By Syed Ata Hasnain
December 20, 2016
Pakistan’s citizenry are trapped in a delusional self-perception and view of India, which prevents them from making rational analyses of relations between the two countries. In meetings with the Pakistani elite, an Indian will just have to smile his way through because debating and arguing rationally isn’t something the other side likes to engage in.
Munir Akram’s recent rant in Pakistani newspaper Dawn, against the treatment supposedly meted out to Pakistan foreign policy adviser Sartaj Aziz at the Heart of Asia Conference is a case in point. When meeting people from Pakistan at neutral venues, a couple of things strike one immediately. First, Pakistan’s superiority complex vis-à-vis India remains undimmed despite the evidence of the last 70 years.
The Pakistan army makes the public live in a make-believe world, forcing the belief that in 1971 it never lost the war and was only deceived by the Bangladeshis; on the western borders India was, apparently, squarely defeated. The army’s expertise in public information and propaganda is outstanding; the message to the public is that the proxy war in support of J&K separatists is succeeding.
The slickly communicated message speaks of the alienation of the Kashmiri people, the huge problems of integration of different faiths and ethnicities all over India and that Pakistan’s stamina will see it through to eventual victory, meaning the integration of J&K into Pakistan.
The coming of Prime Minister Narendra Modi rattled Pakistan as much as his stance of returning to the peace process. The invitation to the NDA inauguration on May 26, 2014, created a dilemma and the common belief persists that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was given a cold shoulder, despite the courage he displayed in travelling to New Delhi against all advice within Pakistan.
Modi decided to break the impasse with Pakistan by sending then newly appointed foreign secretary S Jaishankar on a round robin of visits within South Asia, including Pakistan. The pace of things picked up with the Ufa talks in mid-2015 and continued through to the Heart of Asia Conference 2015, preceded by the NSA talks in Bangkok. The icing came with the visit of Modi to Lahore on Christmas 2015.
The visit took the Pakistani establishment by complete surprise. Usually one to surprise India with varieties of initiatives, Pakistan could not absorb the Modi visit. When Pathankot occurred seven days later, many in Pakistan blamed Modi for hastening non-existent processes.
Fast paced initiatives by the NDA government weren’t to the comfort level of Pakistan’s deep state. The ‘peace chain’ which Modi had initiated could have hijacked Pakistan’s entire strategy in which it had invested for years. Pathankot put a halt to the events which could spell peace. Modi’s olive branch found no takers and the deep state slunk back to its original strategy of bleeding India with a thousand cuts.
The return was made even simpler once Sharif came under pressure following the Panama Papers leaks. An element of hesitation was yet evident when the Indian government permitted a Pakistan investigation team, with ISI officers included, to visit Pathankot. But Burhan Wani’s killing on July 8 was the final nail in the coffin. Thus subterfuge by the Pakistan army-led deep state, combined with the quirk of fate of Wani’s killing, put paid to sincere efforts.
Pakistani citizens continue to believe that India has not accepted the creation of Pakistan and is working towards dismembering it. That belief is often reinforced by strong Indian statements during strategic debates on the viability of weakening Pakistan. It is unfortunate that Pakistanis hardly read or believe in the writings of some of their own columnists, who profess that Pakistan’s obsession with attempting to weaken India and playing strategic games is weakening its own edifice.
Perhaps the Indian state has failed to effectively and convincingly communicate its true intent. That intent is to strengthen India internally and secure it externally using the twin strategy of promoting harmony and economic growth. India remains unwavering in ensuring the good of its people. The trust deficit doesn’t allow this message to carry across the borders to Pakistan.
The coloured Pakistani thinking also arises from a strange belief that Pakistan is succeeding in its strategy of weakening India and wresting J&K away from it. Pakistan’s strategic community and even the public are aware of the great significance of Pakistan’s physical strategic space; as a confluence of many civilisations, interests and cross currents. This makes Pakistan extremely sure of its place in international strategic affairs.
At the end of the day the blame perhaps lies in the inability of reasonable communication of intent. Political rhetoric and social media are just one side of this. The real measure of serious intent has to be judged from the strategic literature emanating from a nation.
As in any functional democracy, there will always be different shades of opinion. However, governments shape this through cogent policies of strategic communication management. It is time we debated in India whether strategic communication emanating from the nation is in sync with our strategic aims and what we need to do to reduce Pakistan’s delusions.