Colonel Ajay K Raina
There is a thing called conventional understanding, and then there is something called common sense. Unfortunately, the latter, despite its nomenclature, is most uncommonly used. This is because the modern world lives amidst invisible but perpetual battles of narratives. While tinkering with history with an agenda in mind is well-known, not everyone can see through the tricks being played through carefully designed narratives that affect our daily lives. It is, thus, not surprising that common sense remains uncommon.
For decades, India looked at Pakistan as a troublesome entity that needed to be handled with care. The most prominent example of such an approach was seen after the 1971 War when the negotiations were carried out in Shimla. Indian think tanks, which unsurprisingly didn’t include any serving military man, decided to go soft on JA Bhutto so that he could return and take stock of Pakistan. An uncompromising approach, it was appreciated, could put Bhutto on a mat, and Pakistan could implode with a defeated army and an irrelevant leader on top. So caring was our approach that while releasing well-fed, well-looked-after 93,000 prisoners, we didn’t ask for our own 54 who were being tortured in many jails inside Pakistan! What followed after that and how Pak’s ISI virtually took over Bangladesh space during the following decades is no secret. And all this had happened despite two attempts by Pak to snatch J&K in 1947 and 1965 and Pak illegally ceding Shaksgam Valley to China in 1963, in the recent past! To many of us, therefore, it came as no surprise when during the UPA-2 government, India almost agreed to demilitarise Siachen, thanks to a well-financed lobby consisting of many veterans and bureaucrats of our nation. Mercifully, the plot was exposed just in time, and we steered away from a great military disasterin the making.
There are numerous examples of going soft on a neighbour who, despite all the goodwill and kind gesturing by our leadership, kept on poking us with newer and more innovative means. We took 26/11 in our strides; didn’t allow our troops to cross the LoC during the 1999 Kargil conflict; reacted to an attack on our parliament by meaningless mobilisation-all this in the name of good relations and peace in South Asia (overtly) and ensuring that things don’t go out of hands of top decision-makers in Pakistan who had ‘no control’ over rogue elements (covertly!). As a result, a much smaller piece of geography kept us on our toes for many decades. Alongside an ‘invincible 8-feet tall Chinese soldiers’, we also created a monster of an ‘unstable Pakistan is dangerous for India’ in our minds. However,during recent years, Doklam, Galwan, Yangtse, Balakot and surgical strikes across the LoC have demonstrated to us how wrong we have been because of such beliefs that had been planted in our minds through many a narrative. Despite such developments wherein India went all guns blazing, many in India still believe that India’s interest lies in a stable Pakistan! An unrelated example of a five-star hotel with a slum in the neighbourhood is often put forth to substantiate the claim that a good neighbourhood is vital. It is, though, another matter that many big and popular hotels in this part of the world actually have slums in the backyard, and there has been no effect on the business!
A cursory glance over the past decades illustrates the simple fact that whenever Pakistan has had the capability, it has tried to bleed us. Despite Lahore Bus diplomacy and a gate-crashing during a wedding in Lahore, the Pakis kept doing what it has always been doing. Our experimentations based on our traditional thinking and some sudden sparks in our minds ignited by well-paid lobbies have failed to succeed. Carrying on with such an approach will eventually lead us on a path we should refrain from treading. So, what is the way out?
Common-sensicalthinking will tell us that to take out a tumour, one has to cut its roots. In this case, nothing short of the holistic destruction of Pakistan can ensure peace and security within our geographical boundaries and enable us to reclaim what belongs to us. Now, if that be so, what are the options? Even though Putin had trashed another popular narrative that the era of wars is long gone past, one would still debate against waging war or carrying out a nuclear strike on Pakistan. Human lives should not be wasted like this, nor should national resources be diverted to such a cause when India is reaching a higher level of self-actualisation.
The other option, thus, is to weaken Pakistan. It is a Godsend opportunity that Pak politicians and generals have killed their economy through blatant corruption and mishandling of its governance. At the same time, we see Taliban cadres on either side of the Durand Line, wearing different insignia but having a common Amir, going on a rampage against Pak forces. Balochis, who had been handed a raw deal in 1893 (Durand Line agreement) by the British, in 1948 (annexation by Pakistan) and another one in 1973-78 (genocide under Butcher of Bengal, General Tikka Khan), have also joined the Taliban. What is now happening in Gwadar, Waziristan or Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, combined with the economic status of Pakistan, is an apt indicator of the state of Pakistan. Pakistan is a wreck today, and while it is understood that its army,which has been having a ball since the 1950s, will do its best to make sure that it continues to float and exist, the resources available to the Pak army itself are too meagre to carry the burden of 250+ million. International forces in Washington and Beijing will also try to keep Pakistan afloat. India may or may not have played its cards in this game,but there is no merit in throwing the cards on the table and embracing evil yet again. It is thatinstant in history when India must keep its cards close to its chest and keep its face absolutely expressionless.
There has been much excitement in the Indian media about Pakistan PM Shehbaz Sharif making an offer for talks, and many observers see a ray of hope; the same commentators are gleefully ignoring the fact that the K-word was very much mentioned by the Pak PM in the same statement. So, while we may choose to close our eyes and feel happy, the snake has just changed its skin; the venom remains as before. In any case, politicians in Pakistan have no say inside Pakistan, let alone in matters of such significance.
As against those who dream of a stable, prosperous Pakistan, there is merit in having a neighbourhood consisting of independent nations of Pashtunistan, Balochistan, Sindhu Desh and Pakistan (read erstwhile West Punjab). More than anything else, it is only when Pakistan balkanises that justice will be delivered to oppressed communities like Balochs, Sindhis, Gilgitis, Baltis,Dards and Pashtuns. After all, East Pakistan had to be erased to create a Bangladesh when the atrocities in that segment of Pakistan had crossed a threshold. Our defence forces are strong enough to secure our borders and given a choice, soldiers prefer to fight an enemy in front; fighting an enemy within is something no one relishes. Whichever way we look at it, a fragmented Pakistan will be a better solution than having a stable Pakistan that, like a snake, will always turn around and bite whether we feed him milk or honey. And not to forget, if Pakistan ceases to exist, our 2.5 front threat, as defined by our late CDS, General Bipin Rawat, will be reduced to 1.5 front. Further, 0.5 will lose its patronage, and India will be a much safe place to live and flourish.
Many still feel and believe that a strong and stable Pakistan is in India’s interest. So to them goes this question, ‘What, in your opinion, will Pakistan do if India were to be as weak and unstable as Pakistan is today and if Pakistan were to be as stable and strong as India is today?’
(The author is a military historian and a Founder-Trustee of the Military History Research Foundation (R), India)
Colonel Ajay K Raina