Redefining national interest

The elusive quest for peace between India and Pakistan remains hostage to the military-industrial complex at both the global and regional levels. Such is the dynamic unleashed by two imagined ‘nations’ that their existence as states is dependent on a perpetual state of confrontation. More so for Pakistan, given its deeply embedded paranoia, which has assumed a reality of its own. Sixty-two years ago, it was hardly envisioned that the two states would erect an iron-curtain and fight forever. From actual wars to propaganda campaigns the task seems complete now. The oft-repeated phrase ‘trust deficit’ is a natural culmination of this ugly process. Of late, another dimension has been added, i.e. information-deficit as India had marched towards a new phase of its economic development, it has stopped taking interest in transitional Pakistani society and kept the time-warped framework of understanding Pakistan. However, the situation cannot remain static. Policymakers are slow to catch up on both the sides.

Mumbai factor: Twenty months ago, the Mumbai attacks changed the atmosphere created by President Zardari’s unprecedented offers of peace, dialogue and cooperation. The day Zardari made his remarks in a conclave organised by the Hindustan Times in 2008, many observers saw a Mumbai coming. The jihadis of Pakistan and perhaps their counterparts in India were quick to stop this process. Ironic that PPP, a party fed on the Pakistani nationalist rhetoric, thirty years down the road had read the writing on the wall. Pakistan’s future and survival is dependent on a reduction of hostilities with India. More importantly, this also holds the key to correcting the endemic civil-military imbalance.

Zardari’s stride: Why would a national security state apparatus bloated by an Indian threat not react to Zardari’s statements: “I do not feel threatened by India and India should not feel threatened from us…today we have a parliament which is already pre-agreed upon a friendly relationship with India. In spite of our disputes, we have a great future together.” As if this was not enough, Zardari declared that Pakistan will not be the first country to use its nuclear weapons, thus undermining a carefully constructed Pakistani nuclear doctrine of first-use.

The acts of terror telecast live for more than two days stirred the public imagination in India far beyond what is understood in Pakistan. The stereotypes of Pakistan, Muslims and their faith came into play and a hysterical media added to the worst kind of paranoia. Pakistan, on the other hand, was also shaken by Mumbai. Our media also played up the war mantra with TV shows dedicated to the readiness for a nuclear confrontation and crank calls to the Presidency spelling war. Public opinion rallied behind the Pakistan Army which had lost considerable ground due to the street agitation against General Musharraf and widespread anti-Americanism.

Truncated dialogue: All hopes for a meaningful engagement with India therefore were dashed to ground. A consensus prime minister, a powerful Presidency and a political consensus on making peace with India was scuttled in 72 hours after the attack. The attacks achieved the exact objective with which they were enacted. Perhaps, the odd gap in an otherwise well-devised and efficiently executed plan in the form of a lone survivor – Ajmal Kasab – of Pakistani nationality fired Indian public opinion as never before. This time, allegedly, a war had entered Indian homes and bazaars.

The emergence of anti-terrorism as a single point agenda sat well with the global focus and merged into the ‘truths’ manufactured by the international media and the war industry about Pakistan. The logjam was broken due to Manmohan Singh’s feeble efforts against a belligerent public mood and hawkish state machinery. It has taken a year to get to this point and failure remains a distinct possibility.

Pakistan under threat: In part, the Pakistani establishment (which includes the free courts) has not done the needful in arresting and combating the jihad factory directed towards India. On India’s part, it has also displayed indifference to the challenges which the fragile civilian government and the Army face in tackling the northwestern insurgencies. It is no longer fair to say that all militancy and jihadism is state sanctioned. The Islamist militants are on an all-out war against Pakistan and have taken the fight against the state of Pakistan to a new level by terrorising the civilian population.

Afghan endgame: The US factor, though not apparent, is now a driver of change in the India-Pakistan matrix. A workable Afghan solution cannot be devised without the active cooperation of India and Pakistan and if they refuse to talk to each other, a US exit from Afghanistan will lead to a proxy war within Afghanistan that spells doom for the region and perhaps the globe.

