The US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Mr. Marc Grossman’s visit to Pakistan was aborted because Islamabad rebuffed it. Pakistan’s government did not think the timing appropriate. Mr. Grossman instead visited India to brief New Delhi on the US efforts to engage the Afghan Taliban in peace talks. From Delhi Mr. Grossman goes to Kabul to confer with the Afghanistan government. Pakistan’s refusal to engage with Mr. Grossman betrays the tension within the government.
The nation could well be on the threshold of historic change. Both the civil government and the Army seem to realize that the very integrity of Pakistan is at stake. There is therefore unprecedented restraint being observed by the army and a commitment to democracy by the politicians. There is popular belief that restoration of democracy will ensure the world’s endorsement, and thereby survival, of Pakistan. That may not be the truth. Democracy is the icing on the cake being sought by the west. The substance of the cake relates to the strategic implications flowing from Islamabad’s current policies.
|Kashmir is not the problem. It is the symptom of the problem. The problem is the Partition. Its spirit, though not its legality, must be undone. That will happen when the cultural nationalism of the region is reclaimed.
A recent article published here pointed out that Pakistan’s reported secret deal with Beijing to set up Chinese military bases in the FATA region of Pakistan and in the Gwadar port in Baluchistan could be invitation to suicide. If China establishes a military foothold in Baluchistan and in the FATA area of Pakistan it might temporarily help Islamabad offset its weakening ties with America. But the strategic implications would be unacceptable to the west. China plans the Gwadar Port to become a trans-shipment hub for the landlocked Central Asian states, Afghanistan, and Xingjian in Western China. Beijing has been developing Gwadar Port, not far from the crucially strategic Strait of Hormuz, since 2002.
America and Britain would do everything required to prevent China acquiring control of this port. A Chinese military base in the FATA region would give Beijing control over the access route to energy-rich Central Asia through Afghanistan to secure which America got embroiled in its protracted war in Afghanistan. Would Washington tamely allow China to set up its military base in this region?
Subsequent to the publication of that article the constitutional crisis in Pakistan rapidly escalated. Now the survival of the present government seems to be in doubt. It is popularly believed that corruption is the basic issue threatening the future of Pakistan. The real threat to the survival of Pakistan emanates from a very longstanding and different issue. That issue is related to the identity of Pakistan. To a lesser degree that issue bedevils India as well. People say that politics does not rely on logic. That is so because politicians are not logical. But history is logical. And history dictates that unless the attributes of nationhood truly exist no nation will stabilize. Unless India and Pakistan respect the attributes of nationhood bequeathed by history, geography and culture there will never be stability and peace in this subcontinent.
That is why I wrote in my book “Rediscovery of India” 23 years ago in 1989:
“In recreating Hindustan…the spirit and substance of the Partition, though not necessarily its legality, must resolutely be undone…India must commit herself to the creation of a politico-economic community in South Asia, as well as a mutual defence security system… free movement without visas of citizens of all member countries of the South Asian community region…Pakistan itself is facing contradictions…exacerbated by the crisis in Afghanistan. There is virtual civil war in Afghanistan. There are three million Pushtu speaking Afghan refugees in Pakistan. If the Afghan crisis is prolonged, both Afghan and NWFP Pushto tribes might be expected to make common cause and revive the call for a Pushtunistan comprising areas of present day Afghanistan and Pakistan. If that happens Sind and Baluchistan will not lag behind… civil war within Pakistan, were it to come, would not remain confined to Afghan and Pakistani territories. Inevitably it will spill over and involve India. In that unfortunate event the painful process of war will confront the leaders of South Asia with the same challenge that they stubbornly refuse to face during peace: how to restructure the subcontinent and undo the legacy of a most unnatural Partition, and to establish in its place a new arrangement more natural to the character and genius of Hindustan.”
By rebuffing Mr. Mac Grossman Islamabad might be thinking it has acted tough. One hopes the powers that be in Pakistan are aware of the political volcano on which their nation stands poised. At the end of this year the American Presidential election will be held. President Obama will do everything possible to gain a second term. Resolving the Afghanistan-Pakistan crisis one way or the other would be a game changer for him. The obvious way for Islamabad to change course would be to integrate with the rest of South Asia as a community having common market and joint defence as I have been advocating for the past two decades. If Islamabad does not quickly move in this direction there is always the other option open to Washington. And that is to balkanize Pakistan to secure America’s strategic interests.
Need one remind readers that I had earlier drawn attention in these columns to the article by the US military analyst Lt. Col. Ralph Peters in the June 2006 issue of The Armed Forces Journal, which reputedly reflects Pentagon thinking, that Pakistan should be dismembered leading to an independent Greater Baluchistan comprising the Pakistani and Iranian Baluch provinces as a single nation? In February 1, 2011 US strategy expert Mr. Selig Harrison wrote in The National Interest that the Obama Administration should act to make this happen. These are writers reflecting influential opinion in Washington. Islamabad should read the writing on the wall and act. To set the ball rolling in the direction of dismembering Pakistan all that Mr. Marc Grossman would need to do when in Kabul during the next few days is to commit American support to President Hamid Karzai and the Taliban if they insist implementing the unimplemented provisions of the Durand Line Treaty by which the Pushtu speaking regions in Pakistan would revert back to Afghanistan. The prospect of Pushtu unification across borders would be strongly supported by all Pushtu tribes in Pakistan and Afghanistan alike. Could Islamabad cope with that? Or would that event set off chain reactions in Baluchistan, which is already facing insurgency, and in Sind?
There are leaders in Pakistan who talk of peace with India. But the time for talk is long over. Now concrete agreement and swift action are required. The time for vigils with lighted candles on the Wagah border is passé. The problem has never arisen from the people of Pakistan and India. The problem lies with the politicians and the vested interest that want to perpetuate the status quo. Mr. Imran Khan, described as Pakistan’s newest political star, said that there should be trust between both nations. That is too vague.
What is needed is a firm joint defence treaty that includes nuclear weapons. That alone will indicate real trust. That will be a start. Problems such as the Kashmir dispute will be resolved in the natural course.
Kashmir is not the problem. It is the symptom of the problem. The problem is the Partition. Its spirit, though not its legality, must be undone. That will happen when the cultural nationalism of the region is reclaimed.
The European Union (EU) is faltering. The original 15 founding member nations had shared history and culture. But the mindless expansion of the EU under pressure of multinational corporations obsessed with markets at the cost of political identity has created the crisis. That is why it will be suicidal for the envisaged South Asian Union to accept China as a member.
China needs to democratize and consolidate Tibet, Xingjian and Taiwan to create a China-centric union of its own. That union could have the best trade and cultural relations with an India-centric union.
Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Bhutan are all connected to India, none to each other. India is like the palm of the hand. The rest are like four fingers and thumb. That is the reality. And history remorselessly acknowledges reality however long it takes. Politicians in India and Pakistan also need to acknowledge reality if they want lasting peace and stability. Otherwise history might thrust reality through a painful and bloody process.