Book Review - ‘India vs Pakistan: Why Can’t We Just Be Friends?’

Book Review - ‘India vs Pakistan: Why Can’t We Just Be Friends?’

by Jaideep A Prabhu - Jul 1, 2016 07:01 PM +05:30 IST
Book Review - ‘India vs Pakistan: Why Can’t We Just Be Friends?’Photo: Aamir Qureshi/ Stringer/ Getty Images
  • Provocative, sometimes insightful, and always simple and coherent- ‘India vs Pakistan’ makes for an excellent introduction for laypeople to India’s troubled relations with its Islamic neighbour to the west

Haqqani, Husain. India vs Pakistan: Why Can’t We Just Be Friends? New Delhi: Juggernaut, 2016. 200 pp.

More like a long essay than a book, Husain Haqqani’s latest book ‘India vs Pakistan: Why Can’t We Just Be Friends?’ is written for the layman. Yet its simplicity is deceptive- within its casually written and smooth-flowing narrative are a few insightful observations, by a man who has served his country at the highest echelons of power. Some of these views are not popular- if not on one side of the border, then the other. Haqqani has been hounded by many in his own country as unpatriotic, and some of his comments are bound to irk Indians as well. As an Indian myself, I cannot claim complete objectivity on the sensitive issue of India’s relations with its troublesome neighbour, Pakistan. That, however, may not be a bad thing for human affairs are seldom dispassionate and rational. If a policy does not appeal to the emotions and aspirations of a people, as Britain’s recent almost-exit from the European Union demonstrated, its rationality is unlikely to provide it much succour. Besides, such objectivity (closely observed) is a myth.

Book Review - ‘India vs Pakistan: Why Can’t We Just Be Friends?’

Much of what Haqqani narrates is not new to anyone who has even peripherally followed South Asian politics. However, the author highlights events and views that raise tantalising ‘what ifs’ of history and are often ignored in cynicism or frustration. For example, Haqqani reminds us of how nebulous the idea of Partition was, even after the fact that Muhammad Ali Jinnah wanted India and Pakistan to be friendly neighbours like the United States and Canada. It shows that the founder of the Islamic republic had not thought through the consequences of demanding a separate homeland for the subcontinent’s Muslims.

Another example is of Mohammad Ismail, the man Pakistan had nominated to be their first High Commissioner to India. Ismail refused to adopt Pakistani nationality or move to the newly-formed Pakistan, despite his nomination. Others, such as Chaudhry Khaliq-uz-Zaman- the leader of the Pakistan Muslim League- went back and forth several times, to see which country promised better prospects before settling down. Jogendranath Mandal, a Bengali scheduled caste leader, served as Pakistan’s first Law and Labour Minister and second Minister of Commonwealth and Kashmir Affairs before returning to settle down in Calcutta. Sajjad Zaheer, an Uttar Pradeshi Muslim who had become the leader of the Pakistan Communist Party, was arrested for sedition in 1951 and was deported to India after he reclaimed Indian citizenship.

‘India vs Pakistan’ is not just about factoids that have slipped from public memory- Haqqani also has an interesting diagnosis of the South Asian rivalry. Although Islamabad treats Kashmir as the root of all problems between India and Pakistan, according to Haqqani, it is merely a symptom. We have heard this before from Christine Fair, Associate Professor at the Centre for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service in Washington, D.C. Haqqani adds that this arises from the deep insecurity Pakistan feels in the suspicion that India has not truly accepted Partition.

Congress had vehemently opposed Partition when the British were still ruling the subcontinent and several leaders, Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel included, publicly doubted the viability of the stump that had been hacked from the body of Mother India. The Congress resolution that accepted the Partition plan, nonetheless, spoke of the geographic unity of an united India and the day the two-nation theory would be discredited and discarded by all. Pakistan interpreted this statement as an implicit Indian desire to undo the Partition, even though Nehru also explicitly said- in public- that he would not want to inherit Pakistan’s problems on top of his own and did not yearn to re-embrace Pakistan. After the Third Indo-Pakistan War in 1971, that India did not seek to annex East Pakistan should have dispelled fears but even that did not drive home the point. For that matter, Atal Bihari Vajpayee assured Pakistan during his visit to Lahore in February 1999 that India had accepted the creation of the Islamic state, and had no desire to undo the Partition.

For Pakistan, this is a fundamental question of identity: if they were not Muslims, were they merely second-rate Indians? One Pakistani official asked this question in a 1980 interview to an American newspaper. As the Pakistani academic Waheed-uz-Zaman wrote,“If the Arabs, the Turks, the Iranians, God forbid, give up Islam, the Arabs yet remain Arabs, the Turks remain Turks, the Iranians remain Iranians, but what do we remain if we give up Islam?”

