Review: The Many Reasons Why India and Pakistan ‘Just Can’t be Friends’

In his new book, Husain Haqqani broadly diagnoses the bilateral distrust between India and Pakistan and maps out how both sides have played with a number of levers over the last two decades.

Viceroy of India Mountbatten meets Indian leaders to plan how to partition India into two nations. Credit: Flickr

Viceroy of India Mountbatten meets Indian leaders to plan how to partition India into two nations. Credit: Flickr

During the UN deliberations on Kashmir in 1948, Mirza Abol Hassan Ispahani, Pakistan’s first high commissioner to the US, wrote to Jinnah: “Eventually, the Kashmir dispute will have to be settled in Kashmir, and not at Lake Success [then the UN headquarters].” In the meantime, though, Ispahani also cautioned Jinnah that he should quickly appoint many more, and better calibre, diplomats for Pakistan, as, “Nehru is barging in his ambassadors all over the place” [sic].

Ispahani’s concerns were not unjustified, and, as Husain Haqqani argues in his new book, India vs. Pakistan: Why Can’t We Just be Friends? (Juggernaut, 2016), the situation also reflected the Muslim League’s weak preparations for the creation of Pakistan. For example, as Haqqani shows us, the origin of the Kashmir dispute was also shaped by the fact that the Congress machinery was agile and sure-footed in its accession treaties with the princely states, while the Muslim League’s efforts in this direction were often hastily-assembled, not thought through, and generally less effective.

Haqqani’s broader diagnosis of the bilateral distrust between India and Pakistan is two-fold: the reasons behind the distrust, he argues, are paranoia about and suspicion towards India, on the part of the Pakistani military, and India’s inability to convince Pakistan that it does not want to ‘undo’ the fact of the partition.

These trends were certainly evident in the years that followed the partition: an early refusal to forward Pakistan’s share of the division of assets, ungracious sniping over the accession of two major princely states – Hyderabad and Kashmir – along with several minor ones, and a vindictive attempt to cut off water supplies from the Gurdaspur headworks. Additionally, chaotically executed and badly organised partition plans set the scene for bitter animosity between the two governments.

Haqqani argues that such conditions also ensured that a mutually obsessive and compulsive set of hostilities persisted long past the partition decade. Irrational decision-making based on a blind tendency to seek retaliation against India at all costs led Pakistan’s army and security agencies to plan two ill-conceived wars, in 1965 and 1999. Both those wars, Haqqani argues, should have been avoided and, in any event, were fruitless.

A limited number of levers

A read of no more than an hour or two, Haqqani’s new book is less densely-packed and more broadly-stroked than his previous works. It seems to be aimed at audiences largely familiar with the intricacies of the India-Pakistan interaction.

Cover of Husain Haqqani's India vs. Pakistan: Why Can't We Just be Friends? (Juggernaut, 2016)

Cover of Husain Haqqani’s India vs. Pakistan: Why Can’t We Just be Friends? (Juggernaut, 2016)

Through a discussion of the three major dimensions of the contemporary relationship: terrorism, Kashmir and nuclearisation, Haqqani shows how, over the last decade or two, the leadership on both sides has essentially played with a limited number of levers: peace-building, irregular warfare, intelligence wars and a certain amount of international involvement. His argument, however, is simple: the Pakistani army cannot tolerate good neighbourliness with India for too long. Unlike other countries, “that raise an army to deal with threats that they face, it [Pakistan] had inherited a large army that needed a threat if it was to be maintained…” The underlying message is also straightforward: the ones to back, for the future stability of the South Asia region, would be the civilian governments of Pakistan.

For the most part, as Haqqani argues, decisions based on paranoia and a gung-ho hostility on the part of the Pakistani army, have yielded mixed results. Haqqani points out, for instance, that the military establishment in Pakistan was spectacularly wrong in its appraisal of India’s abilities to launch a counter-attack against a surprise incursion. The conclusion is not unfamiliar: the official enquiry on the Kargil war, for instance, had concluded that India’s abandonment of the deterrence game with Pakistan was one reason for the incursion of Pakistan’s military into India. Talks between the two governments did not lead to a better awareness of its capability, nor therefore, to an abandonment of the pursuit of greater advantage. During the Kargil war, at a hastily organised meeting at the White House on July 4, 1999, Bill Clinton unceremoniously informed Nawaz Sharif about the “craziness” of this plan. Sharif promised to reconsider, only to find himself contemplating his own exile when, a few months later, his Chief of Army Staff, General Pervez Musharraf orchestrated his removal from office.

