Three developments have taken place in August 2018, which is important from an Indo-Pak perspective. Following the general elections in Pakistan in July 2018, a new Prime Minister has been elected across the border. For the first time, Imran Khan has become Pakistan’s PM and his party—the PTI leading the Parliament, for the first time again. Imran Khan and PTI, unlike the PPP and PML-N come to power without any historical baggage in dealing with India.
The second development in August 2018 was the passing away of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, former Prime Minister of India who took the bold step of reaching out to Pakistan. He also invited Gen Musharraf to India to the much-debated Agra Summit; he was also instrumental in initiating a back-channel diplomacy.
Vajpayee’s initiative influenced further developments between the two countries even when Manmohan Singh succeeded him. Bilateral agreements during the last decade including the cross-LoC bus and truck services, and peace along the LoC were a legacy of Vajpayee.
Unfortunately, the Vajpayee-Musharraf initiative could not succeed, despite efforts at the highest levels, highlighting the intricacies of sustaining a bilateral political process between India and Pakistan.
The third development in August 2018 was the celebration of their 72nd independence day by both Pakistan and India on 14th and 15th respectively.
Despite seven decades, three wars and multiple peace initiatives, clearly the neighbours are at odds. Why?
Avtar Singh Bhasin’s latest book on India and Pakistan tries to provide an answer for that. Though there have been numerous books on the subject, Bhasin’s is unique, for it relies heavily on the Indo-Pak official documents. The fact that Bhasin has published a ten volume series containing the above a few years ago should have come in handy for him in preparing a bulky, yet reader friendly volume.
The book with 34 chapters traces India-Pakistan interactions in a historical perspective, starting with Partition and covering up to 26/11. He starts with an interesting statement: Whether Partition solved any problems is not certain; what is clear is that it has created new ones. His subsequent chapters trace how the leaders viewed developments during 1947-48 differently.
There is a perception amongst a section in India and Pakistan that the Partition was a British conspiracy, and that all bilateral ills between the two countries could be traced to the Partition. Is it the case? Or did the subsequent four developments influence the post-1947 bilateral political equations: failure of the UN to resolve J&K; the Cold War’s entry into the subcontinent; the untimely demise of Jinnah in 1948 and the assassination of Liaqat Ali Khan in 1951; the failure of political parties in Pakistan along with the political ascendancy of its military; and the use of proxy war by Pakistan’s Deep State.
There is adequate literature now on what had happened during 1947-48. Three books are important in this context: Ambassador C Dasgupta’s War and Diplomacy in Kashmir, 1947-48, Prem Shankar Jha’s Kashmir, 1947: Rival Versions of History and Sisir Gupta’s magnum opus Kashmir: A Study in India-Pakistan Relations. These three throw adequate light on the political developments, bilateral diplomatic manoeuvres and international interventions of this period.
Chapters three to ten of Bhasin’s volume should add value to the above three. Based on primary documents he provides an interesting and important narrative. These eight chapters talk about what happened within J&K, what happened between India and Pakistan over J&K, and what happened internally between New Delhi and Srinagar. Two interesting chapters in this cluster talk about the external dimensions—focussing on Pakistan’s military alliances, and how the big powers pursued J&K within their own larger strategic calculations.
The above chapters also trace the ascendancy of Pakistan’s military establishment in the decision making process vis-à-vis India in general, and J&K in particular. Interestingly, Bhasin also brings in Pakistan’s western insecurity and its implications on India-Pakistan relations. Bhasin provides documentary evidence of Pakistan’s search for military strength since the days of Jinnah and its interest in aligning itself closely with the US. For Pakistan, this was a pre-Cold War push. As Bhasin would underline, ‘Pakistan’s entry into the military alliances was against communism, but in actual fact it was intended to gain muscles to confront New Delhi.’
The next two chapters trace an interesting development outside India–Pakistan and Pakistan–US interactions—the entry of China into India–Pakistan calculations during the early 1960s. The chapter on Pakistan-China entente looks not only at the developments between the two countries, but also highlights American response to the same. In his words, the US ‘was conscious of the perils in Pakistan getting too close to China and was doing its bit to prevent it.’ In retrospect, it appears, that the US was aware of the Pakistan-China entente, and in fact also made use of it during the Kissinger years.
Bhasin also looks into the Tashekent and the Shimla years following the two bilateral wars with the revolt in East Pakistan in between. What adds value to his interpretations are his drawing from the primary documents, especially the special focus on the document relating to India and the Soviet Union, which though it deviates from the main narrative, provides references to further research about this period.
Bhasin then looks into the normalization phase following Shimla, and takes us through the Indira Gandhi-Morarji Desai-Rajiv Gandhi years. The most promising of this era was Benazir-Rajiv interactions; but, why didn’t the two countries come together then? Bhasin concludes: ‘The reconciliatory beginnings gave way to confrontationist thinking that would bring Pakistan closer to her (Benazir) goal in Kashmir. At the end, it helped her neither to consolidate relations with New Delhi nor come any closer to her favourite solution of Kashmir.’
Will the same thing happen to Imran Khan, as he starts as Pakistan’s Prime Minister? Imran has been emphasizing on India-Pakistan relations, but also harping on Kashmir. Will he also end up the same way as Benazir—neither achieving stability in bilateral relations, nor achieving Pakistan’s objective in Kashmir?
Back to Bhasin, he looks at the interactions between the neighbours then (late 1980s and early 1990s) through developments in Afghanistan. This outlook on Indo-Pak affairs through Afghanistan is important, especially from a contemporary perspective. The neighbours are at odds, not only vis-à-vis bilateral issues, but also on what is happening in Afghanistan. The big difference between the 1990s and now is India’s stake and influence in Afghanistan. In the late 1980s and 90s, Pakistan had a monopoly over the Afghan groups; and the Americans supported the same. Today, Pakistan’s influence over the same is limited and the Americans are vary of Islamabad’s interests in Afghanistan. On the other hand, India’s influence in Afghanistan has expanded considerably. But the primary problem remains the same: the neighbours are at odds in Afghanistan.
The final set of chapters looks into nuclearization of India and Pakistan, and its political and military fallouts between the two countries. Post 1998 the region witnessed a war in Kargil in 1999, military confrontation in 2001 and a deadly militant attack in Mumbai in 2009. This phase also witnessed the inauguration of a bus service between the two countries, expansion of bilateral ties, ceasefire along the LoC and more importantly inauguration of bus and truck services across the LoC between the two parts of J&K.
On Pakistan’s reliance on external powers Bhasin observes: Pakistan refused to learn from its experience that its dependence on the West has neither guaranteed its security nor its territorial integrity, nor served its long term interests. How true! Bhasin could have also focussed on Pakistan’s current reliance on China, especially the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor, and whether it would guarantee Pakistan’s security!
On J&K, Bhasin concludes in his epilogue: It is high time that Pakistan realized that it has become irrelevant in Kashmir and the problem was essentially between New Delhi and some sections of the people of the State (of J&K). It seems to be a far cry.
So, what can India do, if Pakistan does not ‘change its mindset for both the countries to live in peace’? Should India keep the India-Pakistan relations in cold storage and expect a miracle to happen? Or should India devise a strategy, based on lessons learnt from the past, but engage Pakistan to achieve its own interests in the neighbourhood, and maintain a working relationship, so that the neighbours are not at odds?
D Suba Chandran is Dean of the School of Conflict and Security Studies at the NIAS, IISc Campus, Bangalore. He manages a portal on Pakistan.