Failure is rooted in the national narrative both sides have built for themselves, a narrative that is devoid of historical and geopolitical realities
The Indo-Pak National Security Advisors’ (NSA’) level talks have failed even before commencing. The blame game continues and, in all honesty, both sides are to be blamed for this failure. In the present round, Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif set the tone for failure when he agreed, in Ufa, for the NSA level talks to be centred on terrorism alone. He should have known that this is a position he can neither sell to the country’s security establishment nor get away with in the presence of a hyperactive, ratings-driven media.
On its part, the Modi regime in India contributed fully to ensure that Nawaz’s initiation of failure headed for an all-out failure. And the pretext this time was Pakistani NSA’s (Sartaj Aziz) meeting with the Hurriyat Conference. India took the position that there would be no talks if Sartaj Aziz planned on holding a meeting with the Hurriyat leadership. When this did not budge Pakistan, the Indian government started arresting members of the Hurriyat leadership. This escalated the issue and forced Pakistan to toughen its stance with renewed emphasis on talks being focused on all outstanding issues, including Kashmir. India refused to change the agenda from the one agreed to in Ufa and, thus, Pakistan officially decided to call off the meeting.
Dissecting the saga, on Pakistan’s part it really baffles one why Nawaz Sharif is so insistent on engaging with Indians when Pakistan can live without. On India’s part, it is a comic rationale that any fruitful engagement between the two countries is possible without tackling the elephant in the room, Kashmir. Indians and Pakistanis have been confronting each other for seven decades now, which means seven decades of engagement. They understand the relative power of the other, internal power dynamics and their positions. Keeping in view all of this, it feels absurd that both sides keep going back to much-hyped about, high-level, public engagements that are bound to fail. The obvious answer that comes to one’s mind is international pressure. But, then again, one wonders why those who are the masters of this world’s destiny cannot understand that keeping in view the ground realities, any Indo-Pak negotiation is bound to fail. This failure is rooted in the national narrative both sides have built for themselves, a narrative that is devoid of historical and geopolitical realities. Unless and until both sides simultaneously scrap this flawed narrative, there can be no fruitful engagement between the two.
In the case of Pakistan, the narrative has been built of an Islamic fiefdom inhabited by racially superior Muslims who ruled the subcontinent for around a millennium owing to their superiority and are bound to dominate the region. The country was created to be a land that would serve as a laboratory for an Islamic empire. This theory, championed by the clergy post-partition and adopted by the state under General Sher Ali Khan’s patronage in the late 1960s, has crafted a narrative that shapes Pakistan’s regional and global view, its regional ambitions and its security policy. What the Two Nation Theory does for Pakistan, Nehru’s Discovery of India, Glimpses of World History does for India. This work of fiction has many flaws but its biggest flaw is that it portrays India as a political union rooted in history that has as its destiny to be a global power. This is as far from historical truth as one can get.
Pakistan’s creation had a religious community angle to it but, above all, it was a regional autonomy drive of regions that lay on the periphery of the subcontinent with a Muslim majority. The regions had a history of resisting Delhi or Maratha encroachments and, in case of western regions, had stronger cultural and trade ties with Central Asia and Persia. On the other hand, India has never been a political union and three attempts to make it such — by Asoka, Aurangzeb and the Brits — have led to massive chaos and bloodshed in the aftermath. A wiser decision may have been to have a loose confederation of autonomous states/regions with a common market (and if one looks at Jinnah’s politics, this is what he had been vying for till the failure of the Cabinet Mission Plan). But it was not to be. As a result, we sustained the communal division of the subcontinent into two political entities that did not have any historical precedence, which had to revert to a national narrative, far from history.
To feed this narrative, both sides abide in a world of fiction. For instance, Pakistan treats its military might as if it is the military might of a global power. Look at all the symbolism around the armed forces here and it reminds one of Top Gun and Mission Impossible. On the other hand, India acts as if it is a global power, threatening Pakistan with unilateral strikes like the ones carried out by the US against its targets without realising that it is a country with the highest number of poor people in the world and is far from being a global superpower without the muscle or capability to carry out such attacks and live with their aftermath. Both states, in their national narratives, forget that they are not the US nor will be any time soon; even if, by some stroke of luck, one of them becomes the US, it would still not have the geographical advantage that the US enjoys.
This comedy of errors will lead to every Indo-Pak engagement failing. So, probably it is time for India and Pakistan to start acting with indifference to each other. India has a vast east in the Pacific century. Pakistan has Central Asia and the Middle East to create markets. It is time both forget about the other and focus on uplifting world’s largest pool of underprivileged human being through economic activity elsewhere.
The author can be reached on twitter at @aalimalik