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And the winner could be Tehran

In an unsettled state

The outcome of the Modi-Nawaz meeting was predictably seen as disastrous by the swelling pro-army tide in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s revisionism towards India is at  the root of its failure  as a state. India is the status-quo power, big enough to deter Pakistan by its very size. Pakistan’s revisionism towards India is at the root of its failure as a state. India is the status-quo power, big enough to deter Pakistan by its very size.

The outcome of the Modi-Nawaz meeting was predictably seen as disastrous by the swelling pro-army tide in Pakistan.

Pakistan and India have once again tried to forget the past and patch up, using the swearing-in of India’s new prime minister, Narendra Modi, as the peg. The extremists are not happy; they didn’t want Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to go to New Delhi. The “doves”, who matter less and less in Pakistan, hope their leaders can climb over the brickwalls the two sides have raised to perpetuate conflict over many decades.

In Pakistan, waters of all discussion were muddied by Sharif’s recent quarrel with the army over internal policy. Pakistan was polarised between him and the army before Sharif took off for Delhi for his meeting with Modi on May 26. Predictions in Islamabad were dire: he is about to be dragged down in a re-run of many earlier overthrows. Army chief Raheel Sharif, who never looked the part, was supposed to depose him and replace him with no one knew who.

The media, “drunk with the wine of nation-worship”, as they say, backed the army in the quarrel. There was a kind of double-take by most TV anchors who first thought hanging Pervez Musharraf was the right thing to do and the government was right in talking peace with the Taliban. General Sharif, by his actions, seemed to signal to them that this was not what the army wanted. Then the split came out in the open.

General Sharif first reasoned with PM Sharif over the treason trial of Musharraf; then, after being ignored, demonstrated the de facto power of the army by literally blacking out the GEO TV news channel across Pakistan for insulting the ISI, Pakistan’s world-renowned, army-controlled intelligence agency.

Discussants on TV talkshows were predominantly right-wing pro-army. Cloying intellectuals, sprinkled liberally with sharp-tongued retired military officers, shut up the moderates who thought PM Sharif had done the right thing by inviting Modi for an official visit and then attending Modi’s swearing-in.

The outcome of the Modi-Sharif meeting was predictably seen as disastrous by the swelling pro-army tide. TV anchors said: Sharif didn’t bring up Kashmir and Pakistan’s rivers being diverted by India; and Modi unfairly demanded an end to cross-border terrorism from Pakistan, not even waiting for Sharif to return to Islamabad before appearing to order a move in Parliament to remove the constitutional provision giving special status to Kashmir and thus making it an integral part of India. And that Sharif did not mention Balochistan, where rascally India was stoking an insurgency, but for which Pakistan has so far been reluctant to share proof with India. Retired diplomats vented spleen on TV, saying Sharif had caused Modi “to slap Pakistan on the face”.

Hating Modi is easy. The entire world did it after 2002. Last year, in Muslims in Indian Cities Trajectories of Marginalisation (edited by Laurent Gayer and Christophe Jaffrelot), the indictment was stark: “2002 was a state-sponsored pogrom to ‘clean’ the Hindu Rashtra. The 2002 communal violence cannot be analysed the same way as the incidents of 1984 and 1992. This was not a riot, but a pogrom which did not remain confined to a city, but spread to many others and even to the countryside. Twenty-six towns in all were subject to curfew.”

India, under a secular Constitution, was put to shame in 2002. Pakistan’s treatment of Hindus and other minorities under an “enabling” religious constitution causes no shame in Pakistan, but the world is outraged by the conduct of its courts, where ideologically biased judges behave like clerics. The world is disappointed in India; it is disgusted by Pakistan, which it sees failing as a state.

Pakistan’s revisionism towards India is at the root of its failure as a state. India is the status-quo power, big enough to deter Pakistan by its very size. Revisionism places on Pakistan the obligation to attack in order to change the status quo. The record shows it has not succeeded, if you can’t stomach the term defeat. The world is not with Pakistan. During the Cold War, when it got some support, the supporters felt morally disturbed, which is why Pakistan hates its Cold War supporters today in hindsight.

In 1998, after Pakistan tested its nuclear device, it should have said goodbye to revisionism. The theory is that nuclearisation “freezes” the status quo because two nuclear powers can’t attack each other. You sit down and look at what each side has and agree to avoid mutual challenge. After that, you start normalisation through trade and people-to-people contact. If you don’t do that, you risk nuclear war, which is no longer counted as a bilateral affair but something that endangers the globe. Instead of that, you sign a peace treaty on the basis of status quo.

Pakistan earned further opprobrium by attacking India in 1999, ridiculously saying the shepherds of Kargil had done it. Then US president Bill Clinton led the world opinion that rounded on Pakistan, and Nawaz Sharif told him in private he was not to blame for making nonsense of the doctrine of nuclear deterrent. The stigma was deepened by the use of non-state actors by the deep state to attack and bleed India through cross-border terrorism, till the Frankenstein recoiled on Pakistan and is now poised to bite the neck of all and sundry before ravishing the wobbly Pakistani state.

After 66 years, Pakistan has not settled down as a normal state. It is internally troubled and more and more of its territory is ungoverned with each passing day. Big cities are falling victim to the disease of the countryside: state dereliction. In Karachi, Peshawar and Quetta, state failure is in full evidence and is creeping into Islamabad and Lahore, too. In the last-named city, the police watched as a family killed their daughter with bricks just outside the high court because she had chosen to contract marriage of her own choice. The case was better reported in America than in Pakistan. In the same city, the Shia-killing leader of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi was acquitted the same week in three cases because the witnesses didn’t turn up.

Third World news is ugly at times and one has to wear a thick skin to live there, but Pakistan’s threadbare soul has been tortured for too long and its citizens, who never got enough attention simply because the state was looking east, thinking of attacking India to make it yield on the righteous cause of Kashmir, are now prisoners of the ideas radiating from the terrorists meant to bother India, not Pakistan. The state talks to itself all the time because neither India nor the world is willing to listen to it.

Pakistan’s ex-foreign secretary, Riaz Muhammad Khan, in his book Afghanistan and Pakistan: Conflict, Extremism and Resistance to Modernity (2011), has the following note on what the world wants of Pakistan if it is to survive: “Pakistan’s ambition to become a hub of economic activity would be difficult to materialise without the opening of transit routes to India. When the idea of activating the northern route for commerce with Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan was initiated by Pakistan in early 1993, the two countries were enthusiastic. The Kazakh minister for transportation convened a meeting and invited ambassadors from both Pakistan and India based in Alma Ata. He was disappointed to learn that India could not be included at that time, in view of tensions in relations between the two South Asian neighbours. The size of India’s market creates the potential and generates interest to liven up prospects of overland transit.”

The writer is consulting editor, ‘Newsweek Pakistan’

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