When Reality Outruns Strategy
By Khaled Ahmed
May 3, 2014
Indians should stop pining for a single-minded strategic culture, look where that got Pakistan
Indian ex-foreign minister Jaswant Singh, in his latest insightful book India at Risk (2014), laments that “ersatz pacifist” Nehru didn’t fight China properly in 1962 “and security got relegated to a much lower priority”. As a consequence, “independent India simply abandoned the centrality of strategic culture as the first ingredient of vigorous and bold national policies.”
Let’s accept that Nehru didn’t fight properly, but has that hurt India? Pakistan fought India “properly” and has got badly hurt. There was something right about Nehru and his pacifism; there was something wrong about Pakistan’s militarism.
Pakistan fought India and gave its people the “strategic culture” Singh wanted for India under Nehru. Obsessed with “strategy”, Pakistanis are still not able to start trading with India to improve their lives. Singh should recall his former BJP colleague, Yashwant Sinha, who actually told Pakistan in 2003 that by not being “revisionist” towards China, India had benefited economically through trade. He had said: “I hope our western neighbour [Pakistan] will not keep its eyes for ever shut to this truth.”
Nehru was probably right in not fighting China. And the smaller leaders that followed him were right to not let India become “revisionist”, for ever locked in conflict like Pakistan while the economy went belly-up. India has had its defeats and there are thinking men like Singh who compel India to meditate on them. Does Pakistan have the same capacity to review its defeats?
Some say Pakistan can’t take stock because the wars it fought were inconclusive and the “fall of Dhaka” was blamed on India and therefore not analysed. One reason for that was the extremely negative third-party analyses, like the recent book, The Blood Telegram. The textbook therefore still sacralises revisionism, pledging exegesis of even the future defeats as victories. Except that an army officer, whom I have quoted in an earlier article on East Pakistan, the late Major General Hakeem Arshad Qureshi, disagreed with the textbooks in his book titled The 1971 Indo-Pak War: A Soldier’s Narrative (2002).
Qureshi indicted the military rulers of Pakistan for handing down a flawed strategic explanation of why East Pakistan was not normally defended. He stated two facts that Pakistan ignored to its cost: East Pakistan lacked a strategy of credible defence; and Pakistan fought its wars half-cocked because it lacked a resource base needed for a coffer-destroying war. (Pakistan used to celebrate the 1965 “victory”, but has stopped after some generals wrote books to dismantle its triumphal spin.)
The blunder of 1965 was repeated in 1971 and 1999. Qureshi acknowledges that “defence is a superior operation of war played out on familiar turf”; on the other hand, “revisionist” offensive action is a “leap in the unknown”.
It is obvious that if the status quo is not to the liking of the smaller state with a limited resource base, then anti-status-quo policies have to be politically framed, not militarily imposed. Strategy against the big neighbour has to be defensive. If it is defensive, it cannot be used to launch offensive operations disguised as “set-piece” battles not supposed to trigger an all-out war.
As a comparatively small entity situated next to a big hostile neighbour, Pakistan must devote its energy to becoming economically strong so that a “normal” relationship with it can be built without exposing the economy to subjugation. Without a strong surplus economy, it is impossible to construct a credible military defence against a bigger status-quo state. But Pakistan’s mind is stuck. It can’t make the big leap into reality in South Asia because of the infrastructure of war it has created against India under the blanket term of “jihad”.
Philip Bobbitt, in his book The Shield Of Achilles: War, Peace and the Course of History (2002), states: “The strategic thinking of states accustomed to war does not fit them for peace, which requires harmony and trust, nor can such thinking be abandoned without risking a collapse of legitimacy altogether because the state’s role in guaranteeing security is the one responsibility that is not being challenged domestically and thus the one to which it clings.”
A nation’s self-portrayal is its nationalism. As early as 1980, the United Nations held a cautionary conference on the purely subjective nature of nationalism and its function of internal exclusion and external aggression. In Europe, nationalism has been exposed as a myth-making function of the state that leads to epochal wars.
As a touchstone of legitimacy, however, nationalism permanently endangers the security of the state, either by a similar nationalism in the neighbourhood or by reason of the neighbour’s response to the aggressive nationalism of the state. Strategy is nothing when not coupled to the resource base and internal cohesion.
Pakistan’s strategy is wedded to an unrealistic mission statement because the kind of material support it needs is not there. The “epochal” war with India, begun in 1947 and still going on, adds to the pressures that the state has to bear merely to survive. The infrastructure of proxy jihad has virtually destroyed Pakistan’s internal sovereignty by conceding condominium to the jihadi militias. Pakistan’s external sovereignty has also been destroyed by the tendency of jihad to farm out the formulation of strategy to its commanders in the field.
Pakistan’s strategy towards Iran, Central Asia and Russia has, since 1996, effectively been formulated by Taliban commanders presumably acting in concert with the Pakistani founders of what came to be called “strategic depth”, superseding the earlier strategy of the Durand Line. Bobbitt, as if addressing Pakistan, says: “Until the governing institutions of a society can claim for themselves the sole right to determine the legitimate use of force at home and abroad, there can be no state.”
Jaswant Singh knows how to talk to disenchanted Pakistanis when he visits Pakistan, some of it not palatable to the upholders of the Indian narrative. But the quote he has attributed to General Zia-ul-Haq should compel not only Pakistanis but also the Turks to take stock: “Turkey or Egypt, if they stop being aggressively Muslim, will remain exactly what they are — Turkey and Egypt. But if Pakistan does not become and remain aggressively Islamic, it will become India again.”
Wrong. The DNA of the Muslim state will take it through the trajectory familiar in Pakistan. Rump Pakistan may yet survive through regional economic integration. If some Turks thought Recep Tayyip Erdogan would be moderate, they are chastened by his erstwhile friend and current US-based rival, Fethullah Gulen. Gulen has unleashed unexpected diatribes against the Shia-Alevi minority community, which means Turkey has to escalate the ideology further, succumbing to the kind of state autism afflicting Pakistan.
General Zia could think only like an ideological warrior. If Pakistan goes back to being a moderate Muslim state, it will not slide back into India. Instead, it will become a useful trading partner of India, bringing prosperity to the common man, who will learn to prize peace rather than jihad, the only strategy Pakistan has been able to invent.
Khaled Ahmed is consulting editor, ‘Newsweek Pakistan’