South Asia

Even Selfishly, Indians Should Not Be Hoping for Chaos and Collapse in Pakistan

Going by what Pakistan continues to be, its self-absorption helps us. However, it would be a different ball game altogether if Pakistan’s fault lines were to lead to its collapse.

In our excitement at the ongoing bitter tussle for power in Pakistan, we forget a fundamental question: What does it mean for us?

It evidently reinforces the factors that rule out meaningful bilateral engagement between the two countries for the time being. But it has implications beyond the absence of engagement.

The reaction in India to the recent events in Pakistan has been twofold. ‘Serves them right’ is the general refrain on the emotional plane. In our strategic community, a section of opinion predicts collapse of Pakistan, as they have done for a long time during every major crisis in that country. Some others take satisfaction in the fact that a weak and internally absorbed Pakistan impairs the ability of its establishment to trouble us. There is also a not-so-prominent trend to look for what chaos and collapse of state authority in the nuclear armed neighbour would mean for India. Let us look at these reactions in some detail.

The emotional reaction – ‘serves them right’ bordering on schadenfreude – is to be expected in the light of the anger in the Indian public at the conduct of the Pakistani state over the years, particularly the murderous terror attacks engineered by its security establishment. It is equally true that what is happening in Pakistan today is the result of the policies pursued by the Pakistani establishment over the years, beginning with an adversarial posture towards a much bigger and better endowed neighbour – India – that continues to impose an onerous burden on the Pakistani economy, besides being the progenitor of other policies, such as the use of religious zealots for acts of terror and the quest for strategic depth in Afghanistan, that have come to haunt Pakistan. This posture has also contributed to Pakistan’s biggest fault line, the civil-military imbalance and dominance of the army that has prevented consolidation of constitutional governance. The resulting institutional weakness is clearly visible in all functionaries of the state playing a partisan role, rather than adhering to the constitutional norms, in the ongoing crisis. Profligacy of the Pakistani army and elites has hollowed out the economy and stymied economic opportunities for the common man.

Also read: Pakistan’s Extraordinary Turmoil: The View from India

Coming to the strands of opinion in our strategic community, our repeated assertion in the past that a stable and prosperous Pakistan is in India’s interest – Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee too stated it during his visit to Lahore in February 1999 – is based on the assumption that such a Pakistan, where most people have a strong stake in stability, would veer towards constructive policies. The validity of this assumption has, however, not been tested because, barring a few spells of stability under military dictators, Pakistan has been nowhere close to stability and prosperity in its tumultuous history. Going by what Pakistan continues to be, its self-absorption helps us. However, it would be a different ball game altogether if Pakistan’s fault lines were to lead to its collapse.

I do not believe that Pakistan’s collapse is imminent; instead it is likely to continue its messy journey as before. However, the consequences of such a scenario need to be considered because each major crisis in Pakistan leaves the Pakistani state weaker and correspondingly more dangerous; and also because some in our strategic community advocate a proactive role by India to cause Pakistan’s collapse. The resulting chaos will not leave us untouched, presenting us with an unbridled sea of extremism and terrorism from Afghanistan’s western frontier to our western border, a nuclear arsenal in an extremely volatile environment and a veritable humanitarian crisis of large numbers fleeing unrest. One only has to look at the heavy cost that Pakistan has continued to pay for being the key contributor to instability in its neighbour – Afghanistan. Therefore, let us think twice before wishing for Pakistan’s collapse.

What should be India’s policy and posture in the light of the situation prevailing in Pakistan? India has little leverage over Pakistan’s internal developments and has never expressed a preference for who should rule Pakistan. Pakistan being an immediate neighbour, India has dealt with all rulers, including military dictators, thrown up by Pakistan’s internal dynamics. While this policy should stay unchanged, two areas examined below deserve our attention.

First, even though Pakistan’s current plight is the wages of its own sins, the retribution is not visited upon the committers of those sins, i.e. the Pakistani establishment. The consequences – whether in the form of widespread killing as a result of terrorism/ religious extremism or economic hardship – are borne by the ordinary people. Whatever happens to the Pakistani state, its people will not disappear. We will have to live and deal with them in whichever situation they are: in a dysfunctional state, as at the moment; or in a sea of chaos following Pakistan’s collapse; or, as some in India continue to hope, in an “Akhand Bharat”. They are suffering the consequences of the policies of their establishment, including its costly and single-minded hostility against India that has been our bane too. Therefore, our policy and pronouncements should not miss sight of this hapless lot; and lump them with the actions of the Pakistani establishment and our responses to those actions, especially the establishment’s rhetoric. Let’s at least include a word of sympathy and support for them in our responses.

Second, SAARC lies dormant and is not likely to be revived anytime soon. Instead, India has shifted focus to BIMSTEC and, of course, assisting our neighbours bilaterally, as for example the assistance to Sri Lanka following its default on its external obligations. There are other foreign policy priorities centred around India’s desire to play a larger role on the world stage. However, all this does not take away from the fact that South Asia is our immediate periphery and, therefore, of prime interest to us. India is the only country in South Asia capable of presenting a South Asian vision by virtue of its size, a stable and inclusive democratic system, and a large economy growing at a decent rate.

In the past, we have been presenting the vision of India working with its smaller South Asian neighbours to bring security, stability and prosperity to the region by, inter alia, sharing its economic success with them without insisting on strict reciprocity. While Pakistan’s obduracy has been a major factor hindering the realisation of this vision, that is no reason for us to stop presenting it, as we have done in the recent years. In my view, we should continue to voice it, if only as a message to all the constructive forces in the region, including Pakistan.

Sharat Sabharwal is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan and author of India’s Pakistan Conundrum: Managing a Complex Relationship.