Pakistan’s Pain Can Never Be India’s Gain

We don’t see Pakistan speaking in one voice very often; different stakeholders react differently to a given situation depending upon their interest and political leaning. However, the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers at the hands of NATO a few weeks ago united the Pakistani population in their collective grief. People sick and tired of the western design demanded in one voice a complete overhaul of the relationship with the US.

But this development has elicited varied reactions in India. Some vocal sections have reacted with glee at the discomfort of its western neighbour. Below is an excerpt from a blog published in the Hindustan Times on the NATO attack:

“Normally, I feel strongly against such blatant violations of the sovereignty of independent nations. But, and only as an exception, I must confess, the US action is giving me immense pleasure.

Adding to my satisfaction, even unconcealed glee, is the decision of US President Barrack Obama not to tender an apology for the attack.

A respected colleague is aghast at my reaction. He accuses me of being intrinsically anti-Pakistani.

I’m not.

But I also don’t believe, even for a minute, that it (Pakistan) is a friendly country; that engagement with it is the best way forward for us; that a strong and stable Pakistan is in our best interest; and that we must do our bit to strengthen its democratically elected government and the civil society from which it draws its authority.

And that’s why I feel vindicated when the US gives Pakistan a solid hiding and a very visible black eye – something that the Indian government seems singularly incapable of doing.”

Those who are in the habit of seeing Islamabad with the prism of prejudice and paranoia are celebrating the humiliation of the Islamic republic. Most media debates and reports hover around “who is to be blamed” and “who is responsible” without focusing on the larger issue of such a blatant violation of the sovereignty of a nation and the impact of the presence of foreign powers in the region.

One section justifies it by saying “what goes around comes around” meaning that Pakistan is getting what it deserves. The problem is that such sick thought has many takers in this healthy democracy which prides itself as the voice of the third world countries.

Pakistan’s present trouble poses discomforting questions to us – how can, as an independent nation, we support intrusion into a sovereign country’s territory and pride? How far are we okay with the presence of western troops at our door step? Can we afford to be silent when the independence of our immediate neighbour is being violated so blatantly? Can we get away by being indifferent? Can our strategic proximity with the US guarantee us peace in the region?

These questions demand an answer which the present political and geo-strategic narrative can’t give. The answers to these questions also determine the long-term relationship between the two inseparable neighbours.

If six decades of the proximity with the US could not bring good to the people of Pakistan, how can we live in the false belief that New Delhi’s strategic friendship with Washington will serve the people of India better?

Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer, who has been a senior advisor to four US presidents and a close aide of Obama on Afghanistan till 2009 in his recent book, “Deadly Embrace” writes:

“The present plight of Pakistan is, therefore, a by-product of its association with the western power. No doubt the army and the political leadership in Islamabad have also been playing in the hands of its ally. But more importantly, the USA played with the sentiments and fear of its South Asian ally. By posing as saviour of the country against the larger India, and by pretending to be its strongest ally, the West nurtured its own agenda and design at the cost of its own friend.”

America never took care of Pakistan’s security- it always advanced its own security agenda and strategic depth in the volatile region. It would be wrong to blame Pakistan solely for the present volatility in South Asia. The presence of the western power has been a major reason for the chaos in South Asia today.

If democracy could not take firm root in India’s neighbourhood, the West is responsible to a great extent. As a friend, America never tried to promote enlightened democracy in Pakistan. It has always sided with the reactionary elements in Islamabad.

Can such a selfish ally be of any use to India? Today when the heat is on the US and its power is in decline, why should New Delhi give shelter to such a force which would always be a disturbing element in the region? It would be a major hurdle in the emergence of India as a big player at an international level. Aside from this, by siding with an alien country we would be antagonising, and re-enforcing the fear of, a neighbour which has always seen New Delhi as a threat to its stability.

It’s the proximity with the US which is keeping the larger India silent about Pakistan’s trouble. If we fail in condemning the killing of Pakistani soldiers in the NATO attack we are missing a wonderful opportunity to win the sympathy and hearts of our close neighbour; we would be losing an opportunity to strike a chord with those forces within Pakistan which India perceives are working against its interest.

If we believe that the presence of the US is important in the territory of Pakistan to checkmate the Taliban, then we are all prisoners of myopic vision. It’s easy to fall prey to this narrative that drones can eliminate insurgents and Pakistan can’t act against them because they serve as strategic assets. The reality is different today; an overwhelming majority of the people of Pakistan are sick and tired of this chaos and want to live a normal peaceful life. The presence of foreign troops is a spur and cause to the Taliban activism. The new generation of Pakistan wants a change – they want to assert their identity and defy the popular narrative of the country in a siege and at the brink of failure.

It makes sense for India to empathise with the prevailing popular mood in its neighbourhood. Political and economic engagement with Islamabad will work only when we connect emotionally with people.

We have to go beyond the present geo-strategic thinking put forward by the western world which states that the NATO troops are needed to stabilise South Asia. Nowhere in the world has such presence of alien troops and their sphere of influence served the cause of peace.

West Asia is perennially disturbed because of the US interference there. The chaos in the Mid-East is engendered by western design; there are many other instances all across the world.

Pakistan has learnt its lesson the hard way. It’s time for all the stakeholders in Islamabad and Rawalpindi to understand the existential threat that donors of dollars pose to the country. No amount of money can buy the self respect of a sovereign nation.

It’s time India also realises the folly of falling into the trap of strategic alliance to corner its neighbour. If we laugh at them today, we might be mocked in the future.

(The author is a New Delhi based freelance journalist.)

Liberation Archive