The former Pakistan ambassador to the US discusses the Kashmir issue, India-Pakistan relations and the struggle for lasting peace.
Former Pakistan ambassador to the US and well-known academic scholar Husain Haqqani believes that the current round of troubles in Kashmir will not have a different outcome than in the past, with the disputed region seeing yet another cyclical period of unrest and trading of barbs between Indian and Pakistan.
Author of books on Pakistan’s internal actors and ties with the US, Haqqani’s latest, India vs Pakistan: Why Can’t We Just be Friends?, explores the dysfunctional relationship between New Delhi and Islamabad. Haqqani has long advocated that India and Pakistan should talk to each other despite disagreeing over core issues so that progress can be made on other important and less controversial areas. “India and Pakistan are unique in the sense that we have the attitude that until and unless, everything is resolved, nothing will be resolved and that is never the way forward,” he said.
Speaking to The Wire, Haqqani was rather pessimistic about any reconciliation between India and Pakistan, noting that current “circumstances” didn’t enable either Prime Ministers Narendra Modi or Nawaz Sharif to do much diplomatic outreach. While Pakistan was already dominated by a certain nationalist narrative pushed by the army, Haqqani also saw similar signs of Hindutva nationalist redefinition in India, which could further fuel any possibility of a sustained peace process.
With Modi set to travel to Pakistan for the SAARC summit in November, Haqqani advised him to keep it very low-key. “This relationship has gone bad in a 70-year period. It is not going to get better in a 70-hour interaction in a SAARC conference and that is something we need to tell our people.”
Where do you place the current troubles in Kashmir in the arc of the India-Pakistan story? Is this an old pattern or do you see any new elements in this situation?
India does definitely have a Kashmir problem. The fact that Pakistan has destroyed its international case on Kashmir by destroying jihadi groups does not take away from the fact that India will someday have to deal with the unrest among Kashmiri Muslims. That said, the current round of troubles is not going to end differently than the previous rounds.
It will be unfortunate for a lot of people in Kashmir. A lot of force will have to be deployed to deal with it. There will be the usual recriminations between India and Pakistan, with Pakistan emphasising Indian atrocities and India emphasising Pakistani support for extremism and terrorism. Yet, it will certainly not result in a solution. Something that has been happening cyclically for 70 years will not end differently from the previous cycles.
But the use of social media, the striking pictures of Burhan Wani’s funeral all over Kashmir, don’t you think there is a different spirit among the Kashmiri underground that has come to fore?
Kashmir has been a restive for quite a while. Every few years, India puts in effort into winning over Kashmiris and there is a period of relative calm. But, until and unless the undercurrent of unhappiness in Kashmir is addressed, this will just be something that will surface periodically.
The reason that I don’t think the unrest is strong enough to result in an outcome different from the past is simply because of the balance of forces in the Valley.
Part of the Kashmir problem seems to be is that the state of Jammu and Kashmir as incorporated in the Indian constitution has become two very distinct regions. The Kashmir Valley feels a certain way and Jammu feels a certain way. And politics within the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir ends up creating a sense of unhappiness in one or the other part of the state.
As far as the dispute between India and Pakistan over Jammu and Kashmir is concerned, such restiveness in the past has always been interpreted in Pakistan as an opportunity to try and change the status quo. But I do not see the status quo changing, simply because I think that India will be able to bring to bear tremendous force. I think that is unfortunate. I think that it is sometimes unjust. But, just as within Pakistan, extreme elements are dealt with a lot of force successfully. A similar process can and will continue to take place also in the Indian controlled parts of Jammu and Kashmir.
Indians must understand just as in 1971, Pakistan would not have lost East Pakistan if the people of East Pakistan were not unhappy with the state of Pakistan. Similarly, in Jammu and Kashmir, there would not be protests of this scale, unhappiness of this scale, unless they have genuine grievances. And young Kashmiris do have grievances.
Militarisation of any area results in grievances. So those grievances exist. At the same time, there is always a pragmatic and realistic assessment of the situation. And my assessment is that we will not see an outcome very different from the past.
How much do you think the Indian government, state or central, erred in addressing the situation?
