A friend of mine from Pakistan, who literally spends his time 24x7 attempting to build a constructive relationship between his country and ours, was in Delhi the morning after Rajyavardhan Rathore and Manohar Parrikar had displayed, if not their 56-inch chests (which they do not have, whatever their hashtag), but, at any rate, the hair on their chests, in an infantile effort to prove that if we can intrude a few kilometres into the wilderness of the west Myanmar jungle, Pakistan (and China) had better watch out.
The Chinese have dismissed this childishness with the contempt it deserves. Pakistan has reacted with outrage. After all, that part of China where Rathore and Parrikar are threatening to ingress is where, as Pandit Nehru memorably and accurately put it, a region "where not a blade of grass grows". Much of the India-Pakistan border, unlike the India-Myanmar border, is heavily populated. Little wonder the Pakistani reaction has been so sharp.
My friend shook his head sadly and remarked that in the face of Modi's hostility, space was rapidly shrinking for Pakistan's peace constituency, which, under Manmohan Singh's regime had grown exponentially, notwithstanding 26/11. The tone now, he said, is being set by the Jama'at-e-Islami, a party that has never won more than a couple of seats in any election but disproportionately influences public opinion when animosity is provoked.
Coincidentally, the week that saw the rumpus was witness also to the launch in India of Christophe Jaffrelot's magnum opus, The Pakistan Paradox: Instability and Resilience. Jaffrelot, French by nationality but with academic positions at the Sorbonne, in London and in Princeton, is increasingly being recognized as the West's foremost scholar of politics and society in contemporary India and Pakistan. This work is 700 pages long but to understand its essence, it is not necessary to go beyond the three words of its sub-title: Instability and Resilience. No one needs to be educated on Pakistan's chronic instability, but Jaffrelot's innovative angle lies in also recognizing Pakistan's amazing "resilience".
Jaffrelot, in another work, spiritedly described the ethos of Pakistan as "Nationalism without a Nation"! Here he argues that notwithstanding all the problems of nation-building that have beset Pakistan since its conception and, increasingly, since its sudden and blood-soaked inception as an independent state in 1947, unlike numerous other emerging nations, particularly in Africa, the Idea of Pakistan has repeatedly trumped fissiparous tendencies, especially since Pakistan assumed its present form in 1971. And its institutions have withstood repeated buffeting that almost anywhere elsewhere would have resulted in the State crumbling. Despite numerous dire forecasts of imminently proving to be a "failed state", Pakistan has survived, bouncing back every now and then as a recognizable democracy with a popularly elected civilian government, the military in the wings but politics very much centre-stage, linguistic and regional groups pulling and pushing, sectarian factions murdering each other, but the Government of Pakistan remaining in charge, and the military stepping in to rescue the nation from chaos every time Pakistan appeared on the knife's edge. The disintegration of Pakistan has been predicted often enough, most passionately now that internally-generated terrorism and externally sponsored religious extremism are consistently taking on the state to the point that the army is so engaged in full-time and full-scale operations in the north-west of the country bordering Afghanistan that some 40,000 lives have been lost in the battle against fanaticism and insurgency.
"And yet," as was said on a more famous occasion, "it works!" Pakistan and her people keep coming back, resolutely defeating sustained political, armed and terrorist attempts to break down the country and undermine its ideological foundations. That is what Jaffrelot calls its "resilience". That resilience is not recognized in Modi's India. That is what leads the Rathores and the Parrikars to make statements that find a certain resonance in anti-Pakistan circles in India but dangerously leverage the impact on Pakistani public opinion of anti-India circles in Pakistan. The Parrikars and the Saeeds feed on each other. It is essential that both be overcome.
But even as there are saner voices in India than Rathore's, so also are there saner - much saner - voices in Pakistan than Hafiz Saeed's. Many Indians would prefer a Pakistan overflowing with Saeeds to keep their bile flowing. So would many Pakistanis prefer an India with the Rathores overflowing to keep the bile flowing. At eight times Pakistan's size, we can flex our muscles like the bully on the school play field. But Pakistan's resilience ensures that all that emerges from Parrikar and Rathore are empty words. India is no more able than Pakistan is to destroy the other country.
Except by resort to nuclear weapons that will destroy both. Musharraf bluntly recognized this when he threatened nuclear war in response to Parrikar's boasts. Fortunately, most Pakistanis dismiss their Musharrafs as hollow vessels making the most noise. There is, nevertheless, a real danger - for it would take only one madman, a Muslim or a Hindu Dr. Strangelove, to turn forever the world's most populated region into a nuclear wasteland.
We must settle, not aggravate, our differences. Of course, there are formidable hurdles in the way. But no more formidable than between the West and the Communists in Korea or Vietnam, or Cuba or Nicaragua, or apartheid South Africa or Namibia / Angola / Mozambique, or Iran and the US, or Iran and Saudi Arabia, or Syria, or Palestine. In all these cases, including with the Taliban in Qatar, the negotiating table is the last field of battle.
We have been to war with Pakistan three times in seven decades. Skirmishes have been almost continuous. The rhetoric against each other is high-pitched. The trumpets of hate have prevailed over the pleading for peace. Yet, if Kissinger and Le Duc Tho could talk while blasting each other to smithereens, or Kennedy and Khrushchev negotiate their way out of the Cuban missile crisis, what stands in the way of India having the courage to trade charges face-to-face with Pakistan rather than oratorically firing from the shoulders of the Rathores and the Parrikars?
The ending of hostility has never been a condition precedent for effective negotiations. Our insistence on the desired outcome being guaranteed before we even begin to talk is not a sign of strength but a form of cowardice. A real 56-inch foreign policy does not consist of dramatically inviting the enemy to the swearing in, then swearing that talks will be resumed, and then swearing at him for following a practice with the Hurriyat that has been par for the course for the last 15 years. However, that, alas, has been our Pakistan policy in the first year of the Modi government.
I am ashamed, not proud, of a Prime Minister who ostentatiously reads a journal when the Pakistanti PM is passing behind him on his way to the podium at SAARC. A truly courageous Prime Minister would grasp the proffered opportunity and say what he has to say face-to-face, not thunder from an isolated bunker, as Modi and his cohort have been doing. Traipsing around the world is no substitute for earnestly tackling India's most stubborn foreign policy problem - Pakistan.
(Mani Shankar Aiyar is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha.)
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