Book Review | The enigma of Pakistan in India: managing a complex relationship
The Riddle of Pakistan in India: Managing a Complex Relationship is a must for anyone who wants to know more about India-Pakistan relations. It is a welcome break from both the scholarly studies of analysts and the anecdotal accounts of practitioners. It is an in-depth account of the current state of Pakistan, the most problematic bilateral issues between India and Pakistan, and suggestions for dealing with them, inspired by its observations and experiences.
The enigma of Pakistan in India: managing a complex relationship
Author: Sharat Sabharwal
Editor: Routledge, 2022
Pages: 228 | Rs 995
India and Pakistan have had difficult relations since their independence. Mutual perceptions of the events of 1947 and 1971 created schisms in the historical memory of their peoples that trouble relations to this day. Sabharwal, who served as India’s Ambassador to Islamabad from April 2009 to June 2013, in a well-structured, compellingly presented and compelling book, describes the background of India-Pakistan relations in a concrete and accessible way.
The book is essential for anyone who wants to know more about India-Pakistan relations. It is a welcome break from both the scholarly studies of analysts and the anecdotal accounts of practitioners. It is an in-depth account of the current state of Pakistan, the most problematic bilateral issues between India and Pakistan, and suggestions for dealing with them, inspired by its observations and experiences.
The first six chapters of the book describe Pakistan’s internal framework: how it became mired in religious extremism, became dependent on external crutches, the power equation between the security establishment and the political system, the roots of Pakistan’s antipathy towards India, and the likely future direction of the country.
Sabharwal provides an authentic report on the behind-the-scenes negotiation between Indian and Pakistani interlocutors from 2003 to 2007 and its outcome (pp. 100-102). These started under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee when Brajesh Mishra, his National Security Advisor (NSA), represented India, followed by NSA JN Dixit and Special Envoy Satinder Lambah. Pakistan has always been represented by its NSA Tariq Aziz.
Pakistan is not a failed state, writes Sabharwal, nor a state on the verge of collapse in the foreseeable future, but a “highly dysfunctional state” with “widespread anarchy” (p. 88). Sabharwal points out that nuclear weapons have made it impossible for India to impose its will militarily on Pakistan. He then argues logically that any policy towards Pakistan based on its disintegration would be wrong and that it would be better to engage with Pakistan.
Sabharwal reasons that while the ascendancy of the Pakistani military over civilian authority will continue, Pakistan has a large constituency desiring a normal relationship, which Indian policy should take into account. He perceives that “rational thinking” is “widespread among the leaders of the major political parties” and “much of the commercial and business community and the media” (p. 201). The dilemma for Indian policymakers is that the stranglehold of the military establishment over Pakistan’s foreign and security policies continues, as well as the control of its two strategic assets – nuclear weapons and terrorist groups maintained as instruments of state.
Future relations between India and Pakistan
Pakistan is the Boolean opposite of India – it represents everything that India is not. In designing possible initiatives, India will have to take into account Pakistan’s three fault lines: the role of Islam in its public policy (Muslim identity versus Islamism), its unitary structure and strong ethno-linguistic movements, and democracy and authoritarianism (electorate civil authority versus the military establishment). Over the past few decades, Pakistan’s slowing growth rates, booming population, turbulent politics, runaway debt and inflation, spreading Islamist sentiment and recent devastating floods and shortages of essential supplies have added to its friability.
Since the breakup of Pakistan, its military elite, with its relentless propaganda, has reinforced India’s pervasive paranoia. The Pakistani military has fomented the myth that India wishes the destruction of Pakistan to ingrain hatred of India in the Pakistani imagination. A mirror image is developing in India.
Sabharwal rightly suggests that if Pakistan remains an abnormal state, normalizing relations with India might prove difficult, but there is room for diplomacy. He is right to say that no one-shot reconciliation is possible between India and Pakistan. A beginning is possible with the increase in social and economic exchanges (more trade and visits). India’s least bad option is to relaunch the oft-broken conversation with Pakistan, aware that it is again in danger of failing. Ideally, India and Pakistan should address the issue of cultural memory related to history teaching and school pedagogy. As this will be difficult, both countries may seek to ignore the past, however difficult that may be.
With regard to Kashmir, Pakistan’s unwavering official view is that the Indian “occupation” of Jammu and Kashmir is “illegal” and that the Kashmiri people must be allowed to exercise their legitimate right to self-determination. without which neither the dispute can be resolved peacefully nor can there be a lasting peace between India and Pakistan. Former Prime Minister Imran Khan and current Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif both sought to reverse India’s August 2019 move to convert the state of Jammu and Kashmir into a union territory and to repeal Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. Articles in Pakistani vernacular newspapers on the Diamond Jubilee of Pakistan’s Independence Day, August 14, 2022, have reinforced popular sentiment in Pakistan that its freedom is incomplete without Kashmir.
The Kashmir issue, in the view of the examiner, can only be settled on the basis of improved Indo-Pakistani relations, not the other way around. If Pakistan is ready for that, India and Pakistan could indeed have normal relations.
The author is a former diplomat and was director general of the Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis. The opinions expressed are personal.