The book, Shooting for a Century – A Hundred Years of India-Pakistan Conflict, largely builds on the apprehension of the present situation getting worse and lasting over a hundred years. The assumption, however, of the conflict spanning a century does not appear to be the worst conceivable future. The worst possible outcome would be a catastrophic collapse of Pakistan, having a spill-over effect to India. While another disaster would be a violent outbreak between the two; leading to a Nuclear War. These two alternate futures are worse than the present crisis. Evidently, normalisation is desirable (as, a peace process is unimaginable) but its process should be rational. The three futures that everyone prophesise but are unlikely to happen are – a continued stability between Indo-Pak relations, a catastrophic collapse of Pakistan and subsequent influx of refugees into India which may disturb its social cohesiveness. Lastly, military conflict being escalated to a point where nuclear weapons are used.
With the ongoing crisis, there is a possibility of upscale. This assertion is reached by looking at the nature of current Indo-Pakistan relations. The three dominant attributes of it are: One, the nature of ordinary disputes (i.e. Siachen, water, trade, travel, transit, etc). Depite these disputes being highly negotiable, the countries have failed to bilaterally negotiate on these issues despite 65 years of independence. The one successful attempt was in the case of the Indus Water Treaty, which was an apolitical dispute and was solved by external factors.
There are a whole cluster of disputes which are theoretically negotiable but are unlikely to be solved in the near future. One reason is that the idea of India as a secular, democratic state directly rubs up against Pakistan, it being an Islamic Republic. As a result, the idea of Pakistan threatens India and vice versa. Some Pakistanis see partition as an unfair structural decision while many Indians believe that circumstances necessitated it. Nobody has touched upon the fact that both countries have inherited a geo-strategic space. Both countries aspire for strategic dominance in Afghanistan, North Kashmir, and the Indian Ocean, to the extent of the Pakistani navy competing against the Indian navy in the Indian Ocean. They trace their own naval heritage back to the British. If two armed establishments vie against one another for the same physical strategic space amounting it to military propaganda in the security community; they develop theories for criticality but in reality, it is ill-assorted.
The major argument as displayed in the book is that Kashmir is the nucleus of all disputes – related to gender, water, population issues, strategic competition, etc. Accordingly, the argument is of giving Kashmir prime significance on the agenda because if the Kashmir crisis is resolved, then all other issues fall in place. As a result, the interaction of these three factors draws the nature of the conflict to last for a century or more.
The Indian standpoint of surpassing Pakistan stating that there is no competition coupled with the US support holds irrelevance. For Pakistan, the conflict has become a burden. It is “dragging a dead cat behind”. For India, the two major factors holding it behind were – the economy of 1979 that remained static for nearly 12 years and the other, was Pakistan. As long as India has the Kashmir dispute, it will fail to rise. As far as Pakistan is concerned, it has nuclear weapons that render its collapse inconsequential. Metaphorically, it is like “Nigeria without oil”. It is not a very significant State but with nuclear weapons, it becomes an extremely significant one. Since it is a nuclear State, India must consistently be on high alert especially since, one mistake by either side could change the course of history. Indian security depends on the least reliable link in the Pakistani chain of command. The nuclear concern is not the most dominant aspect that India needs to be alert about. It is one of low probability but with high consequences.
A nuclear exchange in South Asia might perceivably transform world history. The hypothesis of the book is that it may persist for another hundred years since there is no substantive effort for normalisation. The Pakistanis aren’t going to give up; neither is India going to let go. In essence, a stalemate is envisioned. The only solution to this, that can at best be hoped for, is to manage the relationship in a healthier way – similar to how India manages its relations with China or Pakistan its with regards to Iran. It is difficult to say whether doing so will be possible within thirty-five years. But, if India thinks it can advance as a major power without solving the Kashmir issue, it is merely fooling itself!
Why do you think the Indo-Pak dispute will last a hundred years? According to you, are the right people talking to the right people in both countries? As, currently, it appears that a make belief dialogue is taking place between the inconsequential.
In literature, there are two approaches to normalisation. One is the top-down approach. An example can be cited in European history where, once the senior leaders agreed on strategic accommodation, everything else fell in order. The other approach is the bottom-up approach where you look into local support to extinguish the issue.
Neither approach can work independently. Both top-down and bottom-up approaches need to work in sync to achieve normalisation. The book is filled with analogies from other parts of the world with success stories of France and Germany, US-USSR, etc. But the Indo-Pak dispute is amongst the 5% disputes in world history, which have been defined as intractable. Although bearing a huge similarity to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is difficult to determine the Israelis and the Palestinians in the Indo-Pak case. This is because India is not a religious state and, India-Pakistan share varying qualities. As these two countries share the same strategic space, it is ideal that they work out a strategy for military cooperation. Maritime security is one area for example, where the countries share de-facto cooperation, as it is in the interest of both countries to keep sea links open for the supply of energy.