This was a poignant question for Pakistan then, as it still is. The power of Islam was, thus, deeply infused with Pakistani nationalism from the beginning and not the result of radicalisation in the 1980s as many believe. Even as early as the 1950s, Ayub Khan punctuated his speeches to the nation with references to the ‘weak and cowardly Hindus’, an ultimately flawed stereotype he had learned without reflection from the British theory of martial races. “The 100 million people of Pakistan whose hearts beat with the sound of La ilaha ill Allah, Muhammad ur rasool ullah will not rest until India’s guns are silenced,” he declared.

The Muslim League’s lack of preparedness for independence in 1947 is at the root of the Kashmir problem, according to Haqqani. While the Congress party was able to cobble together a union of all but six of the 548 princely states, the Muslim League was unable to confirm the borders of their new state until a few months after the momentous occasion. Even then, the new state’s leaders were not able to persuade everyone and military force had to be used against Kalat in March 1948. Only Swat had voluntarily joined the Islamic republic by Independence Day. Additionally, Haqqani says, while Vallabhbhai Patel was willing to concede Kashmir to Pakistan initially, Jinnah’s claim to Junagadh and Hyderabad hardened Patel to Nehru’s position that not an inch of Kashmir can be surrendered. If the Muslims can claim Hindu-Hyderabad on the basis of a Muslim ruler, why could India not claim Kashmir under similar circumstances? Jinnah’s ill-prepared and strategic blunder sowed the seeds for a multi-generational insurgency that would poison relations between the neighbours.

Haqqani also traces the use of irregular warfare by Pakistan against India to much before the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, to the late 1950s. Pakistan had used tribal militias in Jammu and Kashmir as early as 1948; Aslam Siddiqi, an official in Ayub’s Bureau of National Reconstruction, advocated as early as 1958 that Pakistan must use jihad through unofficial militias. In a report that warned Pakistan to prepare for the end of its alliance with America, the official asked, “why not train irregular fighters whom even the existing industries of Pakistan can well equip?” Siddiqi’s strategy involved spreading out and prolonging action, hit-and-run tactics that denied the enemy a firm target, and propaganda to fuel popular uprisings in the enemy camp. This was first tried by Pakistan in the prelude to the 1965 war.

In Pakistan, rather than inherit an army when the British left, it is the army that inherited a country. During Partition, Pakistan received 30 percent of India’s army, 40 percent of its navy, and 20 percent of its air force. In the first budget Liaquat Ali Khan, the country’s first Prime Minister, had to allocate 75 percent of his finances to cover the salaries and maintenance of this enormous force. This lopsided relationship between the Army and State has plagued the Islamic republic ever since. The military has had an unduly loud voice in the country’s governance and its obsession with India has perverted Pakistani society. To the horror of strategists everywhere, Pakistani generals speak casually of the use of nuclear weapons against India. Pakistan remains the only country whose nuclear programme is predicated with a single and named enemy in mind- India. To this end, Haqqani relates how the country’s diplomats covertly acquired equipment and material for the nuclear programme, like smugglers, and proud of it they were, too. As Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States puts it succinctly: ‘to seek security against a conventionally armed neighbour far superior to you is understandable but to seek parity is folly’. It is this military quest for parity over the decades that has twisted Pakistani mentality towards India. According to Pakistani public intellectual Khaled Ahmed, “Pakistani nationalism comprises 95 percent India hatred. They call it Islam because that is how we learn to differentiate between ourselves and India.”

Interestingly, while Indians berate Nehru, Haqqani feels that the Indian leader moved methodically and deliberately on the strategic chessboard to gradually integrate Kashmir into India. Pakistani-sponsored terrorism did the rest by shifting the world’s sympathy from Pakistan in the early years to India at present. This perspective from across the border, especially from a man who has walked in the corridors of power, (whether one agrees with it or not), deserves some careful reflection.

As interesting and thoughtful a diagnosis of the sub-continental psychosis as this may be, what is the solution? Haqqani feels that the rise of Hindu chauvinist forces in recent years does not give Pakistan confidence in Indian intentions. The saffronisation of education- or attempts in that direction- confirm to Pakistanis that Indians still cling to the idea of ‘Akhand Bharat’. These developments compound the already irrational acts on the other side of the border. Although communal fervour has been painted as a problem of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Haqqani observes that Congress was the first to use the Muslims as a vote bank. They did this continually, ‘reminding the community that they would have been better off had Pakistan not been created’, that they had been abandoned. Of course, the comparison between an Indian-Hindu identity and a Pakistan-Muslim identity is not analogous for historical as well as philosophical reasons, but this is not the space for that debate.