This is why India’s powerful Home Minister Chidambram visited Islamabad and sought assurances on potential action against the alleged Mumbai perpetrators. Confidence building measures have been talked about and the Indian Foreign Secretary was unusually positive in her last visit to Islamabad. But the central issue of Mumbai remains as it can put the Indian elected government’s credibility into question. On the other hand, the desire of Indian policy makers to achieve a faster growth rate is also influencing the peace process. The military has been in charge of the India policy in Pakistan, and the civilian government, far too pressed with its survival, has easily given away this critical policy initiative.

States under siege: Krishna-Qureshi talks need to be reviewed in the larger context of the way the Indian and Pakistani states function and the way they reinforce vested interests. The fact that Krishna had to take counsel from Delhi and Qureshi regurgitated the national security line is demonstrative of the fact that we lack a political initiative. Dr Singh is not powerful enough and remains subservient to the large party machine and of course the establishment that also rules India due to its permanence. In Pakistan, Zardari is discredited thanks to a national security obsessed media and Gilani with all his powers knows the limits of his control over foreign policy.

In this environment, the mere fact that a dialogue is taking place is nearly miraculous. It needs to be welcomed and before it is shunned as a non-starter, we have to consider the binding constraints within which the two states are operating. Hawks have had a field day in India and Pakistan after the inconclusive Krishna-Qureshi parleys. But they were surely intense and in a short span of six weeks, the high level elected officials have met twice. No breakthrough is likely but the stalemate has been broken.

Status quo machinery: The tragedy that the people of this region face is that they remain subjects of two cracking states that have failed to reform after 62 years. The outmoded bureaucracies are incapable of identifying creative solutions. The peace enterprise therefore is bound to fail if it is handled by status quo-ist bureaucratic structures. This is why the repeated references to resuming composite dialogue are neither here not there. Regional geopolitics is now driving the peace process. Paradoxically, the domestic constituencies for confrontation will have to take a backseat as India and Pakistan both cannot afford to lose out from the Afghanistan endgame.

Peace is in Pakistan’s interest: Pakistan can only benefit from peace dividends if its outdated security doctrine is revised. It is unfortunate that despite being sandwiched between two giant economies, it is facing a meltdown. More crucially, Indian growth is a chance for the Pakistani state to take full advantage of the economic opportunities. We know that the Army is concerned with the economy and it would suit its long term interests if Pakistan gains from trade and energy cooperation due to the mammoth Indian market.

Secondly, the Pakistan Army along with the civilian government has to fight a medium term battle with the home-grown militancy. Despite the semi-convincing conspiracy theories, Pakistan’s enemies lie within. The Army leadership has shown its understanding and resolve to tackle this problem, as is evident from the shifts since last year. Why should the Eastern border divert its energies and attention if there can be a peaceful settlement with India? Focus is what we need at this juncture and militant groups are now a direct threat to state power (read the Army).

Lastly, while no one disputes the validity of the Kashmir issue, it would be far better that Pakistani state consolidates the federation by alleviating the Baloch problem. Accusing India of stirring an insurgency is not enough when Pakistan is yet to bring evidence in the public domain. And, if there is such interference, then it is all the more a reason to negotiate in the context of an Afghanistan settlement with international arbiters.

Indian imperatives for peace: On the Indian side, it is clear that India’s dream of becoming another China cannot be realised without peace in the region. Similarly, the Indian state is already mired in the Naxal and Maoist rebellions, and cannot afford to have another front open. Furthermore, a workable solution on Kashmir with Pakistan’s consent can be a befitting response to another Intifada in the Valley. Back channel diplomacy had already reached a solution of sorts.

Paradigm shifts needed: All of this requires changing the definitions of security and national interest in Pakistan. In India, it requires liberating Pakistan policy from the hawks in the bureaucracy, former generals and RAW officials, who are makeshift Pakistan experts. The understanding on Pakistan needs an urgent review in India, as it remains stuck in the Pakistan-is-about-to-collapse discourse.

There is simply no alternative to information flow and dismantling the iron curtain. Let the disputes remain, but allow media access across the borders. Let the legislators take the lead and ask the Foreign Office mandarins to take a backseat. Trade and political compacts shall take care of the peace process. History teaches us that the pursuit of rational self interest is the key to progress. Annihilation is the fate of irrational states.

Raza Rumi is a writer and policy expert based in Lahore. He blogs at; and manages Pak Tea House and Lahore Nama e-zines. Email:

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