Follow @southasiaanalys

South Asia Analysis Group

Paper No. 1                                                                                    23/10/1998



Indo-Pak Imbroglio: Prospects of resolution 

by A.K.Verma  

The Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan have met at SAARC Conference in Colombo. Any number of such meetings, between the Prime Ministers, Foreign Ministers, Foreign Secretaries and other dignitaries from the two countries have taken place in the past. Will the outcome of this particular meeting on any substantive matter be any different? The answer can be given: an emphatic "No". 

The roots of the problem lie deep in the history of both what led to the partition as well as what happened after the partition. Pakistan was created on the basis of two-nation theory. Its leaders have had to stick to that theory thought it is evident to everyone that the theory could not have had any logic in it ; otherwise India should have been partitioned again and again on the same token. In India, a secular polity has grown on a foundation, which now stands like a rock. No recognizable group questions its validity. Religion is getting more and more personalized, the divisions between religion and state are becoming bolder and bolder in relief. In Pakistan on the other hand the influence eof religion on governance of the state is on the increase and the leaders of the government have been seen to bend backwards to accommodate the views of the fundamentalists. In this milieu, the two-nation theory has stayed in place in its pristine glory in Pakistan and none can question it. 

Its immediate victim was Kashmir. Continued adherence to the two-nation theory by Pakistan's leaders implies that there will be no withdrawal from interference by them in Kashmir in the foreseeable future. What can, therefore, the discussions between the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan during SAARC yield on this issue?

Who has the power in Pakistan to bring about a modification in the two-nation theory? The general mass of the people in Pakistan can be said to be not really concerned with the question. They are more worried about problems that concern them directly like employment, rising prices, security of life and property etc. One can even wonder whether all of them together believe that they share the same nationhood. Their sectarian quarrels, their linguistic rivalries and their regional ethnonationalism do not give them enough time to reflect over the present validity of the two nation theory. And yet the coterie, which rules over Pakistan, acts and governs in the name of two-nation theory. They do so under the fear that any change in this track could be used to arouse mass disapproval against them.

Unfortunately, such fears are not based on figments of imagination. During its 50 years if existence, Pakistan has had leaders who were prepared to ignore the commands of two-nation theory to come to terms with India, but they came to grief. First there was Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who while negotiating the Simla agreement was believed to have held ,but certain assurances over Kashmir. On return to Pakistan from Simla, he did indeed make some efforts in keeping with the assurances given, but there arose such an uproar against him that he had to backtrack. The events that followed ultimately led to his downfall from power and execution. Another effort somewhat on the same lines but much broader in its sweep was believed to have been made by Gen. Zia-ul-Huq who was both the President and Army Chief of Pakistan at the time. It was also believed that he had obtained the support of his key military brass on his initiative. However, before the initiative got consummated, he was killed in an air crash. Not much came out of this initiative eventually because those who were reported to have supported the exercise when Zia was alive were also reported to have withdrawn their support after he died. However, an intriguing question has remained unanswered to this day: did this exercise have anything to do with his untimely death?

All this suggests that it is not just the two-nation theory, which is a hurdle in the path of solving of differences between India and Pakistan. Another hurdle of no less consequence is the absence of a leadership in Pakistan, strong enough to take decisive action warranted by ground realities. 

Such a leadership can only emerge from the Armed Forces of Pakistan. And for them to develop the right vision to see clearly what is in the interest of Pakistan unburdened by the baggage of the past the syllabi and the training manuals of the Armed Forces will have to be rewritten in some parts. That really calls for a long-term overhaul. It could easily take another 50 years to come about. The key question will remain: is Pakistan ready to repudiate or a least modify the two nation theory. True progress in Indo-Pakistan relations cannot be achieved without such a step. 

Meanwhile dialogues can go on for whatever value, which can be gained out of them. More value will accrue if the Pakistani military brass could be involved in these dialogues, because, in the final analysis, it is they who have a decisive voice. This will pose a problem for India since its military remains under civilian control. But some equation could be considered which will enable the civilians from India to have a word directly with the military from Pakistan. 

Another imperative to this requirement has evolved after the recent nuclear tests on the sub-continent. In Pakistan all developments relating to nuclear weapons and philosophy are controlled by the military services. Civilian Prime Ministers have even been denied information on key matters in the past. The contours of the Pakistani nuclear military doctrine can be made out. The Pakistani nuclear weapons have been to deter India, which is much stronger in conventional military and weapons. No promise against first use can be given. If a contingency arises, calling for use of nuclear weapons who will issue the orders? Certainly not the civilians. It is the military who will decide, not necessarily in consultation with the political people in power. And most likely, their decision will be governed by subjective considerations given their psychological phobias, unrealistic clinging to outdated ideas and self-justificatory syndrome. 

Is it not, therefore, advisable that a direct line of communication is developed between the two power centres of India and Pakistan? Ways can be found and the earlier it is done the better it would be in the long term interests of the two countries.

(The writer is a former Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat.)