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April - May 2005


Political News

Understanding Pakistan's India Policy, Past and Present

by Sashanka Sekhar Banerjee


The characteristic feature of Pakistan’s India Policy from the day it was created on August 14, 1947 by the British Colonial Office in London has been that of gratuitous belligerence.

Pakistan was carved out of India ostensibly to serve as the homeland of the Muslims of the sub-continent. The two-nation theory of Mohammad Ali Jinnah which provided the ideological underpinning of Pakistan in a curious fall-out redefined the civilisational exclusivism of Islam and gave birth to religious intolerance and extremism for the first time in modern world history. Political Islam thus found a new place of importance and became a key source of power and influence in the geo-politics of the entire region stretching from Central Asia to South Asia and beyond.

Maulana Abul Ala Maududi, trained in Deoband in India – an important centre of Islamic learning and scholarship - who later migrated to Pakistan, was a highly respected scholar of Islamic history, The Holy Quran and The Hadees. The founding of the Jamaat-e-Islami, a fundamentalist Islamic organisation whose aim among others was to transform the Indian sub-continent into a region ruled by Islamic Sharia Law, was his brain child. His writings are widely read in Pakistan to this day. He is the original ideologue of Pakistani fundamentalism.

The Generals of the Pakistan Army, finding the thoughts of Maududi politically useful, moulded the Pakistani State and Society in his Deobandi image just as the Saudi Royal family shaped Saudi State and Society in Wahabi theology. The Wahabism as practised in Saudi Arabia is a kindred tenet of Deobandi version of Islam. What turned out to be a matter of great strategic significance was that the political contacts between the two schools of religious thought were initially forged mainly through the good offices of Maulana Maududi who also unwittingly became the un-official ambassador playing a key role in establishing close ties between the Governments of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia on the common bond of Islam.

Maulana Maududi’s ideology remains marginalised in India, the home of the second largest Muslim population in the world, of 150 million savouring a democratic way of life unknown in most of the Islamic world.

The Generals of the Pakistan Army armed with Deobandi Islamic ideology wanted a political space for themselves in Pakistani theocracy. A long-term threat perception from across the border was what was needed to justify such a place for themselves. The slogan adopted was that Hindu India was out to destroy Pakistan. India’s secularism, so the argument went, was a ploy and a conspiracy to destabilise Pakistan. School textbooks taught students in Pakistan that Muslims in India were an oppressed lot. Only an Army-ruled Pakistan could defend the Islamic nation from the infidel enemy and protect the interests of the Muslims in India. Kashmir came in handy. The Kashmir issue was elevated to the status of a “Dispute” and became over the years “the core issue” in the political armoury of Pakistan Army.

The need to keep the Army as the key ruling political institution of the nation and the long-term aim to tear Kashmir out of India and absorb it into Pakistan, became the two pillars on which are founded Pakistan’s India Policy and its unending hostility towards India. It would perhaps have been a different story altogether if democracy had taken root in Pakistan and the country was ruled by a system of governance that was accountable to the people.

Then there was the cold war. As history progressed through the treacherous minefields of military alliances like the Cento and Seato put in place in the nineteen-fifties, forged by the US-led collective security alliance system against international communism meaning the Soviet Union and China - bracketing India with them, seen as guilty by association - Muslim Pakistan, already a full fledged member of these military alliances became the fountainhead of Islamic fundamentalism in the region, threatening the security not only of the Muslim southern flank of the Soviet Union but also India. Thus unfolded the great game of the cold war in the Central and South Asian regions. These developments heralded the beginning of an era of instability in the entire region.

This phase of Pakistani military diplomacy, which began with the tribal invasion of Kashmir in 1947 lasted till the Bangladesh War of 1971.

In 1947 a tribal invasion of the State of Jammu and Kashmir backed by Pakistan Army – then not so well-equipped - was spearheaded mainly by the Waziris of South Waziristan and helped by other Pakistani tribesmen. As the Indian Army stepped in, in a swift clean up operation, India’s Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, halfway on the path of progress, declared a unilateral cease fire along an ethnic fault line in the State. This controversial decision left nearly half of the territory of the State of Jammu and Kashmir under the occupation of Pakistan. What came to be known as Pakistan Occupied Kashmir in India or Azad Kashmir in Pakistan arguably was the Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s gift to the Generals of Pakistan Army. In this adventure, Pakistan Army’s role was limited to no more than loose operational control from the distance of the GHQ. The Army was not directly involved in the fighting.