I would not address that question myself. I will just refer to many Indian commentators who feel that the Jammu and Kashmir state government, as well as, the Indian government have not always handled Kashmir sensibly. And they have created circumstances for unhappiness and unrest, which then they had to deal with tremendous force.
And this situation will repeat itself again and again?
I am afraid that it will happen again. Basically, the people of Kashmir have been a football between Pakistan, the state policy of Jammu and Kashmir and the Indian central government. Kashmir is one of the most highly militarised zones of the world. People are unhappy on both sides of the Line of Control and it is not a happy situation. Human rights violations are a reality. Yet, we all know that there is a logic of power. And the logic of power favours the status-quo.
Kashmiris could end up being the Palestinians of South Asia. But, we know that even the Palestinians with all the international support that they had could not get what they wanted. And in the case of Jammu and Kashmir, there is not even that level of international support that exists in the Palestinian question.
Ideally, the people of Kashmir should be heard. The various governments and entities that deal with their lives like the Azad Kashmir government in Pakistan, federal government of Pakistan, the state government of Indian controlled Jammu and Kashmir, Indian central government – they should all act more sensibly that they have done historically. But I do not see that happening. It is something that I would want, but will it happen…I am not too optimistic.
So, do you have any hope of ever seeing any kind of solution – in your lifetime, perhaps?
No, my lifetime is too long. I actually hope that I have a few more years to live. I hope that there can be a better, more pragmatic outlook.
Look the curse of South Asia is a constant defining and redefining of nationalism. In 1947, for example, there was a competition between Indian nationalism and Muslim nationalism that resulted in the creation of Pakistan. In 1971, Muslim nationalism was challenged in East Pakistan, which led to the creation of Bangladesh. It was challenged by Bengali nationalism. Now, we are seeing a rise of Hindu nationalism, which is inspiring Muslim nationalism all over again.
I am a pragmatic moderate and I think that hardline ideology of all sorts actually hurts human beings. The subcontinent is mired in ideological politics. So, my assessment is very different from my desire. My desire is that people should resolve issues in a pragmatic manner, but at the moment, ideological and emotional politics prevails, that creates the difficulties that you and I are discussing.
What kind of circumstances are required for such a solution? Does this require a change in polity in Pakistan and India?
Pakistan has to stop thinking of itself as an ideological state. Pakistan has to accept that it exists, that it does not need to explain its existence or justify its creation anymore. That may have been necessary in 1947-48, but it is not necessary in 2016. Pakistan is there and it must make policies that are for the betterment of its own people. Pakistanis must realise that in 1947, Pakistan’s literacy rate was 16% and India was 18% – a 2% difference. Today, there is a 22% difference between India and Pakistan’s literacy rates. India’s economy is growing faster. Pakistan’s exports are falling. Pakistan needs to start looking inward to find a route towards prosperity. There is no need to continue the narrative that Pakistani nationalism has to be, by definition, anti-India.
On the Indian side, people have to understand the psychology that has driven Pakistan towards paranoid policies and a policy driven by fear. And instead of rejecting the fear, even if you want to reject it, do it in a manner that does not feed the paranoia further. I think that it will require a level of statesmanship, which does not exist at the moment.
Wouldn’t it also require a change in balance between the military and civilians in Pakistan itself?
Pakistan’s nationalism currently is defined by militarism. Pakistan inherited a much larger share of the British Indian army than the share it inherited of British India’s resources. We got only 17% of resources, but 33% of the army. The army has been the dominant reality. Even now, retired military officers write more in the Pakistani media than retired military officers write in any [other] country’s media. They act as if they are the guardians of Pakistan’s identity. And they have defined Pakistan’s identity in a certain way in which ‘anti-Indianism’ is more important.
I often say that if Pakistan can survive 69 years without its jugular vein, which is what Pakistanis call Kashmir, it can survive for a few more years. So let us pay more attention to what can be resolved rather than chasing issues that cannot be resolved. But, that said sometimes, it is too simplistic to just blame the Pakistani army. Yes, it is under the influence of the Pakistan army that Pakistan has developed a certain narrative of nationalism. But, that has become the dominant narrative and it also affects the civilians. Civilian ascendancy is important. [The] consolidation of civilian rule in Pakistan is important. It will take a long, long time. At the same time, military’s intellectual and ideological influence over the civilians also has to diminish.
