Lieutenant General Asim Munir, a spymaster originally commissioned into the Baloch Regiment, finally succeeded General Qamar Javed Bajwa on 29 November as the new Pakistani Chief of Army Staff.
It marked the end of yet another sordid power struggle in that benighted domain, which cost Imran Khan his Prime Ministership, and nearly his life.
On cue, violence broke out in Afghanistan, some of it directed against Pakistani assets.
This was even as the Taliban government in Kabul offered New Delhi an olive branch, by way of a proposal to renew Indian participation in Afghani infrastructure projects, suspended since the Americans summarily evacuated their forces from that country, with little notice, in mid-2021.
Wisely, the Indian government kept up a healthy running commentary on the transition by making direct and oblique references to the reoccupation of Gilgit-Baltistan, plus the rest of Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir.
This was necessary, since history teaches us that power struggles in Pakistan have a tendency to sometimes spill violently over the border into India. The ploy worked.
As expected, that got the usual suspects’ goat, and forced a reaction — not against the new Pakistani Army chief, or the Rawalpindi establishment, mind you, but against the current Indian dispensation.
One even went so far as to write a provocative piece, which argued that any and all visions of an ‘Akhand Bharat’ needed to be kept away from our military.
Leaving aside for a moment this startling rejection of a long-established principle on government structure and functioning in democracies, by which the military is meant to carry out the policies of the political executive, what is even more risible is the ‘logic’ invoked in the piece to aver that ‘Akhand Bharat’ as a policy is counterproductive.
This thesis would have been ignored under normal circumstances, but if strategic self-delusion amongst the Indian left-liberal classes crosses even the limit of reason, then a rebuttal is merited because the thesis has transmogrified from argument to narrative.
The author’s anxiety, that an ‘ideological’ rejection of partition could lead to a politico-military reversal of that event, is palpable in a jaundiced, stymied definition of ‘Akhand Bharat’: “…a geographical space comprising a subcontinent that identifies itself with Hindu civilisation and cultural homogeneity”.
No reference to dharma, or to one of its central tenets — that beliefs are personal; no reference to the concept of ‘sacred geography’; no admission that partition is a still-suppurating wound running across the subcontinent, which created more problems for India, including grave strategic ones, rather than bring a peace it was ostensibly meant to.
Instead, the reader is treated to the usual alarmist Lohia-ite bromides bracketed within clichéd phrases, like ‘majoritarian Hindu philosophy’, ‘Hindu superiority construct’, and ‘Hindutva’.
Both Veer Savarkar and the National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval, come in for the usual criticism.
The general thrust is that partition is a fait accompli which must be unquestioningly accepted as irreversibly cast in stone, and normalized at whatever cost, with anyone daring to question its validity or sanctity being promptly branded as a vile, revanchist, Hindutva-vadi.
At this point, one might have discarded the piece as a rant, but the next argument made its objectives clearer: any tough talk by Indian leaders only benefits the Pakistani Army because “such military threats strengthen their (the Pakistani Army’s) institutional grip on national security policies and provide oxygen for their power base in national politics”.
This statement merits dissection.
One: What is the alternative then — that India stays docile ad infinitum, and meekly accepts whatever Pakistan doles out, irrespective of the harm that does to our society or security?
Two: Can any serious strategic affairs expert ever say that there has been a time when the Pakistan Army didn’t have an ‘institutional grip’ over the country? If not, then what is the logic of arguing that a situation might worsen if India actively sought to secure its interests, when, in fact, that situation has remained a constant since partition?
Three: Or, if we flip the thesis to further highlight its inherent fallacy, did the Pakistani Army not have an ‘institutional grip’ over that country in those periods when India was not talking tough with Pakistan, but doing puppi-jhuppi instead?
Either way we look at it, the logic simply doesn’t hold.
But even that tenuous argument paled before the one which followed: “The door for Akhand Bharat may have been opened — however unwittingly — by Prime Minister Modi’s exhortation to commanders of the three services to enhance indigenisation in the national security system. Not just in sourcing equipment and weapons but also in terms of the doctrines, procedures and customs practised in the Armed Forces.”
This specious argumentation, however, fries the thesis to a crisp.
First: How, or why, might tar the ‘Make-in-India’ programme with a religious tint? Where is the logic in that?
Second: Equating indigenization of military equipment with ‘Hindutva’, and using that linkage to say India should not transition away from a deathly dependency on foreign imports of expensive weapons platforms, is about as illogical an argument as it gets.
Third: While it is true that the Indian Army evolved initially along British lines, on British traditions, those days are long gone.
Today’s military has its own traditions based on an unapologetically Indian civilizational ethos, and there’s nothing retired officers can do (especially those who hark rhapsodically back to the misplaced glamour and romance of a British Raj which crushed us) but wring their hands helplessly.
This is the problem when an issue is interpreted in purely ideological terms. And yet, as the thesis itself demonstrates, this, unfortunately, is how strategic thinkers of the left-liberal variety approach even core issues such as national security.
As a result, a policy which seeks to drag India away from import dependency into an era where our military is equipped by high quality weapon systems developed by a modern industrial base, competitive with the world on quality and cost, has to be junked simply because it could result in the reversal of a partition precious to some.
The overweening irony, though, is that India was perfectly capable of recovering Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, or of reversing partition, even when there was no ‘Make-in-India’ policy in play, or when ‘Hindutva’ was a little-understood phrase inhabiting the fringes of our strategic decision-making framework!
Consequently, if we are to not over-react, while articles like these may catch in our throats, they must be seen for what they really are: the frustrated grumblings of a set which ruled India for many decades following independence by employing the political theories of dead white men, but who have now been relegated to the fringe by a new enlightenment of millennial proportions.
Therefore, in conclusion, if India’s left-liberal ecosystem thinks that it can somehow fabricate a soft landing for General Asim Munir at the start of his tenure, by writing fawning pieces, they are sorely mistaken, not least because the actual reasons for that inability don’t lie with the “Hindu majoritarians”, but in Afghanistan.
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