Once again the governments of India and Pakistan divorced
from any consideration for their respective people, and locked into the
narrow logic of state power are on the verge of war. During the five decades
since independence, the elites in both countries have concentrated national
resources on building state apparatuses while denying the bottom 30% of
the people the minimum material conditions of civilized existence. As
we glance back at the rich human potential of this region, generations
of poor, mutilated by malnutrition come into sharp focus. At the same
time the image of once verdant slopes of our northern mountains and the
fertile fields that nestled at the feet begins to fade before the onset
of deforestation and desertification. These processes threaten the livelihood
of future generations. While undermining the present and future economic
prospects of their people, successive governments in building the empty
emblems of power have placed their hapless citizenry under crippling debt
burdens. If this were not enough, while starving their people, they have
nurtured a territorial dispute that has caused two wars. Worse still,
locked in the syndrome of mutual demonization the elites have built a
nuclear capability that could annihilate all life in the sub-continent.
Even in the absence of such a holocaust the very presence of nuclear weapons
in the armoury of neighbours in confrontation, places the average citizen
at a terrible risk of death by nuclear accident. (It has been estimated
that the probability of death due to a nuclear accident for the average
citizens is higher than the probability of dying in a road accident).
India and Pakistan are cases of comprehensive elite failure. We have failed
even to learn from the past and are now beating the drums of another war.
The Indian government while insisting on the subjugation
of the people of Kashmir as an imperative of its statehood, has chosen
to adopt a posture of inflexibility in its relations with Pakistan. In
so doing it is building a momentum towards war that leaves very little
time and space to pull back, even if Pakistan were to seriously address
Indian concerns of cross border terrorism.
On the other hand successive governments in Pakistan
have chosen to pursue a myopic and counter productive policy on Kashmir.
They failed to follow the rational approach in the best interests of both
Pakistan and the people of Indian Occupied Kashmir i.e. to let the indigenous
Kashmiri movement follow its own course and to give it only political
support in international fora on the basis of universally recognized principles
of human rights and self determination. Instead they chose during the
last 14 years to sponsor terrorism in Kashmir as part of a military strategy
that was presumed to bleed India into submission through what was imagined
would be a "low cost" operation. This strategy was inherently
flawed both in the sense that it derailed the indigenous Kashmiri movement
and at the same time politically strengthened India in its claim before
the world community that it was a victim of international terrorism.
Pakistan's Kashmir Strategy also failed to take account
of two fundamental interests of the Pakistani State: First, the integrity
of the State which was increasingly threatened by the militant religious
groups, who while being active across the border were also emerging as
rival powers to that of the State within Pakistan, with their own domestic
agendas. Second, continued cross border terrorism and the burgeoning militant
groups within the country, was not only isolating Pakistan in the international
community and thereby constricting foreign capital inflows, but was also
emerging as a major factor in declining domestic investment. Consequently
during the 1990s declining investment and GDP growth was accompanied by
rapidly rising poverty, unemployment and insecurity of citizens. At the
same time there was such an acute financial crisis that the very ability
of the government to maintain both military and development expenditure
was seriously weakened.
Even before the confrontation on the border with India,
Pakistan's military government was fighting the battle for national survival.
While playing an important role in the war against terrorism along the
Afghan border it had also put into place: (i) a carefully crafted strategy
of economic revival, (ii) reducing its debt servicing burden to win the
necessary fiscal space for accelerating GDP growth and reducing poverty,
and (iii) reconstructing the institutional structure of governance.
The logic of Pakistan's role in the war against terrorism
on the Afghan border and its strategy of economic revival meant that Pakistan's
Kashmir policy would also have to be changed. Now that war is close at
hand, Pakistan has to consider its options very carefully. One option
is that the government continues to remain ambiguous with respect to the
issue of cross border terrorism and thereby risk limited military conflict
in Azad Kashmir. It is true that in a limited military conflict in Kashmir
the exchange of blows is likely to be even. However we must consider the
high probability that such a conflict could quickly spin out of control
and bring first a generalized conventional war along the international
border followed by the unthinkable prospect of nuclear Armageddon. This
could wipe out not only most of human life in the sub-continent but also
most living species. Even if the war is restricted to the conventional
level, since a clear cut victory for Pakistan is highly unlikely, it would
mean a change in the regime of President Musharraf followed by a possible
change in the strategy of national reconstruction he has put in place.
The second option is to demonstrate a change in our Kashmir strategy and
to seek international support for resolution of the Kashmir dispute and
a comprehensive peace agreement with India. It is clear that the former
course can bring no conceivable benefit for Pakistan while risking economic
destruction at the minimum, and at the maximum, total destruction of the
country God forbid. The second option would open the way for a prosperous,
secure and peaceful Pakistan.
Given the baggage of misconceived foreign policy and
military strategy of the past, choosing the option that is today in Pakistan's
best interests may be difficult. Yet we must remember that as we face
a self destructive yet avoidable war, the true test of patriotism lies
not in saying how much we can do to conduct the war, but rather how much
we do to avoid it. At the same time the international community needs
to move quickly in pulling back India from their own suicidal course and
to help establish the basis of a lasting peace between the two countries.
This is necessary as much for the prosecution of the war against terrorism
as it is for avoiding a nuclear holocaust in the subcontinent that could
destabilize global peace and environmental security. Finally the voices
of reason inside and outside the Indian establishment must dissuade the
Indian government from its destructive path with renewed energy and clarity
of thought. What use is the Indian civilization, or indeed any civilization
if it cannot be brought to bear to enhance life? The pursuit of power
and hegemony by the Indian state over its own minorities and over its
neighbouring states is an empty pursuit because it is drained of humanity
and reason. To recall a line from Rilke: "Throw this emptiness out
of your arms to broaden the spaces we breathe."