Terrorism Update
Show/Hide Search
    Click to Enlarge

Change of course

I had written recently about the imperatives of South Asian regional cooperation, and of the need for India to accept a leadership role in initiating the processes to secure such an end. While there has been an increasing convergence of thinking in this direction within the country, this is yet to be translated into concrete political action and the institution building that will be necessary if the peoples of South Asia and their governments are to be brought together on an effective common platform. Regrettably, even where such efforts have been made to establish a working mechanism for regional cooperation, one persistent obstacle has undermined much of what could have been achieved: Pakistan and the politics of confrontation it has relentlessly pursued.

Evidently, the effective pursuit of the ends of South Asian cooperation presupposes a willingness in all countries in the region to pull together. Pakistan, unfortunately, has adopted an ‘all-or-nothing’ policy and posture, linking every issue to the dispute over Kashmir. This has committed it to a progressive escalation of tensions, to a reckless gamble – that has gone as far as the threat of a nuclear war – in its unattainable quest to wrest Kashmir from India. For the Pakistani military establishment and the revanchist feudal elite that backs it, this is really a question of survival, of the preservation of enormous class privileges within a deeply unequal and inequitable society. The creation and continued sponsorship of the Taliban, the patronage and protection extended to fundamentalist militant forces within and outside the country, and to the unrepresentative minority of Islamic extremists and their fanatical mullahs, are all consequences of this short-sighted pursuit of class interests by socio-economic groupings that have lost their rationale within the contemporary technological world order. It is this regressive coalition that continues to perceive a strong India as a necessary threat to Pakistan, and to commit an overwhelming proportion of Pakistan’s national resources to the unending confrontation with India, to the disruption of life within India, and to the obdurate and obtuse opposition of all Indian proposals in international fora. This is a politics rooted in doctrines that date back to the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries – doctrines that drove the ‘great powers’ of the world to global wars, and that, today, deny the fruits of development to so many of the nations in what is called the Third World.

This doctrine, and the mindset it produces, has brought Pakistan to the brink time and again. Today, a crisis of bankruptcy has been averted only through the continued indulgence of the West and of International Financial Institutions. The quality of life available to the all but a very small minority in Pakistan is abysmal. In a world where knowledge has supplanted capital as the source and basis of development and of wealth, nearly two-thirds of Pakistan’s population remains illiterate. Regional and gender disparities make the situation even worse. The adult literacy rate in Baluchistan, for instance, is just 17 per cent, and the Female literacy rate there, a bare 3.2 per cent. The country’s external debt accounts for over 50 per cent of its GDP. With a population growth rate of 3 per cent and no signs of political stability, a steady worsening of all economic indices is inevitable.

It is, consequently, necessary – not only in the regional context, but in the interests of the people of Pakistan itself – that the destructive mindset that has guided policy and the leadership of that country, be changed. And if the internal forces of reform within Pakistan are too weak to generate the impetus for necessary transformation, it must be catalysed by the international community, and through coordinated action between the other nations within the South Asian region.

As regards, the regional initiative, ironically, the onus is on India. The question, quite simply, is of size. None of the other countries here have the resources to support the necessary programmes. These programmes, moreover, would have to transcend the ‘direct’ approach of seeking the progressive isolation of Pakistan to an approach that seeks to bring the entire region together as a single, coordinated entity.

Strong and imaginative diplomatic actions must, clearly, lie at the heart of such programmes, but a process of internal reform is perhaps of even greater significance if India is to play its historical role. The first prerequisite here is, of course, power – but not power as it has conventionally, historically, been interpreted; not military power, or the power of a regional hegemon. When India emerged as an independent nation, it possessed enormous moral authority, an unquantifiable but nevertheless substantial influence within a large bloc of nations. Unfortunately, a succession of unimaginative regimes have diluted this authority, pursuing the form and structure of its expression – through the declining mechanisms of the Non-aligned Movement, through treaties and the fitful construction of economic blocs – even as they destroyed its moral bass. There has, inevitably, been a loss of confidence within India, and this has been reflected again and again in the country’s inability to play a role or mediate in a succession of crises within its traditional ‘areas of influence’. Sri Lanka is the most significant example, and the tentativeness of the Indian response in the face of the crisis in that country after the launch of the LTTE’s Unceasing Waves III, was a tragic defalcation – notwithstanding the internal imperatives of an uncertain coalition politics. Similarly, the ambivalence of the response on the Palestinian issue in the wake of the Al Aqsa Intifada reflects a loss of direction and stagnation in the thinking of the foreign affairs community in India.

A change of course in Pakistan, moreover, is predicated on India’s emergence as a dynamic and modern economic power, with internal structures reflecting far greater levels of transparency, equity and stability than currently exist – or, perhaps, than are even currently envisaged. India’s recent reforms have focused inordinately on a small segment of the modernized economy – and their benefits have naturally accrued to an insignificant, though no doubt vocal, proportion of the population. Apart from the inherently destabilizing potential of such uneven growth within the country, it is clear that such a pattern will deny India a constructive role in the region at large. What is needed is an integrated vision that goes beyond national economic development to comprehend an ideology of development for the whole region, within which each nation plays a constructive part, and none is tempted to believe that it is the loser in the transactions and structures it generates. This, indeed, is the core of cooperation – the idea that the whole is far greater than the sum of its constituent parts, and that this sum is equitably distributed between those who contribute to its creation.

The measure in which India succeeds in generating these changes, and in securing the cooperation of the other countries in the region – even in the absence of Pakistan’s acquiescence, indeed, in the face of its possible opposition – will signify the degree to which pressure for change in Pakistan itself is generated. It is the success of the other countries of South Asia that can empower advocates and imitators within Pakistan to help it change its current suicidal course. It is this larger success to which the Indian leadership must now dedicate itself.

(Published in The Pioneer, December 28, 2000)





Copyright © 2001 SATP. All rights reserved.