1. The Longest August book review: Eternal enemies

The Longest August book review: Eternal enemies

Almost 69 years after the Partition of the sub-continent, tensions between India and Pakistan continue to dominate headlines in newspapers and on TV channels.

Published: April 17, 2016 6:09 AM

The Longest August: The Unflinching Rivalry Between India and Pakistan
Dilip Hiro
Rs 599

Almost 69 years after the Partition of the sub-continent, tensions between India and Pakistan continue to dominate headlines in newspapers and on TV channels. Good news rarely comes from both India and Pakistan, and when it comes, it does not last for too long. The occasional half a step forward is succeeded by two steps backwards.

Mutual distrust is so deeply ingrained in the psychology of the two nations, which have fought three and a half wars, that any move for a rapprochement is superseded by renewed bouts of blame game by the two adversaries.
Not that there are no well-meaning people on both sides of the divide who want to see peace and amity in the sub-continent, but something or the other always happens to set the clock back and lingering  historic bitterness thwarts attempts at  peace.

For India, the core issue is of terrorism that is being used by Pakistan as an instrument of its India policy; for Pakistan the issue remains Kashmir. The geopolitical situation, Pakistan’s acquisition of nuclear weapons and continuing dominance of the men in greens in the country have been major hurdles for peace. The failure of leadership in both countries to come up with a durable solution and sell it to their people is in essence the theme of Dilip Hiro’s book, The Longest August – The Unflinching Rivalry Between India and Pakistan.

Dilip Hiro, who has written 34 books, specialises on writing about conflict situations in West Asia, South Asia and Central Asia. The Longest August is about India and Pakistan, the bloody division of the sub-continent, the unprecedented wave of communal rioting, and perhaps the largest migration of population in world history.

The writer is conscious of how Indian leaders tried to build institutions despite the travails of the Partition in 1947, and how Pakistani leaders frittered away every chance to build their country, which often lapsed into long spells of military raj.

However, the author doesn’t analyse in detail how Indian leaders succeeded in building a democratic order, which is respected by the rest of the world, and after much trial and error, an economy ready to take major strides in the 21st century, without sacrificing its democratic dispensation. He is well-equipped, but has not gone into details as to why Pakistan, in its obsession to grab Kashmir, has failed to take care of what makes a nation. He ought to have taken pains to analyse the contrasting picture.

Dilip Hiro chronicles how on crucial occasions Pakistan’s military rulers like Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Zia-ul Haq and Pervez Musharraf failed to take interest in the real task of meeting essential requirements of their country. The writer should have analysed in greater details why these men in uniform did everything possible not to let institutions of democracy — parliament, an independent judiciary, an accountable executive, political parties and a free press — grow. The generals concentrated on Kashmir, wars with India, acquiring arms from the US on the one side and communist China on the other — all for remaining in power.  They forgot about the people.

The generals never realised that jackboots and terrorism can’t be a strong base for building a nation. Dilip Hiro also talks about how Pakistan’s rulers — Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, other politicians and the generals — went about acquiring Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and missiles that cannot be ignored by the rest of the world. He has studied most of the literature available in the public domain on how Pakistan’s rulers made use of the United States’ indulgence towards Islamabad and a caring China adopting Pakistan as its all-weather friend.

What has helped Pakistan survive was its geography and the geopolitics surrounding it. The country has allowed itself to become a frontline state of,  first the United States, and  later of communist China, and has managed to adjust its relations with both adroitly.

Successive regimes in Washington were peeved with India for not playing their games against the Soviet Union. Pakistan was a ready catch soon after its birth for receiving money and military hardware,  insecure as it always has felt in view of India’s size and strength. The India-China war in 1962 made the Chinese realise the value of having a willing Pakistan in tow to meet its desire to have a foothold in South Asia in the north-west of India and also to acquire access to the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf by acquiring interests in the Gwadar port. In geopolitical terms, Pakistan is more sure of Chinese support than of the United States, and its relations with Washington are primarily meant to acquire more tanks, aircraft and other wherewithal wanted by the generals sitting merrily on a pile of nuclear weapons.

Dilip Hiro is a good student of geo-politics, but needs to go into greater  detail of how the Sino-Pakistan relationship became deep over the years and has become a major complicating factor in South Asia, Central Asia and the Persian Gulf. Maybe, the Chinese sources were difficult to tap for more information by the writer.

The acquisition and development of nuclear weapons and missiles have led Pakistan to launch a proxy war against India in Jammu and Kashmir. The terrorist attack on Indian Parliament in December 2001,  terrorist strikes in Bombay on November 26, 2008, and the Kaluchuk and recent Pathankot attacks by terrorist groups and jihadi outfits have been actively supported by the Pakistani establishment. They invariably get away after launching attacks on targets in India. The author expresses worry about how close these attacks twice led to India’s mobilisation of troops along its border with Pakistan.

But the writer has not examined the question that what can happen if Pakistan’s impressive nuclear weaponary falls into the hands of terrorist groups or the so-called non-state actors. They could use these for blackmailing India and the rest of the world. Terrorism and nuclear weapons are a most dangerous mix for Pakistan to sit on.

By HK Dua

HK Dua is advisor to ORF, a New Delhi think tank. Earlier, he has been a Member of Parliament, Editor of The Hindustan Times, The Indian Express, The Tribune and editorial advisor to The Times of India.

He has also been media advisor to the Prime Minister and an ambassador

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