THE TROUBLED bilateral relationship between India and Pakistan that dates back to August 1947 is now 70 years old. The trajectory includes four wars, including one with a nuclear shadow (Kargil, 1999), and has been the subject of considerable commentary. The book under review is slim, but makes a significant and candid contribution to the existing scholarship on this complex subject.
Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistani ambassador to the US, has a certain premise and a core argument. “Seven decades of separation have created issues and bred psychoses that make it difficult for most people to even remember the unities of the preceding centuries. But why this enmity? And who is to blame? In this book I argue that the responsibility for the present state of affairs lies on both sides of the border (and occasionally third parties), but that it has especially been made tangled by Pakistan’s near pathological obsession with India.”
Pakistan is about one-sixth the size of India and, by every tangible metric of national power—barring the military component—it is a much smaller neighbour, albeit truculent. Yet it seeks an elusive equivalence with India and, here, the role of the external interlocutor, or the ‘third party’ has been an important factor.
Few Pakistani scholars concede this point and Haqqani is an exception. He notes with commendable candour, “For years, the Americans did not realize that enrolling Pakistan as a partner in global strategic ventures buttressed conflict in South Asia. The US provided Pakistan weapons and training, ostensibly to fight international communism even though Pakistan wanted these for its competition with India. Having American backing discouraged Pakistan from negotiating directly with the Indians.”
The Americans are not the only ‘third party’ as far as the India-Pakistan relationship is concerned. China, for its own geopolitical reasons, has chosen to enter into a close strategic embrace with Pakistan, and this is often described in an extreme turn of phrase that ranges from comparing it with the highest mountains to the deepest oceans and such like.
The ‘pathological obsession’ that Haqqani refers to has been compounded by a false narrative about the origins of Pakistan and its Islamic identity that seeks to prioritise the Sunni-Wahabi-Salafi strand of Islam and has made the other sects, first the Ahmadiyyas and now the Shias, targets of such bigotry. In the intervening decades, after the birth of Bangladesh, the gradual Islamisation of Pakistan was taken to extreme lengths by General Zia-ul-Haq. As a result, a theologically motivated military state is now entrenched in Rawalpindi—the GHQ of the Pakistan Army—while Islamabad remains the uneasy civilian capital of the nation.
Many observers of the India-Pakistan relationship are puzzled by the outcome of the 1971 war that saw the birth of Bangladesh. The Indian military victory was decisive and has no parallel in the post-World War II context. Yet India was unable to obtain the political dividend that an emphatic military victory ought to have led to—and Haqqani offers an interesting perspective.
PM Indira Gandhi’s magnanimity at Shimla was misplaced, for the “Pakistanis saw the absence of pressure for a full settlement of Kashmir as an opportunity to keep conflict alive”. And in the years that followed, Pakistan pursued its covert nuclear programme with unwavering determination and intense venom—and that, to me, is the disturbing takeaway from the Haqqani text.
AQ Khan and Samar Mubarakmand, who both claim to be the father of the Pakistani nuclear bomb, have little love for each other, but are united in their deep hatred of India and Indians. Thus, the latter boasts of “Pakistan’s ability to ‘wipe out’ entire India from the subcontinent in few seconds”. It is instructive to note that this visceral hatred for ‘Hindu’ India is shared by many in Pakistan’s nuclear decision-making constituency.
The linkage between this covert nuclear weapon capability and support to terror groups is illuminated persuasively by Haqqani and to his credit—at the risk of endangering his personal safety—he shares certain vignettes that are disturbing. The conversation that the author had with Pakistani ISI chief
Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha in Washington, DC, after the November 2008 Mumbai terror attack is the essence of why India and Pakistan ‘cannot just be friends’.
In his meeting with the CIA, “Pasha admitted that the planners of the Mumbai attacks included some ‘retired army officers’. According to Pasha, the attackers had ISI links, but this had not been an authorized ISI operation.”
The discussion is picked up at ambassador Haqqani’s official residence where Pasha says to the author in Urdu: “Loag hamaray thay, operation hamara nahin thha” (The Mumbai perpetrators were ours, but it was not our operation). Haqqani’s query: “Agar hamaray loag bhi hamaray qaboo mein nahin tau aagay kya hoga?” (If we have no control over our own people, what is our future?).
This remains unanswered, but, alas, the future is grim and Haqqani’s book only reiterates this depressing truth.
C Uday Bhaskar is director, Society for Policy Studies, New Delhi