THERE IS, TO PUT it mildly, a puzzling lack of consensus in the Indian establishment when it comes to Pakistan. Our attitudes, it would appear, swing widely from extreme mistrust to dangerous gullibility. The waters of the Indus, over which we are now jousting, are further muddied by a strange series of smoke and mirrors within the Indian or dare I say, Hindu mentality.
When it comes to Pakistan, realists are revealed actually to be doves, while doves are nothing short of suicidal. At the other end of the spectrum, the really bellicose and belligerent are soon exposed, with their empty-headed bluster or mindless hate-spewing on social media, as sorely lacking in sense and judgement. Where, one might ask, are the real hawks? If there are any, clear-eyed as well as clear-headed, pragmatic as well as strategically smart individuals, they are not easily to be found in our midst.
Just as well, perhaps. But their absence in the public sphere, unfortunately, leaves us in a sort of policy vacuum. A clearer articulation of an aggressive Pakistan policy is therefore the need of the hour. Such a posture might emerge from a thorough-going national debate, rather than merely from specialists, whether of the military or diplomatic ilk. After all, national interest, as the term implies, is too important to be left solely to experts.
The present context offers us as good a vantage point as any to review and reconsider our relationship with our adversarial Islamist neighbour. Especially because Pakistan, with its tottering economy, is the weakest it has been in several decades. Having exhausted, begging bowl in hand, its attempts substantially to replenish its empty coffers with handouts from time-tested supporters such as China, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, it is now finding itself at the mercy of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). But the IMF’s punishing ‘structural reforms’ are bound to bring greater misery to the common populace.
On the one hand, a nuclear state too big to fail, Pakistan is also in the grips of unprecedented hardship, unemployment, food shortages, rising inflation, meagre foreign exchange reserves, and a falling currency. The Pakistani rupee is now at its historical low, around 265 to a US dollar. As recently as 2016, when it depreciated to over 100 to one dollar, there was a hue and cry. No wonder its precipitous fall post the Covid-19 malaise has dealt a body blow to Pakistan’s self-respect and confidence.
As if a weak rupee and rising inflation were not problems enough. Last year, floods ravaged the country, washing away some 2 million homes and claiming nearly 2,000 lives. Now, shortages of food and essential commodities are making daily headlines. Milk is quoted to be PKR 210 per litre, while chicken sells for PKR 480 per kg. Gas prices have doubled and medicines are dearer to import. But ironies, too, are galore. While it has only $3 billion of foreign reserve left in its kitty, Pakistan is still busy importing luxury cars. While serpentine food lines clog the streets in major cities, in pockets of luxury and affluence such as Phase 6, DHA, Lahore, queues of the young and rich flocking to a newly opened Tim Hortons are equally long. The said outlet reported the highest ever sales recorded by the Canadian fast-food major anywhere in the world since its inception in 1964!
A failing economy isn’t Pakistan’s only worry. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Frankenstein spawned by the army and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), is now turning its guns on Pakistan’s security forces. It already controls parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, bordering Afghanistan. Balochistan has been restive too, with frequent bomb blasts, not to speak of demonstrations, which are also common in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). In addition to sectarian violence, attacks on Ahmadiyyas and other minorities, the abduction and forcible conversion of Hindu girls in Sindh, and blasphemy lynchings—all these have become part of Pakistan’s daily life.
India and Pakistan can—and should be—friends. But that can only happen when the Pakistani state, army, and, yes, its populace at large, disavow the ideology of Pakistan. The chances of this actually happening are quite slim. Unless, of course, Pakistan and what it stands for—inveterate and unrelenting enmity with largely Hindu India—are systematically and thoroughly defeated
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Politically, there is an uneasy and opportunistic coalition between arch-rivals, Pakistan Muslim League (PML), controlled by the Sharif family, and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which is the fiefdom of the Bhutto family. Both clans control huge tracts of land and massive assets, making them among the richest and most powerful in the land. No surprise, then, that the first move of both Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto was to attack India on Kashmir and the condition of Muslims in India. What better proof of their continuing anti- India ideology? On the other hand, deposed prime minister, ex-cricketer Imran Khan, of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, who forms the third angle of this political triangle, has started targeting the army in his bid to return to power.
This brings us to the real power behind the throne, regardless of who sits on it, the Pakistan army. It is the real puppet master in this game of shadows. The army is reputed to control over 60 per cent of Pakistan’s economy, either directly or indirectly. Within the army is the ISI, which has been likened to a state within a state. The ISI is not fully accountable to anyone. It also has its own sources of funds, outside the purview of the government or army, used mostly to destabilise India. Many of the continuing attacks on India, including the 26/11 terrorist strike of 2008, which claimed some 175 lives, are supposedly the handiwork of the ISI and its surrogates or instruments.
Given this scenario, it is patently, even disturbingly absurd, that Pathaan, which shows an ISI agent collaborating with an Indian spook to take down a rogue former RAW agent, is hailed as the triumph of love over hate. It is practically impossible, well-nigh inconceivable, for ISI and RAW to collaborate, especially when India’s interests are at stake. Bollywood bloopers—some may call them betrayals— demand a separate discussion. But it is tellingly ridiculous that Bollywood often portrays not just the common Pakistanis, but even generals and ISI agents, as large-hearted, hospitable, generous, and even noble, while Indians, especially Hindus, are frequently shown as narrow-minded, chauvinistic, niggardly, and bigoted (https://bit.ly/40SmDdn). As a case in point, the Alia Bhat-Vicky Kaushal-starrer, Raazi (2018), directed by Meghna Gulzar, readily comes to mind.
Indian soft power, in other words, is totally skewed against our national interests, when it comes to Pakistan. It is not that I advocate an unending and unrelenting enmity between the Indian and Pakistani people. That would be both unnecessary and unfortunate. However, to mistake the common populace of a country, which is also the victim of its foundational ideology, with an enemy state is a serious error. The Pakistan ideology is congenitally anti-India and anti-Hindu, tracing as it does its very origin and existence to the devastating conquest of Sind by Muhammad bin Qasim within 80 years of the Prophet’s death.
India and Pakistan can—and should be—friends. But that can only happen when the Pakistani state, army, and, yes, its populace at large, disavow the ideology of Pakistan. The chances of this actually happening are quite slim. Unless, of course, Pakistan and what it stands for—inveterate and unrelenting enmity with largely Hindu India—are systematically and thoroughly defeated. The defeat of the Pakistan ideology should be incontrovertible and irreversible, similar to the defeat of Nazi Germany. For this to happen, Pakistan as a state needs to fail comprehensively and publicly.
This brings us to the rub of the matter. What should India do when Pakistan is in dire straits? The answer is simple. Hasten the downfall of our enemy. There is no point in feeding or tending to an injured scorpion in one’s garden. It is bound to sting us when it recovers. India may well wish to send humanitarian aid to Pakistan in its hour of need, but such assistance is unlikely to be accepted. Instead, we should actively strive to precipitate the breakdown, if not the breakup, of our hostile neighbour and foe. That will achieve the twin objective of defeating the Pakistan ideology and preventing yet another outright war in our never-ending zone of conflict. In the longer term, the defeat and downfall of the Pakistan ideology will also contribute to sub-continental unity, which some may choose to dream of as “Akhand Bharat”.
As I am writing this column on Valentine’s Day, I may as well end with the moral of the story suitable to this day. To hate your enemies is unnecessary; to love them is dangerous. Instead, respect, even fear, them for their capacity to harm you. But to mistakenly consider enemies as friends is the height of idiocy, bordering on suicide. It is this mistake that Indians in general and Hindus, in particular, should avoid making over and over again.