India has never seen its ties in a war against Pakistan, whereas, Karachi/Islamabad always did. And yes, defeat is always an orphan and in Pakistan, no individual or institution will accept that they were responsible for how their country has reached the status of a failing, if not a failed, state.
In the West today, it is Pakistan bashing season. It wasn’t always so. For decades, it was India which was the villain. This was natural—Pakistan was the West’s ally, a member of CENTO (Central Treaty Organisation) and SEATO (Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation). It provided important military bases for reconnaissance over the Soviet Union, where India was snarkily neutral.
This book is part of a genre written by correspondents who have served in South Asia. For many Indian observers of Pakistan, the book does not offer anything new. But the great value of a book like this by a reporter is that it fluently captures the salient issues in India-Pakistan relations for a specific period, in this case roughly between 1998-2016, and informs those not familiar with the region, or for those too young to really focus on the December 1999 hijack or the aftermath of the attack on Parliament in December 2001. In addition, McDonald offers important insights into understanding of how Pakistani elites used Islam to reinvent the nation after the creation of Bangladesh. Simultaneously, the Army became the custodian of the “Pakistan ideology”, which meant a mixture of Islam and militarism.
Most Indian observers would not be surprised at the book’s basic thesis. Indeed, if they were born, like this observer, in the early 1950s, they would have gone through the phase when Pakistan outdid India—in military capacity till the mid-1960s and in economic terms till even later. Pakistan had faster economic growth till the 1980s. In 1990, Pakistan per capita GDP in PPP (purchasing power parity) dollars was 3,000 as compared to India’s 1850. In 2014, India’s was 5,855 and Pakistan’s 4,736, with the crossover happening in 2009.
The last time Pakistan thought it could militarily defeat India was in 1965 when Ayub Khan gambled on Kashmir and the grand Pakistani offensive plans included a thrust to Delhi. Since then, it has largely been defensive bluster, which is not a dishonourable thing, considering that India is nearly four times its size and economically eight times larger.
The real problem has been in Islamabad’s mind—parity with India has been an obsession and its roots are very deep. Recall that at the heart of Jinnah’s call for a Muslim homeland was a demand that somehow Muslims, who constituted 25 per cent of the population in 1940s, be treated as equal to non-Muslims who were the overwhelming majority.
Following the creation of what Jinnah termed a ‘moth-eaten’ state, Pakistan followed an obsessive policy of maintaining parity with India through a four-stage process: 1) foreign alliances, first with the US, then with China; 2) a disproportionately high defence expenditure; 3) development of nuclear weapons and 4) state sponsorship of terrorism with a view to breaking India into manageable bits.
In this way, Pakistan has been successful in maintaining ‘effective’ parity, which means that it has continued to prosecute a covert war against India, safe in the belief that its army, its nuclear weapons and China would save it from any direct Indian retaliation.
Despite the hostility between them, peace is not a bridge too far between the two countries. The writer has given us a vivid and useful account of the circumstances in which a formula for a solution for Jammu & Kashmir was evolved through back-channel talks between 2004-2007. But it was not able to get off the ground because one of its principals, Pervez Musharraf, then Pakistan president, found his political ground slip under his feet in Islamabad for reasons unrelated to the Indian initiative.
This shows that despite hostility and bluster there is room for an India-Pakistan entente. India’s experience is that it is able to communicate effectively with civilian rulers of Pakistan, but the process gets tripped by the military. In Musharraf, they were able to deal with a civil-cum-mililtary leader and the astute Atal Behari Vajpayee was willing to take risks and expend political capital for peace.
But that is the past, what of the future? In his own gaudy style, Modi attempted to woo Pakistan, but failed. Now, he has become unrelentingly hostile. The Pakistani leadership is divided between the civilians and the military. What we need to defeat is not Pakistan, the nation, but its deep state which lives by the myth of the Indian threat.
(The writer is a distinguished fellow, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)