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Pakistan's India policy -Article

ACM Kaleem Saadat

Like most Pakistani citizens, I am always intrigued by Pakistan’s India Policy-if there is an India policy indeed. Pakistani governments are not good at formulating and pursuing policies to their logical conclusions in general and in fact, in most domains, the ministers don’t even bother about policy matters. In our scheme of things, elections are all about being able to become a minister and then serving the interest of the party leadership, and their own near and dear ones. The interest of the public at large or the state is limited to public statements and TV talk shows. However, there are some ministries, like Foreign Affairs, Defence and Interior etc that cannot afford to twiddle their thumbs even if they want to because of the sheer momentum of events. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs may not want to schedule events but there are other countries and agencies, with which they deal with, do so the Foreign Office(FO) has to prepare to participate in conferences and forums where they are invited. That is not to say that there is no work being done at the Foreign Office-certainly, people go to their offices, where their superiors ask for reports and briefs on issues they are confronted with but the citizenry’s concern is with what results are yielded by the activities that take place at the FO. To be fair to the FO, they have not been allowed to play their due role in using diplomacy as an element of national power. The civilian governments have been guilty of apathy towards them while the military ones have tended to disregard their advice or not felt the need to seek any. Thus, the blame for the lack of effectiveness of our foreign policy lies with political leadership- both civil and military- of Pakistan.

Our foreign friends think that we are obsessed with India and need to ‘normalize’ relations with them. Till recently we were, in fact, obsessed with external security matters and India has been, and continues to be, the main actor in the region, yet we continued to behave in a reactive manner. Three discernible strands of our policy were to: seek a solution of the Kashmir problem, secure peace with all our neighbours and enhance trade with them for the benefit of our people. Since India dominates the sub-continent with its physical size, population and economic strength, no progress can be achieved without arriving at an arrangement of peaceful and good-neighbourly co-existence. The Indian leadership and public opinion thinks that the settlement of the Kashmir Issue, according to the wishes of the Kashmiri and Pakistani people, is an insurmountable hurdle in the way of Pakistan- India friendship or even absence-of- hostility. The two countries consistently keep accusing each other of interfering in their internal affairs.

As a nation, we are fond of believing that the whole world is against us and that conspiracies are continuously hatched to keep us unstable politically and economically and to deny us what may be rightfully ours. Historians have given a name to such activities and efforts i.e. the ‘great game(s)’. They have been a constant of the march of history. Through millennia, nations have considered political and economic gain or influence to be a zero sum game. One’s own loss is the competitor’s gain and vice versa. To get an advantage, requires will, competence, diligence and persistence and unfortunately, our governments have proven that we don’t have these qualities in abundance. The other missing link is the absence of nationally-agreed vision and objectives. Thus, without this foundation a superstructure of a nation cannot be built. Policy-making and surviving in a competitive world are, therefore daunting challenges for us.

Returning to the subject, what are the major planks of our policy vis-a-vis India? What is apparent is the policy basket called ‘composite dialogue’. The intent of this approach was to avoid fixation with ‘an’ issue but to progressively resolve those ones which are less intractable. In reality, it has meant playing at the periphery without ever coming to the core of the problem(s). The process is so cumbersome that while the effort was to solve the Sir Creek and Siachen issues, new problems of Wullar barrage and Kishanganga dam have been added to the list. Then there are additional speed-breakers along the road to reconciliation. There was Kargil, the assault on Indian Parliament, the Samjhota Express deaths, and the Mumbai massacre. Pakistan has now raised, belatedly, the case of Indian support for the militancy and insurgency in Swat and FATA regions of Pakistan. So the quest for peace and settlement of outstanding issues has degenerated into holding talks about what talks can be held, if at all.

It is of course foolish to expect the Indians to yield space or cede ground voluntarily, but what is consternating is the helplessness and desperation shown by our successive governments by begging India, for talks, and the Friends of Pakistan, to intervene on our behalf and coax India to come to the negotiating table. Our policy-makers surely know the realities of power. Will a stronger country yield and give up territory to another country? Is there a hope of getting more of Kashmir than what we already have? Will our public be ready to accept something less than what we have of Kashmir? Is time on our side or that of our adversary? Does Pakistan need more people and territory when it cannot take care of what it already has? Shouldn’t we maintain our dignity by not begging for talks? And finally, is the situation hopeless? I am sure that the FO has considered these questions and formulated a policy based on the answers that they may have come up with. Begging India for a composite dialogue is definitely not a good policy or strategy.

For Pakistan to be able to negotiate fruitfully, it has to demonstrate that it is a functioning country with a Govt in control. That does not seem to be the case at the present time, consequently the disdainful attitude adopted by the Indian Govt. Negotiations and dialogues are always successful from a position of strength. Strength, however, does not come from the size and population of a country but by the collective output of these two elements of national power. Our human resource is good but the political, social and the economic system does not enable it to be as productive as it can be. Isolated successes in the nuclear and missile technology domain or the odd success on the cricket field are not the standards by which we should judge our successes. In the case of the former, it has been achieved at an exorbitant cost and in the case of the latter, an occasional and rare professional performance by our team combined with the failure of the competitors, were responsible for the success. On the internet, one receives mails from optimistic individuals about how beautiful and successful Pakistan is but unfortunately, all those photos are either of our scenic northern areas which we neither created, nor developed them to make them a tourist attraction or a money earner, or of colonial- and Mughal-era architecture, which again we inherited. One is almost ashamed of the hoardings that adorn our Constitution and Jinnah Avenues in Islamabad, as they just show some artisan working on his handicraft or his final product and that is supposed to be our window to the world after 62 years of our existence. Yes , in the recent past we have created some good road infrastructure but that was because there was money to be spent(easily by the Govt) and made(easily, again by connected individuals), while a more sensible solution would have been to create and run a dependable public transport system to reduce congestion on urban roads, but the latter solution required painstaking planning, administering and execution, which would have stretched beyond the tenure of office of the incumbent office holders, who would not have gained from the benefits of such decision-making.

The point that is being made is that a government that is not responsive (to the needs of the people) and accountable (to them), will never be effective and would remain weak at any negotiating platform. Thus, we should first sort out our other problems with the right prioritization and then think of solving the Kashmir issue. From a position of weakness, we have been continuously ceding ground and concessions to the Indians while they have not shown a corresponding or proportional flexibility. Whatever we have, we can do a lot with it for the betterment of our people. Once we are able to give to our people a per capita income and a standard of living higher than that of the average Indian, we would have a case for the people of Indian Held Kashmir wanting to unite with Pakistan. That can come about only as result of good governance and by getting good value for budgetary resources expended on development and social services’ schemes. As long as the largesse of the state is doled out to a few on the basis of political affiliations, we would continue to alienate the large majority of citizens who find themselves on the wrong side of the political divide and without hope. Consequently, we seem to be failing both on the internal and external front.


Air Chief Marshal Kaleem Saadat,


03 May 10


The writer is a former Chief of the Air Staff and current Chairman of the 'Thinkers Forum.Pakistan'.


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