The on-off nature of talks with Pakistan shows how poorly we have strategised on the issue.
This time the talks are off because the Pakistani high commission in Delhi talked to the separatist Hurriyat leaders. The next time it could be something else. The problem is we are not sure why we are talking to Pakistan at all (For public consumption? For making our position on issues clear to the other side?). And we are not sure why we break off talks (any passing incident will do). I am sure the talks will resume within the next 12 months, but once more we won’t know why we are doing it. Narendra Modi is on the same wrong track as the UPA on Pakistan.
India has always been poor in defining its strategic focus. The problem is we know our end-goal (which is to get Pakistan to at least accept the part of Kashmir we currently hold as ours, even if they don't return the parts they hold). But we don't know - or pretend not to know - what they want. We are permanently in denial about their unholy intentions.
We think they want Kashmir - but this is mostly wrong. Even if we were to hand over Kashmir to them on a platter tomorrow their enmity will not end. When your self-definition is that you are an Islamic state created to defend Islam and to defeat the “Hindu state” called India (never mind if they call themselves "secular"), it cannot be about Kashmir at all. The “and” in italics in the previous statement is important, for there are many Islamic states that do not define themselves in antagonism to India (though some do in antagonism to Israel). But Pakistan surely does. We should never forget that.
If you have this mindset, you won’t accept peace. Peace means defeat in the Pakistani scheme of things. Every India-Pakistan negotiation that ends up ceding some ground to our western neighbour will, in fact, embolden it to seek even more. The matter will never end till the Pakistanis themselves abandon the ideology of a religion-based state (especially a religion-based state that is also setting itself up in opposition to the idea of India.) But that realisation is some decades away.
Western analysts are only now figuring this out. One of them is Christine Fair, an expert in south Asian strategic affairs. Her book Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army's Way of War ought to be worth a read for all strategic thinkers in India and the West. (I haven’t read it, but have understood what she wants to say).
In an interview to The Times of India recently, Fair puts it bluntly: "Pakistan is an ideological state. The Kashmir issue is not causal, it's symptomatic. If there were to be any kind of negotiation on Kashmir that gives up any inch of territory, it is not going to fix the situation."
There, what could be clearer? It is not something we don't know in our heart of hearts, but we are eager to deny this to placate our unthinking peaceniks and “Aman ki Aashaa” propagandists, and for fear of offending our minorities back home. But even if politicians hesitate to speak openly about this reality, surely they can calibrate diplomacy and strategy from a sharper understanding of this truth about the Pakistani state?
One lie we are fond of telling ourselves is that the Pakistani army is different from the Pakistani government (or state) and both are different from the Pakistani people - who are "just like us." All these presumptions are wrong.
First, the Pakistani army is the Pakistani state. So what applies to the Pakistani army applies to the state. The mere fact that elections are held to create civilian governments means little if it is the Pakistani army that ultimately decides policy towards India and the world. Christine Fair found that jihad is central to the Pakistani army's strategic culture: "The use of jihad is a way to make it seem as if everything the Pakistani army does is Islamically justified." If jihad is the army’s policy, it is the policy of the Pakistani state too.
Second, the Pakistani people are not always different from the state and the army. The question to ask is which Pakistani people are we talking about? There is surely an educated urban elite and upper middle class that we can bond with. But there are two other civilian forces we can't ignore. One is the hardcore Islamist/Jihadist groups (the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, the LeT, the JeM, etc) that hold sway in large parts of the country, including its vast tribal areas in the north-west. These "people" are even more anti-Indian than the army. Then there are the feudal powers that are closely aligned with the army. Pakistan is a crony-feudal state. The feudals can retain their landed riches only by backing the army and its monopoly on power. So these people have nothing in common with “us”.
The'people' who may want peace are a tiny elite who are not only not representative of broader Pakistan, but may be completely marginalised or squashed between the jihadists and the army.
Of course, it is in our interests to see that this group is nurtured and allowed to expand its influence. In fact, this elite group has realised how the Pakistan they created has completely veered off course, but this realisation has not sunk deeper into Pakistani society.
The problem is most Pakistanis find it difficult to acknowledge that their country was born with a “genetic defect” – a phrase that is not mine, but of veteran Pakistani journalist Babar Ayaz who wrote an eye-opening book on What’s Wrong With Pakistan? Ayaz says Muslims in India, after 650 years of rule in which they never thought of themselves as a separate nation, suddenly work up around 1857 to the fact that they may be a relative minority in a democratic polity of the future.
Muhammad Iqbal, Pakistan’s national poet, planted the genetically defective seed of the idea of Pakistan after “rejecting modern theories of nationalism, (and) constructed his own theory of Islamic nationalism.” Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, creator of the Aligarh Muslim University and a Muslim moderniser, was another author of the idea of keeping Muslims and Hindus separate in undivided India. Says Ayaz: “He tried to keep the Muslims away from the Congress, thus sowing the seeds of segregation between the Muslims and the Hindus.” This is the man whom the Congress party recently wanted to give the Bharat Ratna to.
Between Iqbal and Sir Syed, Pakistan’s genetic coding was set, and it was left to Mohammed Ali Jinnah to give it political shape that finally led to the creation of his “moth-eaten” Pakistan. Ayaz, quoting Stephen Cohen of Brookings, says: “Iqbal’s idea of Pakistan was not based on a European model of a nation-state, but on ‘an acute understanding that political power was essential to the higher end of establishing God’s laws.’” It was left to Gen Zia ul-Haq to bring all the elements of Iqbal’s flawed genetic idea together by making jihad central to the Pakistani army and the state it owns. (Sangh activists raising the “Hindu nation” cry should learn from Pakistan’s travails and avoid landing us in the same ditch Iqbal, Sir Syed and Jinnah led Pakistan into. Babar Ayaz’a book is a must-read for them too).
If we accept this reality, we need to have our own counter-strategy to deal with an illogical Pakistan that is not driven by common motives of a nation-state. Whether to hold talks or not has to be part of strategy – not a sometimes-on-sometimes-off kneejerk response to events, as the Modi government demonstrated.
So should we talk to Pakistan’s government or not? My answer is yes. We should keep talking but without expecting them to lead anywhere. The purpose of talking is not to solve anything, but to tell the world that we are talking, and also to make our points strongly. The suspended round of foreign secretary-level talks, for example, could have been used to narrow the talks down to the Hurriyat issue, or to terrorism. If they don’t want to talk, let them call it off. The second purpose of talking is to make sure they understand our own no-nonsense approach. Too often, they interpret our decision to talk as a sign of weakness. Maybe we should use talk to appear stronger so that they don’t mistake our intentions.
More important, talking does not mean doing nothing to prepare for war or terrorist attacks. We have to counter every act of aggression on our borders or inside (through terrorism) with our own form of covert or overt retaliation – which has to be below the threshold of war. For this we need to develop deep intelligence and counter-terror skills – and the ability to keep them busy elsewhere.
We should encourage people-to-people talks so that the constituency for peace grows in Pakistan. But we should be under no illusion that this is going to happen anytime soon – perhaps not in the lifetime of the current generation.
As Christine Fair notes, Pakistan is setting up a “civilisational” conflict with India, and such conflicts are not short-term ones. This means we should forget about a deal on Kashmir whatsoever.
Fair herself dismisses ideas of a “grand bargain” on Kashmir as “rubbish.”
We need a 100 year strategy to counter Pakistan, not an on-off response mechanism to Pakistani provocations. The Modi government should stay clear of grand theatrical gestures and focus on long-term strategy with respect to Pakistan.