India-Pakistan: Why the joke is on Mani Shankar Aiyar

Out-of-work politician Mani Shankar Aiyar makes a persuasive case for Pakistani civil society and its army today. But, as usual, he overstates it. And he blows the argument in the end by claiming that while Pakistani mindsets have changed, ours haven’t.

He makes three basic points in an article in The Indian Express. He says Pakistanis, after 65 years of messing around with Islamism, are now not hostile to us in the communal sense, but only in a nationlist sense. Ditto for Indians, since the average Hindu in India and the average Muslim in Pakistan cannot sustain communal hostility in a situation where neither have met the other.

This is a plausible hypothesis, except that the average Hindu in India has met the average Muslim in India, and his attitudes to communalism are driven by what we see here, rather than what is happening in Pakistan. The reverse is unlikely to be true – since non-Muslims have been growing sparser both in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Both Pakistan and Bangladesh have few minority problems left – they have largely exported them.

The former minister's argument that hostilities are higher in India than Pakistan is wrong. Reuters

The second point he makes is that the Pakistani army, which is seen by every Indian analyst as the key determinant of Pakistani attitudes to India, has been battered by its own creations – the Taliban, the jehadis. He says: “What the Pakistan army has had to endure is many thousands more of their soldiers being massacred by their own home-grown terrorists than in all the Indo-Pak wars and near-wars put together.”

Clearly, Aiyar is not going to elicit any sympathy from Indians on this score. Our attitude is simple: if you nurture snakes in your backyard, some of them may also bite you. It’s best to get rid of them. But the Pakistani army has not done any such thing so far – or even hinted it may do so. In fact, it is protecting the 26/11 perpetrators.

If Aiyar is trying to say that jehadi attacks on the Pakistani army have changed the latter’s attitude to terrorism and India, the evidence on the ground is pretty thin, if not non-existent.

In fact, Shyam Saran, a former Indian Foreign Secretary, says the exact opposite in Business Standard today. And Shyam Saran is no hate-monger. He says the Pakistani army now sees less reason to be reasonable with India because the US is about to clear out of its backyard in Afghanistan. If Pakistan sent less terrorists across the border over the last two years, it was because of the sharp drop in its relationship with the US, especially in the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden and the continuing drone attacks.

But US-Pakistani military ties are returning to normality, and Pakistan now has the ability to move some of its troops back to the Indian border. This provides a better explanation of why we are seeing increased hostilities on the Line of Control – and the mutilated body of the Indian soldier may be Pakistan’s army flinging the gauntlet.

The third point Aiyar makes is that due to the ratcheting of gross violence back home, the Pakistani is now clearer than before about the need for peace with India. Maybe. In fact, he goes further and claims that mindsets are changing faster in Pakistan than in India. He says: “It is this widespread recognition of the imperative for peace with India that is driving the change in the Pakistani mindset. But because we are inured in our secular democracy from all these terrible traumas, our mindset is changing very slowly, if at all.”

This, of course, is baloney. For one, the Indian attitude was never one of unremitting animosity despite being tripped repeatedly by Pakistani perfidies. Our fault, if any, is that we never built any capability to carry out any kind of retributive action short of war whenever Pakistan felt it could risk another atrocity, whether it is Kargil or 26/11.

Aiyar talks of the “hostility industry” in India and he can be right only if he is referring to the irresponsible TV anchors we have all seen recently. They could endanger people-to-people relationships like no one else.

There is no other long-term hostility industry in India for the simple reason that we want to get on with life and building prosperity. We have no obsession with Pakistan, unlike the Pakistanis, and our hostilities are usually short-lived. They last for a few weeks after every act of Pakistani perfidy. We then forget and move on. Who remembers 26/11 anymore? LoC anger will be gone by February.

Where I do agree with Aiyar is on the issue of continuous dialogue – which should never break down. We should never have an off-on-off approach to dialogue – but we should control the content of the dialogue. And no matter how much we talk, we should always be prepared for the possibility that the Pakistanis may be planning the next outrage while we talk. We also have to build our capabilities to inflict damage on them.

Moreover, sending back hockey players or musicians serves no purpose other than to alienate Pakistani civil society. Though they are lightweights with no say in Pakistan’s India policy, it is useful to have someone who will speak for us within Pakistani society, howsoever softly. The same goes for reciprocal trade arrangements, where we don’t end up having to make all the concessions. We should trade.

The asymmetry in India-Pakistani relationship comes from the fact that while Pakistan has developed a war by other means doctrine (jehadis, non-state actors, etc), we have no such capability to counter-balance their actions. This is why they still think they can get away with any atrocity.

The joke anyway is on Aiyar. Even as he congratulated “the government of India on the sobriety and maturity with which it has handled the latest crisis”, his government has chosen the wiser path of sending Pakistan a message that it cannot be “business as usual.”

The joke will still be on Aiyar after this government resumes “business as usual”, once the public outcry dies down. It will prove that there is no permanent hostility industry in India at all. There is only a strategic community that is frustrated at our sheer lack of consistency in developing a carrot-and-stick Pakistan policy that is effective.