In 1971 Pakistan lost its Eastern Wing, with a humiliating surrender ceremony on December 16 in Dhaka and the capture of 93,000 Pakistani POWs by India. During these 24 years the Pakistan Army on its own failed to occupy and retain even one inch of territory in Kashmir.

The loss of East Pakistan was the result of a gargantuan mess created by the military dictator General Yahya Khan. Brutal repression of the Bengali speaking East Pakistanis by the military led to a popular revolt and a liberation struggle ending in the creation of Bangladesh helped by India’s military intervention. It was left to Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto a politician with democratic credentials to retrieve for Pakistan at least some honour out of the military humiliation. He quietly released Mujibur Rahman the Bangladesh leader from captivity in Islamabad immediately after the war, something that was much appreciated in New Delhi, and went on to demand the release of the POWs as a quid pro quo. He successfully and with dignity secured the release of the POWs in a reciprocal gesture from India and took the soldiers back home to a discreet and a happy welcome.

At the India-Pakistan talks held in Simla in 1972, Mrs Indira Gandhi had suggested to convert the LOC into an international border. Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto chose to spurn the offer leaving the much-hyped Simla Conference inconclusive. According to critics, Indira Gandhi won the war against Pakistan in the battlefields but lost the peace in her diplomatic encounters with the wily Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto . I regret the discourtesy to the mandarins of the Ministry of External Affairs of the Government of India, but cannot help commenting that the Simla Agreement was a monumental failure of Indian diplomacy. In fact I find no justification for India to harp on Simla Agreement time and again. It would have been better for India to make the Tashkent Agreement signed after the 1965 War as the reference point for a solution of the Kashmir problem. An historic opportunity was lost in 1972 in Simla. The Kashmir problem remained unresolved for India with the potential for exploitation by interested parties in the international community. On his part, Bhutto - said to be a “kathputli” or a puppet at the hands of the powerful generals - betrayed a serious lack of strategic vision by not putting his foot down at the moment of their weakness. He kept Kashmir festering, a bread and butter issue for the Pakistan Army, ensuring the return of the generals once again to a central role in Pakistani political life. Additionally Bhutto also lost a golden opportunity to curb the power of Army as the controlling political institution of the nation. His failure was a great disservice to democracy in Pakistan. I have no doubt that history will hold him responsible for condemning the people of Pakistan to suffer so much and for so long under the boot straps of Pakistani military dictatorship. Had he agreed to Indira Gandhi’s proposal to convert the LOC into an international border at that time, ensuring a minimalist settlement of the Kashmir problem, at least his life would have been spared.

Following his return to Pakistan after the Simla Agreement was pencilled, Bhutto’s stridency and triumphalism knew no bounds. He declared that Pakistan was ready to fight a thousand years war with India, adding that the people of Pakistan were prepared to eat grass but would make the atom bomb to defend itself against its enemy Hindu India. His description of Pakistan’s atom bomb project as the Islamic Bomb had a wider strategic content, the significance of which has not perhaps been appreciated fully in India and the world as of yet. If press reports are to be believed Bhutto involved Iran, Iraq, Libya, Saudi Arabia and others in the Islamic World as fund providers for the bomb project.

Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto lost power to General Zia ul Huq in a military coup and was later hanged in 1977 after a short show trial on flimsy grounds. Bhutto could not have been hanged without the approval of General Zia ul Huq, the Pakistani Military Dictator. At least it underscored a point forcefully made to all future democratic civilian leaders in Pakistan not to dabble with Kashmir, as Bhutto had done in Simla. Was it that Bhutto was personally ready to accept the LOC proposal made by Indira Gandhi in Simla to turn it into an international border but was shot down angrily as unacceptable by the General Headquarters of the Pakistan Army in Rawalpindi ? The punishment for such audacity was hanging. Kashmir is a matter that can be handled exclusively by the Army and not by any body else.