So, the military has already relinquished direct control in Pakistan, but its influence at an ideological and intellectual level is still all pervasive.
Pakistan’s military controls the narrative of Pakistan and very frankly, all countries should allow multiple narratives and I would say that it applies to India also. Ideological states try to create a straitjacket of ideas. That never serves them. China has prospered much more after it opened itself a little and started questioning Mao Tse Tung and his policies, even while looking back at history. The Communist Party of China has change its vision of China – even though it still remains the dominant force in China.
[In] Burma, the military for many years defined what Burmese nationalism was. Now they have opened it up to different perspectives.
Pakistan has opened up a space in terms of sharing political power with civilians. But, it has not yet opened up the battle of ideas completely. So, people like me who have a slightly different view of Pakistani nationalism, who love their country but still think that the country should have a very different set of objectives and goals, are not necessarily welcome. A lot of people in Pakistan who say that Pakistan should have a different worldview, are targeted as traitors and even as sometime as kafirs, unbelievers. That is not conducive to progress.
So, I would say that while the Pakistani military has definitely moved forward in sharing power, it has not yet moved forward in sharing control of the national narrative.
Talking of circumstances required to bring about a solution – there is a certain theory that a right wing nationalist government in India is necessary for this mix. Do you subscribe to this?
In my book I have explained many times how new theories have been propounded. There was a time when Rajiv Gandhi was elected here [in India] and Benazir Bhutto was elected in Pakistan. [The] theory was given that ‘both of them are [of the] post-partition generation, so they will deal with issues differently’. Nothing changed.
Then when Sharif was elected and [Atal Bihari] Vajpayeeji was elected, people said ‘both represent conservative, right wing governments’. But that didn’t change anything.
Then when [Pervez] Musharraf came to power, it was assumed that a military ruler who has full control and wants to have a dialogue will be able to deliver. Well we heard that there was a very interesting process of negotiation etc but it never went anywhere. Before a deal could be consummated, Musharraf went out [of] power.
In my book, India vs Pakistan, I also show that any Pakistani leader who has been close to a[ny] sort of a deal with India has always ended losing power in Pakistan. So, that cannot be ignored.
Similarly, India can make peace under a centrist government, or a left-wing government, or a right-wing government, if the circumstances are right. And the same applies in the case of Pakistan, I think that we should focus more on what issues need to be focussed on than who will be able to bring that peace. In Pakistan, it is important that whoever controls the rein of power, understands that solving disputes first and then becoming friends, is always more difficult than becoming friends first and then solving disputes. Even the closest of friends and allies in the worlds have disputes. Canada and [the] US have an open border and a free trade agreement and yet, they have nine outstanding disputes. But that does not interfere in the normal relationship between the two.
India and Pakistan are unique in the sense that we have the attitude that until and unless everything is resolved nothing will be resolved and that is never the way forward.
India has said that Kashmir should be on the backburner, while both countries deal with other issues like trade.
I personally think that realism demands that dispute resolution be put off and normal exchange start first. While India has said it, it has not always facilitated it. India, sometimes justifiably so, says that we cannot open free travel, for example, because Pakistan will use that to infiltrate [India with] more terrorists. So, in this case, in India and Pakistan’s case, a lot is said that both sides know is rhetoric. But, what I am talking [about] is a great leap forward in [the] relationship, in which both sides say, you know what, this is not about winning the argument, it is about winning the peace.
Can Modi and Sharif achieve this great leap forward?
They might be the statesmen who can do it, but neither of them have the circumstances that will enable them to do that. I don’t want to comment on their personalities. Personally, I am not one of them who believes that history is shaped by individuals. I believe circumstances and events have a lot of role to play. On neither side of the India-Pakistan border right now is the situation ripe for that great leap forward.
On the Indian side, India is wrestling with the idea of what level of cultural and religious identity should play a part in Indian nationalism. That essentially has repercussions on Pakistan’s side, because it is interesting that hard-line two-nation theory starts becoming weak, it starts finding resonance in India. So, if we have to go beyond the debate of 1940s, both sides have to do it, not just one.
