Wars are a part of nationalism. Nationalism is an idea that binds people together. Almost always, this binding is done under fear — fear of an external enemy. The external enemy is, more often than not, the neighbouring state. The Pakistani nation seeks to bind itself by
setting up India as the enemy “that never accepted Pakistan’s existence”. For India, it is China. For Bangladesh, it is more complex: Half of Bangladesh thinks it is Pakistan; the other half thinks it is India. In Sri Lanka, it is India.
War is a part of the nationalism package. The world fought its big wars when nationalism was on the boil. World War I was the peak of internecine European nationalism. The armies went to their death with bands playing by the roadside and young girls kissing their warriors off to war. There was so much death in this war that by the time World War II ended, the bands were gone, and Europe was going to be cured of nationalism, its most intense form represented by fascism. Armies are the climactic symbols of nationalism. Today, Europe is no longer “reckless”; its will to conquer and subjugate is gone. The Balkans, where nationalism was born and lingered, has also been disabused.
But nationalism has not gone from the rest of the world. South Asia tried to kill it through an “integrated market” called Saarc, but the project was merely imitative and didn’t take off. Maybe Asean is also imitative of Europe’s EU, but not too imitative. Southeast Asia is home to market states, and if the South China Sea becomes less divisive, Asean could really take off. Killing nationalism in South Asia will be less easy — unless “free market” leaders like Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif can overcome internal hurdles to undoing national borders through free trade.
Nationalism of the status quo is less virulent than nationalism of “revision”, with nervous armies willing to die. If a state is small but revisionist against a bigger, stronger state it can’t defeat, its army is heroic and willing to take over the state on the call of nationalism. Thus the smaller revisionist state is also permanently unstable. It seeks parity where there is none, and makes great, permanently damaging economic sacrifices to achieve “nuclear deterrence”.
That is where things go wrong. International sanctions kick in, and going nuclear together with the “enemy state” means the status quo is frozen. Nuclearisation favours the status quo power but goes against the revisionist state. From this point on, the revisionist state not only offends the rival by rejecting the status quo but also loses international support.
When wars are not won, they have to be presented as non-defeats. That’s why the 1965 war is “celebrated” in India and Pakistan as a “victory”. As long as the two neighbours don’t become normal states locked into regional trade, this strange practice of annual military pageants will continue. The 1965 war remains the only war that Pakistan can still manage to reinterpret as a victory. If this was more easily possible in the years following the war, it is no longer so, thanks to Pakistani historians researching their books abroad.
Historian Ayesha Jalal in her latest book, The Struggle for Pakistan: A Muslim Homeland and Global Politics (2014), narrates what, in fact, was Pakistan’s misadventure in 1965: “What followed was a bungled operation called Gibraltar, which was supplemented by Operation Grand Slam to take Akhnoor and threaten India’s hold over Kashmir. Significantly, the military high command remained lukewarm in its support for both operations, convinced that the conflict could not remain confined to Kashmir. But once Ayub [Khan] had bitten on the bait, there was no scope for dissent among the officer corps. If GHQ was a less than willing participant, most Kashmiris were too absorbed with everyday struggles to earn a living to risk taking on the Indian security forces.”
Awakened to internal disorder, Pakistan seems ready in 2015 to say goodbye to the revisionist nationalism of the early 20th century. This was revealed this September in a TV discussion from Islamabad, in which senior retired army officers were ready to look at the 1965 war more realistically.
A 2011 book by Tahir Malik, Richard Bonney and Tridivesh Singh Maini, Warriors after War, features strategy expert Brigadier Shaukat Qadir, who says: “The military is responsible for converting a genuine movement for an independent Kashmir into a jihad — the greatest damage that we could do and did. Both [the] 1965 and 1971 wars were acts of stupidity. Musharraf, like others of his ilk, is given to bragging. Our oft-quoted strategic location is strategic only if commerce flows through it in all directions.”
Pakistan’s geographic location underpins its military strategy, but it depends on who is looking. Both the civilian and military leadership is in agreement that if India wants to reach out to Central Asia and Afghanistan, and look to Iran for gas, it can’t ignore Pakistan. A similar realisation may dawn on Bangladesh now that India has embarked on its Look East policy. But there is a cleavage in civil and military minds on whether Pakistan should be a facilitator or an obstacle.
The civilian mind, in league with the world outside, thinks of the economic benefit of being in the facilitating middle, which means Pakistan should focus on its economy and postpone its revisionist programme. The old mindset is changing as Pakistan finally gets ready to set right its internal landscape of non-state actors doing an inverted jihad on Pakistan.
The writer is consulting editor, ‘Newsweek Pakistan’