The Kargil adventure planned and executed in 1999 across the LOC by General Pervez Musharraf when he was the Chief of Army Staff under Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif , apart from other reasons, had a subtle nuclear dimension to it. Pakistan had tested its nuclear bombs in 1998 followed by a declaration that Islamabad would build and maintain a minimum nuclear deterrence against India and will be ready to use it on a “first use” formula, if and when the need arose. The Kargil intrusions took place within a year after the nuclear tests. Apparently the Army had calculated that India would refrain from taking counter military action against a weaponised nuclear state that Pakistan was now. The thinking was that New Delhi would rather lose territory than run the gauntlet of a nuclear exchange that Pakistan was threatening all the time. Kargil would then be presented to the nation as a great victory of the Army and a fitting revenge against the enemy. The US President Bill Clinton had warned the world of a looming nuclear catastrophe if an India-Pakistan War broke out. He was basing his warnings on Pakistani threats of dire consequences if India responded militarily. As it turned out the threats were empty and carried no substance. The Indian military response was overwhelming. Kargil thus became a test case about defining the word minimum. How much minimum was the minimum nuclear deterrence. Pakistan found it to its regret that the minimum deterrence was not minimum enough at the time of Kargil. The misadventure ended in a humiliation for Pakistan Army losing to India every inch of the territory it had occupied clandestinely. The lesson learnt by the GHQ in Rawalpindi was that India would not suffer loss of territory under any circumstances. New Delhi has suffered attrition or loss of lives and held back military response but has never tolerated territorial loss to Pakistan except in the wake of the extraordinary circumstances of the tribal invasion of 1948. In the Kargil conflict India is said to have lost 500 men while Pakistan suffered losses upto 3500 of its troops.

When New Delhi militarily responded by deploying about 800,000 Indian Army troops along the LOC and the international border after the terrorist attacks on Parliament in New Delhi on December 13, 2001, but refrained from crossing the Line, it was a sure sign that the much vaunted minimum nuclear deterrence was now established . New Delhi was not prepared to take any risk. It however claimed bravely that “coercive diplomacy” through troop deployment had fully achieved the desired result without waging war. The level of terrorist violence however refused to subside after the withdrawal of Indian troops proving the vacuity of the Indian claims. India however succeeded in securing from General Musharraf a promise made in January 2002 “ We reject terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. Pakistan will not allow its territory to be used for terrorism within and outside its borders.” The good general’s promise to curb terrorism left unchanged Pakistan’s traditional position that “ Freedom struggle in Kashmir was not Terrorism.” The question that remains unanswered is that if India knew that going to War with nuclear Pakistan was so risky, what was the need to deploy the Indian Army so massively and expensively against which there was nothing worthwhile to show, except a promise from Musharraf which was never kept ?

Two other consequences followed Kargil. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s intervention brought out an important commitment made by the US President Bill Clinton in the Clinton-Sharif Communique of July 4, 1999 calling on Pakistan to maintain “ the sanctity of the LOC ” and its army troops to vacate the aggression and return to their bases. General Pervez Musharraf who is never tired of saying that “ the LOC is part of the problem and therefore it cannot be the solution ”, may please note particularly in the context of Principal-Client relationship Islamabad has with Washington. The US is also now stuck with its commitment to the sanctity of the LOC as the solution to the Kashmir problem.

It was also a repetition of a familiar story. Nawaz Sharif lost his job like Bhutto in a military coup. He was lucky to have a strong circle of friends in Washington and Riyadh which helped him to escape the noose. He was exiled to Saudi Arabia with a condition that he would not participate in Pakistani politics for at least 10 years. The similarities are amazing. Nawaz Sharif too, like Bhutto, got his punishment for dabbling with Kashmir, the exclusive preserve of the Army.

The Bangladesh War introduced a new element in Pakistani belligerence towards India. Islamabad must seek “Revenge” against India and redeem its honour. Plans to destabilise India started in right earnest. It began with material support to Sikh separatism, including the provision of funding and training of terror gangs. Fanning insurgency in Kashmir was the next on the agenda.

The new mile stone was set by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan on December 24, 1979. The 10-year US-led war against the Soviet occupation forces in Afghanistan generated billions of unaccounted and uncounted CIA and Pentagon funded US dollars pouring into Pakistan. It transformed a pariah President Zia ul Huq - who had come to be known as the judicial murderer of Bhutto - to the status of a trusted ally of Washington. According to unconfirmed reports circulating in the seventies and eighties of the last century among the gliterratti and the chaterrati in Pakistan and elsewhere that General Zia used some of the hot money that he had received during the Afghan War from the US and Saudi Arabia to build a long-term net-work of supporters in the US political and military establishments and the security community for future use. A large number of the officers who had served in Pakistan during the Afghan war have since climbed to senior and powerful positions in the US administration and have become capable of influencing policy making.

The author is a political analyst and commentator

The full version of this article is available in the print edition.

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