LT GEN HARWANT SINGH (RETD) | 28 MAY, 2019
A Change in Pakistan
Given Pakistan’s financial stress, India should step in and offer some help
Born as twins, separated by thousands of miles, the two parts of Pakistan have had a checkered run. They have oscillated between military and democratic rule. In either case, rampant corruption has seeped into every walk of people’s lives and gradually the radicalisation of its youth has set in.
Bringing East Pakistan under the jackboots of the military and the excesses thereon proved to work against the country’s own core interests. It resulted in the Eastern Wing breaking away and emerging as a separate country. And Pakistan’s obsession with Kashmir has done it great damage. It resulted in three wars with India with no gains, but substantial losses. It failed to reconcile the fact that there is no possibility whatsoever, of a change in the existing status of Jammu and Kashmir.
Attempts to grab J&K by any means have worked against the country’s own core interest in a range of areas. Over time its military became more and more involved in political affairs, and kept building up an unsupportable and unwanted level of capabilities, leading to an unbearable financial burden. It also gained ever greater control over government policies and stepped into the political arena. The military also entered into the country’s economic sphere.
A focus on national security at the cost of all else impacted the country’s economy: finally bringing it to its present state of near bankruptcy and widespread poverty. Inflation is soaring and debt ballooning, with the finance team scrambling for multibillion dollar rescue packages. Pakistan is on the verge of economic collapse and the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force is on the brink of blacklisting it. Given this critical financial stress, perhaps India, as a goodwill gesture, should offer some help.
The country’s self-inflicted wounds are many. Its move towards fundamentalism, and letting thousands of madrasas come up, has resulted in the radicalisation of its youth. Its leaning towards fundamentalism and playing up threats from India has been its undoing. Letting armed militants operate from its soil against Russian troops in Afghanistan, and their continued involvement with terrorist organisations in Afghanistan thereafter, has led to their establishing permanent bases in Pakistan.
As a result, terrorist outfits in Pakistan started operating in J&K and carry out terrorist attacks against India. And Pakistan has itself been the target of the same set of terrorists. While following a policy of a thousand cuts against India, it is Pakistan itself which has been bleeding.
China stepped into the scene and Pakistan found in it a willing partner to operate against India and ever ready to come to its aid. China’s policy in this field has been entirely in its own interest, using Pakistan as a facilitator. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as also the One Belt One Road Initiative, will mainly serve China’s interests and is reminiscent of the gunboat diplomacy of European nations in earlier times, though with a somewhat different format. These will also bring Pakistan under increasing debt. China’s relenting on Masood Azhar being declared a ‘global terrorist’ by the United Nations Security Council should make Pakistan review its total dependence on that country. While India might wait and watch, which is what China expects from India as a quid pro quo.
Although Prime Minister Imran Khan is generally believed to have come to power with the backing of the military, and it is alleged that the elections were deeply flawed with the military secretly helping him, he said about terrorist groups operating from Pakistan that “the Pakistan Army created them, when it and the United States backed Muslim insurgents in Afghanistan against Soviet forces,” in an interview with the New York Times. He seems to project his resolve to rid Pakistan of terrorists, as according to him they are of no use any more.
Khan seems to be making serious efforts to right the economy, calling upon security forces to stage greater and more effective crackdowns on militants than their pervious efforts, which he says were more cosmetic. He plans to send 200,000 teachers to religious schools across the country to teach subjects such as Mathematics and English in an effort to de-radicalise the students.
With court cases pilling up against the last military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, the possibility of another military general staging a coup has reduced substantially. Equally, the political leadership may assert itself to keep the military from interfering in policy issues and to tone down the ISI.
Imran Khan has tried to extend the hand of friendship towards India, first by reaching an agreement concerning the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor, where he had the army chief by his side, and by sending back the Indian pilot Abhinandan Varthaman within three days of his capture. Khan played down the Balakot bombing and the subsequent air battle, remarking “They hit our trees and we hit their stones.” He appears willing to change the Pakistan-India narrative for the better.
On the other hand, for the Indian political class to gain a petty electoral advantage, the thumping of chests, anti-Pakistan bombast, harping on surgical strikes and the nuclear button is outright childish. India-Pakistan hostility cannot continue forever.
Perhaps it is an opportune moment for India to meet Pakistan halfway in its attempts to improve relations between the two countries. Mending relations will work, in a multitude of ways to the greater advantage of Pakistan. It may not be able to completely shut the terrorist tap any time soon, and some level of infiltration of terrorists from Pakistan into J&K may continue. India need not lower its guard against infiltration by terrorists across the LoC and sporadic attacks.
Pakistan should strive to have friendly relations with India, expand the scope of trade between the two countries and cooperate in a range of areas. It needs to suitably recast the Indus Waters Treaty so that it equally benefits both countries, and the waters of these rivers are appropriately and fully utilised, without in anyway disturbing the existing allocation under the treaty. With storage dams instead of run-of-the-river dams, India can fully exploit the hydroelectric power potential of the three western rivers, and provide Pakistan with electric power at concessional rates to meet all its requirements. Storage dams in India on these three rivers will ensure that Pakistan gets a year-round supply of water for irrigation.
Indians genuinely desire friendly relations with Pakistan, and want it to be a stable, prosperous, progressive and modern state. Both countries, for a period of time, must put aside the Kashmir issue and instead focus on nation building, economic development and their people’s well being.
It is the right time for both countries to seize this opportunity and move ahead. Time and tide won’t wait.