nawaz Sharif government is in no position to think out of the box. It is under tremendous pressure to prove that it is tough on India. The army’s new command too seems satisfied with sticking to the default position of proposing that we are silencing Indian guns every other day.

India, the most pressing foreign policy issue of Pakistan that has deep and long-term implications for our security and prosperity, has no serious debate centred on it. The pretension that we have an India policy holds the field. Hollow statements stand in place of thoughtful reflections. And bravado is considered strategy.

The writer is former executive editor of The News and a senior journalist with Geo TV.