On the Pakistani side, we already know that the military has a peculiar and particular way of looking at India and it does not allow people to discuss it, let alone, change it [the view]. So, whatever the stature of the statesman in charge of Pakistan, the question is can he sell it to the army; sell the idea to the army and then to the general public, about how Pakistan and India need peace for economic growth and just for having healthy citizens.
Look, nations that are dragged down by the burden of hate, don’t do too well. Nations that free themselves from that, free themselves from issues of ideology and culture and pursue prosperity and happiness, they are always happier. If there are going to be disputes over what people should eat or not eat, and there are going to be murders, that is not a healthy society. Similarly, if there is a society in which people are killed in their mosques for belonging to a different sect, that is not a healthy society. I think that both India and Pakistan need to deal with the unhealthy trends in their respective societies. And until that is done, agreements and shaking hands between statesmen will not make such a big difference.
There have been 59 summit level meetings between Pakistani and Indian leaders. If 55 meetings have not changed the reality of our relationship, [the] 56th meeting or 57th meeting is not going to change it. Something else needs to be done. We need to take out the poison of anger and hate towards one another that has permeated our body politic.
You said in your book that Indian leaders haven’t consistently reached out to the Pakistani public to reassure them that there is no plan to undo Partition. How does the Indian government conduct such outreach?
My point is that Indian leaders have occasionally tried it. When Vajpayee went to Pakistan, he went to Minar-e-Pakistan to indicate that India accepts Pakistan wholeheartedly. Then, [L.K.] Advani went to [Muhammad Ali] Jinnah’s tomb and made some positive comments about him. But then both of them faced backlash in India from people who said that ‘no, no, no you cannot praise Jinnah or you cannot praise the… [then] you cannot say the idea of Pakistan is here to stay’. That then becomes a vicious circle, so people there [in Pakistan] say that these people are not sincere.
What I am talking about is a more sustained expression of the notion that India does not want to finish off Pakistan. That India or Indians may disagree with the fact of Pakistan having been created, but they accept that fact. It’s like, in a family, that [people say] ‘I do not want you to get married to so and so’, but once the marriage has taken place and children are born, [they] accept those children as their nephews and nieces. It’s that kind of attitude that is needed.
In my book, I actually cite how Indian leaders pursued their relationship with Pakistan and how Gandhi envisaged it, who said that we should treat Pakistan like the member of a joint family that has gone away and set up its own home. We didn’t want that to happen, but he is still a member of the family. That may have been a better way for Indians to treat Pakistan.
So, what I am talking [about] is a longer-term interaction in which, on a sustained basis, India gives the signal to Pakistanis – ‘we accept you. You are our neighbour. We were one country once, but now we are two countries but we have 5000 years of history and only 70 years of partition’. So let’s celebrate the shared history and let us ignore the disputes that we have created while we are separate.
The Indian prime minister has committed to visiting Pakistan for the November SAARC summit. But with Kashmir on the boil, heightened rhetoric on both sides and a still unfinished probe on Pathankot by the Pakistani side, how do you think the next few weeks will play out for Modi’s visit to take place?
Well, positive relations cannot emerge under the threat of terrorism. That is something I have been saying as a Pakistani to my fellow Pakistanis. On the Indian side, I think that there is a realisation that you cannot ignore your neighbour completely. That said, I say that India and Pakistan should continue to engage, but continue to engage with less expectations, because there is nothing worse than building high expectations and those expectations being dashed.
Modi went to Lahore, he held Sharif’s hand and if that had not happened, then Pathankot would not have the same kind of impact on the Indian psyche, because now there is a feeling of being let down. So my view is that even if Prime Minister Modi goes to Pakistan for the SAARC summit, he should do so with low expectations and he should make sure that Indians understand that he is going there because it is the SAARC summit, that he is not going there with the expectation or hope of a major breakthrough. This relationship has gone bad over a 70-year period. It is not going to get better in a 70-hour interaction in a SAARC conference and that is something we need to tell our people. Because when people [are] expecting ‘wow, something is about to happen that will change everything’, then that doesn’t happen, disappoint comes in and that disappointment is really bad for the prospect of this relationship. Engage, engage but less expectation and continue to work on the big picture which is to reassure each other and to stop looking at each other as permanent enemies.
India vs Pakistan: Why Can’t We Just be Friends? by Husain Haqqani is available on the Juggernaut app and in bookstores.