During the tumultuous decade of the 1990s, as Pakistan’s politics lurched between the weak governments headed by the two main political parties – the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Pakistan Muslim League – the US and India increased the frequency of their complaints about cross-border terrorism. Haqqani notes that the spectre of terrorism has cost Pakistan 60,388 lives since 2003, and that the only option for Pakistan is to address it, rather than focussing on India.

Haqqani seems to entirely agree with the former US secretary of state Condoleeza Rice’s advice to Pakistan, that “focusing your energies on an Indian threat that does not exist is a colossal mistake.” One instance of this misapplication of focus, Haqqani writes, was when the then secretary of state James A. Baker III (and subsequently, it might be added, the rigger of the elections in Florida) complained to Sharif that Pakistan had to take steps to ensure that Kashmiri and Sikh groups and individuals did not receive support from Pakistani officials. Unfortunately, Haqqani writes, not much has changed since the 1990s, with regard to Pakistan’s basic calculations about India: “The forward policy of containing India’s potential subversion of Pakistan through subversion continues, even at great risk of blowback to Pakistan.”

A strange intimacy

But the India-Pakistan enmity operates simultaneously with a strange, perhaps even slightly ambiguous, intimacy. Haqqani recounts how, in March 2016, for instance, the director general of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) called up his Indian counterpart to warn him of Mumbai-style terrorist attacks in Varanasi, on the eve of the Shivratri festival.

Haqqani’s argument is that irregular warfare and the use of ‘non-state actors’ are essentially an extension of what are in fact a fairly conventional set of rules of engagement between India and Pakistan. While “Pakistan adopted terrorism as a low cost means of bleeding India,” “India has alternated between engaging Pakistan and trying to ‘name and shame it’ internationally as a terror incubator.”

Haqqani also recounts a conversation between himself, when he was Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, and the then ISI chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha. The spymaster conceded to the ambassador, “The people involved in the Mumbai attack were ours, but it was not our operation.” To Haqqani’s question about the advisability of this exercise if Pakistan could not even control such actors, Pasha remained silent.

The most tantalising question

But of the many contradictions that operate within the India-Pakistan relationship, the biggest, perhaps, is this: the desire for the pursuit of better relations tends to cut across ideological lines, in India as well as in Pakistan.

In some ways, thus, Haqqani’s arguments about the calculations of the Pakistani army might be simplistic. He fails to mention that in 1960, it was under Ayub Khan’s military government that the Indus Waters Treaty was signed. Similarly, after Musharraf executed the Kargil war, it was he who gamely arrived in Agra to meet with the then Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to work out a solution on Kashmir.

In fact, the most tantalising question of the India-Pakistan relationship remains unsatisfactorily answered in much of the vast literature on the subject: just why, given the well-documented record of warfare and animosity, do both countries’ leaders bother to seek peace at all? Are there in fact more mundane cost-benefit analyses about electability and popularity that make it necessary to shape a more peaceful relationship? Indeed, the better story to tell about India-Pakistan relations might be a more detailed – and perhaps more clear eyed – account of what these considerations might be.

The history of the 1950s is illustrative of this. With the benefit of hindsight, we are perhaps a little guilty of getting nostalgic about that decade, and the supposedly easier relationship between the two countries. Arguments for going to war were made with almost monotonous frequency throughout the fifties: in cabinet meetings, newspapers and diplomatic dispatches sent from Delhi, Karachi, Washington and London, as well as at refugee camps and army headquarters. Vallabhai Patel, then Deputy Prime Minister of India, asked, during a Congress party meeting in 1950, what was so wrong with occupying parts of Khulna and Jessore, if the Hindu population of East Pakistan was only going to flow in vast and uncontrollable numbers into West Bengal anyway.

Yet, what is also true is that the leadership on both sides consistently looked for ways to avoid brinkmanship and to prevent an outright descent into a war that neither could afford. Such impulses were neither ever particularly warm nor permanent, but were simply aimed at putting in place short-term solutions to avoid the onset of outright war. It is, perhaps, by appreciating the similarities, rather than the differences, of that decade with the decision-making of this one, that we get closest to understanding the current relationship between India and Pakistan.

Pallavi Raghavan is a fellow at the Center for Policy Research and is working on a book on the early history of the India-Pakistan relationship.

  • ranjit patil

    The tragic killing of Amjad Sabri in karachi, what is pakistan made up of, tall mountains in kashmir, huge delta of indus or vast desert of balochistan. Pakistan is made up of the gems like Amjad Sabri, Husain Haqqani and many more whose ancestors were in favor for partitioning the ancient motherland to get the land of pure. Now only the dead are in peace in the “Land of Pure”