(First published on December 08, 2018)
Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck, the commander-in-chief of the British Indian Army, was initially in favour of a joint military command for India and Pakistan. This idea was impractical and therefore soon abandoned. But while reading this, every student of history is compelled to think of infinite other possibilities. What if India and Pakistan had separated on a less hostile note? What if they had either successfully resolved the issue of Kashmir at the inception or that the matter had never arisen? Could the nations be allies? These days it is a given that the enemies of one state can count on the other for support from the other. Could the situation be any different if we did have a relatively cleaner break in 1947 like Jerry Seinfeld and Elaine Benes? Imagine the state of the vitiated space between the two countries that even such questions sound nothing short of laughable imponderables.
For a student of strategic studies, these questions do not matter. They are trained to think about today and, if time allows it, of tomorrow — not yesterday. But to a student of history, these questions merit attention. Because it is in the impossibilities of the past that you can hope to find a key to the future. If we can sufficiently expose the demons of the past, we can build a future exorcised of them.
If you want to know how the two countries view each other, consider the language used by their leaders to refer to the border between the two. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently likened the border to the Berlin Wall. Pakistani PM Imran Khan, however, compared the two countries with France and Germany. The difference? The Berlin Wall was a concrete structure built to divide not just the German nation but essentially the German capital along the Cold War lines. It stood there for about 28 years, was a product of a bipolar world and ended with it. Germans on both sides reunited after its fall. Pakistan and modern-day India were created by a dying multipolar world, withstood the test of bipolar and unipolar worlds and are now preparing to be a part of a multipolar world order again. Similarly, Germany and France are two distinct nations with pride in their history and culture and even if you permanently remove their boundaries you cannot remove their identity. Imran Khan’s comparison makes sense because today the Pakistani identity is as real and distinct as the Indian identity. India helped build it. Narendra Modi’s doesn’t.
This idea that Pakistan was temporarily taken away from mother India and will eventually reunite has been there since 1947 and is the longest running trash talk that anyone has ever witnessed. And yet it keeps firing up the Indian imagination. First, Pakistan’s creation was considered a denial of India’s secular credentials. Now it is the desire to see Akhand Bharat which keeps them going. They say the ashes of Nathu Ram Godse, the assassin of Mohandas Gandhi, are still kept in an urn to be scattered in the River Indus once India takes Pakistan back. But what do they want? Land? People? Anything else? Well, it is an irrational and unintelligent desire. It is not like India in its many forms that have existed ever cared much for the territories now part of Pakistan. These lands were part of India’s untamed wild west. Often when there was fear of invaders from further west, a scorched earth policy was used here to keep the adventurers at bay. Poison the wells, burn the crops, pillage and murder those who even had a potential to be useful to the enemy. And regarding the people, note how India now treats its minorities as a burden. Why then would you keep the fantasies of a reunification alive?
And it is a self-defeating prospect. The Indian state is already bloated and inefficient enough without further helpings. One unfortunate binary of our time, aided and abetted by the Indian intelligentsia, is to view China and India as equal quantities. They are not. In China, partly because of its communist legacy and partly as an accident of history, wherever you go you find same people, same race, same language with slight variations. That is not the case with India. It has multiple races, languages, faiths, castes, classes and nations within. And they all don’t live in harmony. It is difficult to hard enough to keep them together. Why add more burden to the problem.
Then there are the matters of Indian self-image and strategic thought. When you look at India and think of giving permanent membership at the UNSC, you think of democracy, diversity and of Gautam Buddha and Bhakt Kabir. When India looks in the mirror, it sees Machiavelli’s prince and Kautilya or Chanakya’s Chandragupta Maurya. Why would a country that has been a victim of imperialism choose a realist worldview and not idealism as its worldview is beyond me. But one thing is for sure while choosing realpolitik over collective security, it still wants to utilise the idealist worldview to gain access to global power. So, when you think of bringing India into the UNSC fold, you are not giving voice to the victims of the past, you plan to bring in a broken Third World imagination into the system that will essentially mean the end of the lofty ideals you cherish.
Pakistan on the other hand has no grand ambitions. And that is bad. If the country had any, instead of trying to block Indian permanent seat in the UNSC, it would want one for itself. Is it not how things work? India acquires nuclear weapons to get even with China. Pakistan does so to get even with India. And China and Russia have shown that this is the way you tackle the South Asian Siamese twins. They brought both India and Pakistan to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). The two countries could hold Saarc hostage to their mutual hostility. They cannot hold SCO hostage. Empower one country and they will instinctively try to ruin the other. Empower both, give them common stakes in peace and they will try to behave.
India and Pakistan need to realise that whether they like it or not in many spaces they share they already are allies. In SCO, in the fight against terror, against poverty. Instead of waiting for the collapse of the other they can gain from cooperating. Half-hearted cooperation and harbouring malice against the other at the same time will not help. Peace between India and Pakistan is an idea best suited for our times. Such ideas do not care much about elections, expediency or narrow-mindedness of policymakers.