The two hard line organisations in South Asia are Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and India’s National Democratic Alliance (NDA). If dialogue is established between these two hardliners, then, chances for normalisation seem attainable. But, the question is whether it is possible to have a meaningful dialogue. The answer is that – it is possible only when both sides are ready to talk at the same time. Historical evidence maintains that when the Indians are ready to talk, the Pakistanis are not and when Pakistan initiates dialogue, the Indians back-step.
The younger generation in Pakistan want to have normalised relations with India but on the other side, it seems even the youth are unable to move beyond Kargil or Mumbai; and one reason behind this is the constant airing of these incidents via electronic media. While India reminds Pakistan of 1971, Pakistan tends to walk away from taking the onus of the attacks on the Parliament, Kargil and Mumbai. The view point of the Indians is far more hardlined than before and it seems most people in both countries are stuck in the past.
The Mumbai attacks were carried out to break the normalisation process between the two neighbours. This concludes that whenever a step has been taken towards normalisation (trade, liberal immigration policies, etc), it has always been followed by a new attack that has hindered the peace process. Hence, the wrong people are talking to the wrong people and the right people are not talking to the right people.
What according to you, is the role of China in this context? Will China go along with the US and keep out of the issue as they have serious stakes in South Asia?
Pakistan regards China as a geopolitical entity. In reality, nobody knows what China’s stakes are except for China. It is unrealistic to determine China’s alignment with the US or complete non-alignment from the issue. There is a debate going on in the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. Clearly, China has its own interest in Afghanistan, while India, Pakistan and China work separately with the Americans in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) operations.
Since inconsequential people are speaking to the inconsequential, is there anything that can be done in this regard? Indian policies are not toeing for peace. Considering this, what are the legitimate courses of action for India to pursue?
Once an unanimous decision is made that nothing can be achieved by people who are incompetent, both sides are comfortable with not having an agreement. It is not easy to get people talking to each other; the Cold War is a good example as it took a very long time towards normalisation. The book concludes that the present normalisation process is indeed going in the right direction; the only thing that needs consideration is that the pace of the process needs to be enhanced.
But still, there remain lots of hindrances in the process; the factors adding to it being agricultural opposition, political backing and so on. Normalisation is not in the present strategic interest and all efforts towards breaking cultural barriers are unlikely to stabilize the situation. Despite all actions – Track II dialogues, reforms, regional balance, etc., there is a grave need to depoliticize issues such as water that can help in the normalisation process although, to see this happening is questionable. De-politicization in trade is currently taking place; but it still does not ensure de-politicisation of other avenues.
The US doesn’t have a coherent policy in South Asia. But it has a lot of geopolitical stake in Pakistan. What role do you see of the US in the Indo-Pak issue?
The United States’ stakes in Pakistan are diminishing. There is a conjunction in South Asian policies with no country wanting to see Pakistan go down the drain. There is a shared interest between India, China and the US. Although the Pentagon is obsessed with Pakistan; geopolitically, it is not organised and there is a critical need to do so. The US has a separate policy for good Pakistan and a bad Pakistan.
In retrospect, the US deals with the South Asian domain in accordance with Pakistan’s behaviour. Although, it wants to be more proactive in the Kashmir issue, it does not want to intervene to the point where it appears intrusive. This is still not going to stabilize the situation for India and Pakistan but one must be hopeful.
Considering the US policies are framed in accordance with Pakistan’s conduct in the South Asian domain, how do you think one should control the Islamist radicals?
Whom do you think the war is between, in reality?
This is a war between modern and radical Islam. Pakistan is the only state that has this Islamist revolution going on. Iran could be the same in the next 15-20 years. This has been the heart of all the US policies with the fear that if they push Pakistan too hard, then it might conduct a nuclear attack; which is why the US is friendly with Pakistan. Whenever there is an anti-Muslim feeling in America, it is moderated by the government, a fact that the Pakistanis are completely aware of.
The argument so far has been that Pakistan is America’s best friend because it is a ‘moderate’ Muslim state. But now observers believe that it is America’s ‘neediest’ friend, it being a potential nuclear state. In the way things are currently progressing, it is extremely difficult to control the radicals but as mentioned earlier, even if so that doesn’t happen, dialogue between appropriate parties may spin normalisation.
(The writer is a research intern at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies)