by Col Anil Athale (Retd)
Indo-Pak relations have seen so many false dawns that one is sceptical that the current moves can yield any different results. On 18 March 2021, Pakistan’s Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa gave a call to India and Pakistan to bury the past and look to future of peaceful relations. He echoed similar sentiments expressed by Pakistani PM Imran Khan a day earlier at the first ever Islamabad Security dialogue. These statements came on the back of a renewed cease fire along the LOC (Line of Control) agreed to by the DGMOs (Director General Military Operations) of both the countries a few days earlier. It is indeed a ‘unique’ event since for the first time initiative has come from Pakistani side. On all earlier occasions, be it Indus Water treaty by Nehru, Tashkent agreement signed by Shastri, Shimla agreement by Indira Gandhi and Lahore bus trip initiative by Vajpayee, it was India that initiated the efforts for peace. So what has changed this time around? Answer to this question is crucial in predicting the future course of Indo-Pak relations.
There are three aspects of Indo-Pak relations that need deeper consideration. The relations can be analysed at tactical, strategic and ideological levels. Tactically the cease fire on LOC (line of control) is more beneficial to Pakistan than India. The reason for this asymmetry is the fact that border on the Pakistani side is far more heavily populated than on Indian side. Thus co-lateral damage to the civilian population is much greater on the Pakistani side. At another level, with closer Indo-US and Indo-Israeli co-operation, at the tactical level the technological balance is slowly but surely turning in favour of India. No amount of Chinese military aid can offset the technological superiority of Western arms.
At strategic level, the air strike by India on Balakot camp in2019 showed up Pakistani strategic vulnerability since Pakistan lacks strategic depth. Many of its major targets are close to border and within artillery and standoff air weapons range. Converse is not true for India.
Given this situation, there is convergence of tactical and strategic factors in case of Pakistan that favour peace with India. But as seen earlier, the path of peace between India and Pakistan is strewn with train wrecks! The reason for this is the Pakistani ideology and the resultant societal mindset it has generated. It is due to the ideological factor that has led Pakistan to follow a policy of hostility to India at the cost of tactical, strategic and economic costs.
Pakistan believes that India is an artificial creation and in time it will break up into several states and Pakistan will emerge as the single biggest state on the subcontinent. This found its most eloquent expression in a very colourful language by General Ayub Khan during his visit to the US in July 1961. This author who has studied the original JFK archives, found that Ayub confidently told President Kennedy that India will not last for 10 years and will breakup. It is another matter that within that time frame it was Pakistan that actually broke up into two parts. In the early 1960s Pakistan, through its Eastern Wing, gave full support to Naga and Mizo rebels in North Eastern India. This notion of fragility of Indian unity found an upsurge in 1980s when Pakistan (aided and abetted by US & UK) whole heartedly supported the Khalistani separatist movement in Punjab. In newspaper columns and in popular writings, Pakistan still believes that insurgency is still rampant in Indian North East, contrary to the situation on ground. It is this notion of imminent break up of India that has been responsible to sustain the Pakistani hostility and aggressive posture towards India.
There is also a lingering jingoism born out of notion of Pakistani ‘Martial Race’s’ superiority vs Indian ‘Bania’. A veteran of 1947 Kashmir conflict, late Lt. Gen. Eric Vas, had once told this author (and also written about in his book ‘Without Baggage History of 1947-48 Kashmir Operations) that the Pak supported Tribal raiders vehicles had slogans “Chalo Delhi”. Closer to our time, the failed Operation Grand Slam of Pakistan in 1965, envisaged the Pak armour reaching Delhi. As a real world consequence of this mindset, in 1965 Indo-Pak war, Pakistan dropped its elite SSG (Special Service Group) commandos at Adampur and Halwara airfields in Punjab, nearly 200 kms in depth from border. One Pakistani soldier being equal to ten Indians was a belief that engendered many adventures from 1965 to Kargil 1999.
But the most fundamental premise of Pakistan, certainly since 1980s, is that they are not Indians but Arabs/Turks/Iranians who have conquered the land called Pakistan. Brainwashed through a warped curriculum, most Pakistanis believe that their history begins in seventh century with conquest of Sindh by Mohhamd Bin Qasim. All past before that date is rejected as myths and stories.
A rest in Indo Pak relations needs to begin with acceptance of its Indian sub continental origin by Pakistani society. This would indicate that the peace overtures are not mere tactical or strategic ploys but Pakistan genuinely desires peace.