Let's wish them well By Jaithirth Rao

With thanks to Shaheryar Azhar's Forum: Let's wish them well By Jaithirth Rao
The Indian Express, September 29

I was speaking with some NRI friends who were chuckling away with glee at the discomfiture prevailing currently in Pakistan, discomfiture that doesn't get addressed by Pervez Musharraf being allowed to contest presidential elections. One of my friends, of extremist persuasion, said that it would be a good thing if Pakistan breaks up — "serves them right" he said. While I concede to no one in terms of patriotic zeal when it comes to India, I suggest that such thinking is dangerous, stupid and not at all in our self-interest.

For many years now, I have been quite grateful to the British for having imposed partition on us. Nostalgia-prone northern Indians who are given to the habit of loving maudlin Urdoo ghazals take delight in dreaming of the day when "we will all love each other, undo the dismembering that was done by the perfidious British and become one country again". Their frequent phrases are "we are one people after all"; "borders imposed by colonial lawyers should be undone" and so on. Such sentiments get loudest around every August fifteenth when political correctness and sentimentalism become the motivators for numerous columns on this shop-worn subject. Being from the deep south, I am quite ignorant of parental memories of the Mall Road or Model Town in Lahore and am left cold and unmoved by these sentiments for reunion. Incidentally, there are practically no Pakistanis who I have met who have the remotest desire to unite with us however warm, hospitable or affectionate they might be.

My support for partition and for the continuance of a strong Pakistan stems from what I would call a practical sense of realpolitik. Pakistan is the buffer state that India needs to protect us from the hot-spots of Afghanistan and Persia (aka Iran). Less than three hundred years ago, we were invaded by Persians (led by Nadir Shah) and Afghans (led by Ahmed Shah Abdali). Both of these were in the nature of predatory raids. They did not result in conquests. But they did succeed in finishing off the glorious Moghul Empire and in causing considerable human and economic damage. It has been noted that a substantial portion of Afghan GDP derived from raids on India! Now as then, raids, unrest and related tensions are real dangers to us.

But let us breathe a sigh of relief. If today a Nadir Shah or an Abdali were to try to invade us, he would have to first defeat the legions of General Musharraf. In effect, the Pakistani army will protect us from the assembled forces beyond the Khyber. This is the kind of "outsourcing of our defence" that should really warm our hearts. Herein lies the overriding need for us to support the continuance of a strong Pakistani state and an effective Pakistani army. If Pakistan were to disintegrate (I am sure that nothing so disastrous will happen), not only could their population spill over in large numbers as refugees, but suddenly Persia and Afghanistan will be on our borders. This is a prospect that should give us sleepless nights. Once we stop thinking of Pakistan as an adversarial neighbour but as a useful buffer state, we have no choice but to wish them well and do everything possible to ensure that they survive and prevail.

On practical grounds too, we should feel a sense of relief that India is not one gigantic, unwieldy country spreading across the entire peninsula. The soft Indian state has not been able to deal successfully either with the Naga insurrection in sixty years or with the Naxalite movement in forty years. And one is not even talking about Kashmir. Can you imagine dealing with Baluchi, Waziri and Pashtun revolts and mini-wars? It is best that Islamabad deals with these headaches. Delhi has enough on its plate!

Recent scholarship (eg, Sarila and Dasgupta) leads us to believe that Pakistan was consciously created by our erstwhile Anglo-Saxon rulers in the pursuit of their strategic self-interest in a calm, unemotional manner. Churchill and Wavell, Attlee and Mountbatten need to be congratulated on their far-sighted strategic achievement. The partition of India and the creation of Pakistan have served the Anglo-American alliance very well. In the fifties and sixties Pakistan was a member of SEATO and CENTO and provided bases for U2 planes. In the seventies, Pakistan helped Nixon and Kissinger reach out to China. In September 1970, a brigade of the Pakistani army (led by a young general named Zia ul Huq) helped Jordan (an Anglo-American client state) suppress and expel the PLO. Many may not know that the expression 'Black September' refers to this event. In the eighties, Pakistan supported the US in its proxy war with the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. And post-9/11 Musharaf has tried to be as faithful an ally of the US as he possibly can. It is inconceivable that an undivided India would have been so useful to London and Washington, and for that matter neither is the present Republic of India ever likely to be. Ironically, today we are the beneficiaries of the British decision to partition India and we are in a position to leverage this to our advantage.

We need to have a pragmatic approach towards Pakistan, not one tinged by irrational hate or by callow sentimentalism. A strong, stable Pakistan which has passably cordial relations with us is something we should support, we should root for. We want peace and stability not only inside our own homes, but in the neighbourhoods we live in; the analogy holds for our geopolitical neighbourhood as well. In addition, if we are lucky that one of our neighbours acts as a buffer and protects us from unpredictable residents who are one step removed from us on the map, then we have all the more reason to ensure that our neighbour is strong and performs his or her defensive task well. So here is raising a toast to a strong, stable Pakistan and a cohesive Pakistani army. Irrespective of how the political cards may fall, rational Indians should wish them well.

The writer is a commentator on the economic, political and cultural scene in India.


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