Asked about a potential future in this gloomy climate, Haqqani replies that his objective is to “change the context of the relationship, from the embittered twins born at partition in 1947 to neighbors who cannot get away from one another and must learn to live with each other.” Towards this end, he advocates the freer flow of students, artists, doctors, musicians, poets, and athletes between the two countries as it used to be in the first couple of decades after partition. Until 1951, when Pakistan formalised its citizenship law, Muslims could travel back and forth between India and Pakistan without even a passport. That document was introduced in 1952, for travel just between the two countries- visas requirements came only in 1965. The former ambassador is aware that this will not happen overnight- as long as each side suspects the other of trying to destroy them, the guns will not fall silent. Yet it is only through greater people-to-people contact that Pakistanis and Indians can dispel their misconceptions about each other. If the commonalities between the two peoples can be reignited, ‘the contrived animosities could begin to diminish’.

Haqqani is also sceptical about the role outside powers could play. Historically, the United States armed the Pakistan which permitted the Islamic state to have delusions of grandeur in the first place and stand up to India. More recently, however, both the United States and China, Pakistan’s new best friend, have urged the country’s leadership to resolve its issues with India peaceably or at least shelve it for later. As Haqqani explains, such intervention inevitably fans the fantasy of parity in Islamabad- “India and Pakistan need to talk to each other because it is in their interest”.

Yet Pakistan does not trust India because the latter has not done enough to reassure the former that there would be no attempt to reabsorb Pakistan again into India. How can this mistrust be reduced? Like in a merry-go-round, we return to the issue of greater people-to-people exchange. The Pakistani military would be loathe to allow greater civilian exchanges and India is stuck on its principle of reciprocity. Any Pakistani suggesting that normalisation of ties with India can precede a final settlement over Kashmir runs the risk of being dubbed a ‘traitor’. The problem for Pakistan’s military is that after seven decades of peddling Kashmir as their primary national cause, it is not easy to suddenly effect a major shift in priorities. If Delhi could show some flexibility and allow a small number of visits, it might begin to thaw an otherwise seemingly hopeless situation.

A question that has arisen recently in the internal Indian debate on Pakistan is with whom India should negotiate. On the one hand, civilian governments are, some would argue, the moral choice though they have proven to be ineffective at producing results. On the other, the military may be capable of delivering on their promises but they have a poor track record and prove an unstable partner for the peaceful future of India-Pakistan relations. Haqqani argues that ties at purely one level cannot succeed because any civilian leader that makes too much headway in peace talks runs the risk of being undercut by the military. Instead, India must encourage a civilian leadership but maintain ties at several levels as it does with other countries. Cooperation on addressing the melting of the Himalayan glaciers or irrigating the Sindh-Rajasthan desert will give both sides a mutually beneficial goal to work towards while simultaneously building relations beyond governments, civilian or military.

The Army cannot be sidelined or wished away in a state that has been a military dictatorship for most of its history. By far the most influential actor in Pakistani society, the military has cultivated a nationalist narrative that sees India as an existential threat. This narrative has been furthered by educational institutions and the media. Yet Pakistan has had two successive civilian governments and that is also an encouraging sign. This evolution, however, Haqqani notes, is a function of Pakistani politics and outsiders- China, the United States, India, or anyone else- cannot dictate it.

The essence of Haqqani’s solution boils down to greater contact between the two societies. It is not a quick fix, the author admits, but it is the only possible long-term solution towards peace on the subcontinent. As unappetising as this may seem to some sections of Indian society, there is something to this seemingly simple solution. During the Cold War, the West allowed citizens of the Communist East to visit, travel, and see their countries. For those who could not get the opportunity or permission to travel, the United States used radio and television broadcasting to target Eastern European and Soviet audiences. Democratic Western culture, despite all its flaws, itself became a powerful psychological weapon against the repressive Communist regimes. In the end, rock and roll had a role to play in the demise of the Warsaw Pact as did Wall Street and Minuteman missiles. An open, inclusive, and confident India, even unilaterally so, may just be the way to tilt the scales towards India’s side. Not, of course, at the expense of conventional security wisdom.

At times provocative, sometimes insightful, and always simple and coherent ‘India vs Pakistan’ makes for an excellent introduction for laypeople to India’s troubled relations with its Islamic neighbour to the West. And for Indians, it provides a useful and articulate perspective from across the border.

Jaideep A. Prabhu is a specialist in foreign and nuclear policy; he also pokes his nose in energy and defence related matters.
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