India and Pakistan: conflict or co-existence

By Saad Hafiz

Pakistan should accept that India as a major power in South Asia can exert significant influence on this region due to the size of its armed forces, economy,  population and democratic credentials which no other nation in South Asia can match. India is also well on its way to being recognized as a global power by other countries in the region and beyond, despite the yet to be fulfilled dream to obtain a permanent Security Council seat.

From attaining regional supremacy and the ability to project its global aspirations; India has also moved decisively towards achieving another objective articulated by the prominent Indian strategist the late K. Subrahmanyam (KS) “India needs strategic partnerships with all democratic, pluralistic and secular powers to counter the combined threat from an alliance of authoritarian and monolithic systems allied with jehadi forces.” KS and other Indian strategists see the Pakistan-China relationship as a Chinese attempt to contain a democratic India which it sees as a challenge to its single-party oligarchy.

Bismarck would have been proud of what India has achieved in terms of strategic partnerships; particularly since 9/11. Like a superior chess player, India has correctly strategized its moves by earning the trust of global powers as a peaceful and friendly nation and a bulwark against Islamic extremism. India has also successfully manipulated and formulated its desired alliances in particular with the United States and Israel. By ensuring that Pakistan as its main enemy is largely isolated, India’s main fear is the nightmare coalition (Pakistan-China) that could jeopardize India in case of war. As a result, India has strived to maintain peaceful co-existence and economic relations with China to ensure that the nightmare coalition never materializes.

While the power equation in South Asia has permanently shifted in India’s favour, it also raises troubling questions for Indian policy makers. India would be pleased to see a demilitarized Pakistan but would not be comfortable with a failed State as a neighbour which may jeopardize India’s own progress and prosperity. Indian policy makers realize that in aspiring to become a global power, India will have to shoulder greater responsibilities. This greater responsibility in dealing with Pakistan may require co-existence with and not the destruction of a weakened neighbour, a compromise between Gandhi and Chanakya.

So where does that leave Pakistan, a nation which has steadily lost ground to India as the economic and military disparity has grown which combined with near diplomatic isolation has seriously disturbed the balance of power in South Asia. Pakistan has contributed to its isolation by its association with the nuclear proliferation activities of Dr. A.Q. Khan and the perception in the international community that it is as an exporter of terrorism; a perception reinforced by the brutal and condemnable atrocities in Mumbai in 2008.

Pakistan had enjoyed some diplomatic breathing space, military and economic aid due to its tactical alliance with the United States in the war on terror. However, the continuing internal implosion and massive domestic blowback of suicide bombings, inflamed Pushtoon nationalism and a serious loss in national confidence has largely negated any benefits that may have been derived from joining the war on terror.

Whilst recognizing that economic parity or balance with India is out of question, a nuclear-armed Pakistan believes it is in a position to exercise nuclear deterrence against any conventional threat from India. Pakistan is also counting on its “strategic” partnership with China, the world’s second power with its expanding economic influence and military might.  However, from previous examples in history it would be a mistake for Pakistan to shape its relationship with India exclusively around an unsustainable arms race, costly nuclear deterrence or a single strategic partnership.

Pakistan requires a broader engagement with India more than just convincing its larger neighbour that terrorism is a common threat and that the Kashmir issue needs to be resolved to defeat terrorism.  Firstly, Pakistan has to realize that its primary national security threat is domestic terrorism and not India. Secondly, Pakistan must punish the Mumbai planners quickly and realize that it has no choice but to sincerely fight both domestic and international terror.  The consequences of doing otherwise would be too horrible to contemplate. Thirdly, Pakistan must find the will to revive its economy by expanding the domestic tax base, fight corruption, reduce dependence on foreign aid/loans and encourage and accelerate trade with all countries including India.

Pakistan must also get off the “patriotic” bandwagon and stop shaping its national discourse around the unity of the Muslim Ummah and the glorious Islamic past of imperialist conquest towards more progressive ideas such as better education, healthcare and governance for all its citizens. Pakistanis have to be convinced that to survive, the country must change from being a national security state to a state that is at peace with itself, where people live and prosper in a democratic and inclusive society. In short, Pakistanis have to work together to revive Jinnah’s Pakistan. A greater focus on reforming domestic economic and security policy will allow Pakistan to co-exist with a prosperous and influential India.

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