By Irfan Husain
States can choose their friends, but not their neighbours. In an existential sense, geography is destiny.
But while we can’t change our neighbourhood, we can at least try and make it less dangerous. Located in an area that has witnessed invasions and massacres without end, we are at one of the world’s deadliest focal points of conflict and human ambition. However, if we allow ourselves to become prisoners of history, we can never get out of the hole we have dug for ourselves.
When we started out with a clean slate in 1947, our early leaders looked to the West for help in facing the perceived threat from India. Despite all the criticism levelled at them for signing up to anti-communist pacts like Seato and Cento, the fact is that at the time, only the United States had the cash and the equipment to arm the newly formed Pakistan Army.
Also, many of our founding fathers had received their higher education in England, and had a pro-West bias. Indeed, Jinnah is on record as promising to provide our ex-colonial masters with bases in return for support for the creation of Pakistan.
American hardware supplies in the mid-1950s gave us a misplaced sense of military superiority, and our position on Kashmir hardened into rigid anti-India dogma. I recall my two-month attachment with a Punjab infantry battalion as a fresh civil servant in the late 1960s. When I mentioned the Indian army’s preponderance in numbers to the commanding officer, he answered in all seriousness that one Muslim soldier was equal to five Hindus.
And this despite the 1971 war, and the Kargil misadventure which was yet another reminder that the small guy doesn’t always win. A friend recounted a recent chance encounter with a serving brigadier in which he brought up the subject of the growing military and economic imbalance between India and Pakistan. The army officer replied heatedly: “We will embrace martyrdom if necessary! We will never surrender!”
The point of this historical detour is to suggest that we had options other than the path of confrontation with our huge eastern neighbour. Until the mid-1970s, ‘parity’ was the official mantra in our Foreign Office as our diplomats demanded equal treatment with India.
Now, of course, we watch major statesmen and industrialists visit India while skipping Pakistan. Even friends and allies like China and Saudi Arabia no longer mention the United Nations resolutions on Kashmir, and urge us to negotiate directly with India instead.
As the gap between the two neighbours grows, we appear to have made things more difficult for ourselves. By refusing to open up trade with India, we have restricted our economy’s potential. For all his faults, Nawaz Sharif saw the flaws of our current India policy, and tried to improve relations. His opponents have used this as a stick to beat him with.
We need to realise that Kashmir will not be handed over to us on a platter. One can also question whether many of the protesters rebelling against the Indian yoke are doing so in order to join Pakistan; their demand is for azadi.
It is a reality that India will continue to move ahead in both military and economic terms. And the links between Washington and New Delhi will become closer, no matter who is the president of the United States is. For them, India is too important a market to ignore, and is the only country in the region that can counter the growing Chinese clout.
Add to this factor Kabul’s growing dependence on India for help to build up its infrastructure, as well as for military training. Given Pakistan’s ability and willingness to halt overland trade as a political lever, more and more goods will reach Afghanistan via Iran.
With Iran, our relations have worsened over time due to our siding with Saudi Arabia in the Shia-Sunni conflict. There was a time when Iran was one of Pakistan’s closest friends and allies, but short-sighted policies and the desire to be on the right side of Riyadh have alienated Tehran.
As we grow more isolated, the chances of improved ties with India have grown ever more remote. Over the last decade, attitudes towards Pakistan in New Delhi have hardened; and we have delayed action against militant groups that have committed acts of terrorism in India.
So here we are, impoverished, alone and insecure in a hostile region. Our military needs increasing funds to fight the monsters created to further our regional agenda. If we want to emerge from this dead end, we will have to cast off the shackles of history.