Musings

Conflict and resolution

Updated 27 Jul, 2015 03:36pm
In the last 10 to 15 years, besides two large-scale military mobilisations, Pakistan and India have remained engaged in dangerous military brinkmanship without proper attention being paid to developments at the public level in either country | AFP/ File photo
In the last 10 to 15 years, besides two large-scale military mobilisations, Pakistan and India have remained engaged in dangerous military brinkmanship without proper attention being paid to developments at the public level in either country | AFP/ File photo

In the spring of 1997, I was doing a fellowship on Pak-India conflict resolution with a Washington DC-based think tank. As a fellow, I was paired with an Indian intellectual from the world of academia who now teaches at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. In those days, Washington DC was abuzz with theories and policy recommendations on how to reduce Pak-India tensions. Everybody was an expert on South Asia and everybody who mattered had something to say on the issue.

Every day, the management of the think tank used to arrange meetings for us with the officials at the US State Department, Pentagon and American experts on South Asia. One morning, when we reached the office, we were informed that we had a meeting with a senior US diplomat, Robert Oakley (the famous US Ambassador renowned in Pakistan as the American Viceroy), who was then serving in senior capacity at the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University of the US Army.

During a two-hour long session, Oakley told us that the security establishment in Washington (including himself) has been urging the Pakistani ruling elite (including politicians, army generals and part of the civil service) to put the face of their country on their western border. “We have been telling them that the situation on Pakistan’s eastern border is constant; both threats and opportunities are constant, but the situation on the country’s western border is evolving and new threats and opportunities are arising with each passing day,” he told us. Remember that the post-911 forced U-turn or re-orientation of the Pakistani state was still four years away. And, in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, everybody thought that the core issue facing the nation was nothing else than how to counter the Indian threat. Nuclear jingoism was the norm.

During the conversation, both my Indian colleague and I suggested that this shift could lead to a deep ideological conflict in Pakistani society. Anti-India feelings are deeply entrenched in the country’s society and state structures are dominated by those who espouse these feelings.

As acrimonious ideological debate came to dominate the security debate increasingly over the years, we seem to have completely ignored the economic opportunities emerging in our neighbouring country

Oakley was speaking in the context of economic opportunities opening up after the energy-rich Central Asian states achieved their independence from the erstwhile Soviet Union. Stabilisation of Afghanistan was not seen as an unrealistic objective as it seems now. So, Oakley told us that both threats and opportunities on Pakistan’s western borders were immense, whereas the situation on Pakistan’s eastern border would remain “constant for the foreseeable future”. However, in those days, he was not the only one in Washington who wanted Pakistan to devote its military resources as its contribution to bring stability to part of south-west and central Asia and refrain from wasting these resources on tensions with India. Nonetheless, I found Oakley to be the most articulate proponent of this idea. “Putting your face on the western border” meant that Pakistan would act as a stabilising force in south-west and Central Asia, militarily, and would benefit from the economic bonanza that a newly independent Central Asian republic would seem to generate.

The idea made perfect sense: Pakistan could provide military stability to Central Asia, where the newly independent republics not only lacked the military resources but were facing internal security threat from the resurgence of Islamic extremists/militant groups. In return, these republics could meet the energy requirements of Pakistan’s industrial expansion and could serve as a market for its products.

Events in the next 10 years took place at a pace much faster than expected. Oakley’s words proved to be partially correct. New opportunities and threats continued to arise on the western border. But the situation on the eastern border hardly remained constant. While the post-911 US invasion of Afghanistan put Pakistan under continuous pressure to reorient its military priorities towards a more active role in south-west Asia, military tensions with India in post-911 period were putting equal pressure on Pakistani military strategists to keep their plans oriented towards the eastern border.

In the last 10 to 15 years, besides two large-scale military mobilisations, Pakistan and India have remained engaged in dangerous military brinkmanship without proper attention being paid to these developments at the public level in either country. The period starting with the year 2011 was especially dangerous as the militaries in both countries started exchanging dangerous signals. This year, Indian armed forces conducted two military exercises close to the Pakistan border, with the aim of reducing time of mobilising Indian strike forces from three weeks to 48 hours, “in order to punish Pakistan after mass casualty attack on an Indian city or strategic installation by Pakistan-based militant groups”. Two years later, Pakistan integrated its tactical nukes into its war plans and repeatedly flight-tested its delivery system.

We, as a nation, are far from clear as to what our prime security interests are. In Pakistan, ideological confusion always reflects in debates on security matters

The two military mobilisations by India (in 2002 and 2008), following terrorist attacks on its mainland, brought lessons for the military planners of the two countries. For India, it was clear that before the sluggish Indian army could mobilise for operation, Pakistan could always mobilise the international public opinion in its favour to deter India from undertaking any adventure. So the only option left for the frustrated Indian military planner was to reduce the mobilisation time of their strike crops. On the other hand, two counter mobilisations proved financially costly for Pakistan and that forced Pakistan to integrate nukes into its war plans.

However, there is one part of Oakley’s statement that did prove correct. The events did force Pakistan to change its focus towards its western border. But this was not done as neatly as Oakley predicted or proposed. This was done at a considerable cost to the social and political stability of Pakistani society. Pakistan Armed Forces' activities on the western border, in the post-911 period - no matter how essential they were at the strategic level - were seen by a segment of society to be carried out at the behest of western powers and, therefore, suspect. In fact, during this period, even the Pakistani army’s activities to counter the India threat came under suspicion - at least among the intelligentsia - despite the fact that this part of our security policy was based on broad support in the pre-911 society.

Not surprisingly, this period saw an emergence of deep ideological conflicts reflecting on the question of whether we should focus on our western or eastern border. In the event, the conflicting ideological camps kept on issuing divergent mandates to the army. While the religious right wanted the armed forces to remain oriented towards its anti-India mission, the liberal left wanted the army to focus on the threat on our western border.

Since 1998, there are clear signs of the security establishment pushing for this kind of reorientation as General Jehangir Karamat was the first army chief who openly advocated that the country’s prime security threat emanates from its internal situation that has linkages across its western borders. The events in the following years also pushed us in this direction. But the conflict is far from resolved. We, as a nation, are far from clear as to what our prime security interests are. In Pakistan, ideological confusion always reflects on the debate on security matters.

Besides, as acrimonious ideological debate came to dominate the security debate increasingly over the years, we seem to have completely ignored the economic opportunities emerging in our neighbouring country. Proving Oakley completely wrong is the economic miracle India produced in its society since the 1990s, which, undoubtedly, is a major development on Pakistan’s eastern border, carrying with it immense opportunities. We seem to be completely missing this opportunity on account of our purely militaristic perspective of our security problems. To avail this opportunity, we don’t have to change the location of face of our country. We only have to soften our face.