There is nothing jocular or light-hearted about the statement that war is too serious a matter to be left to generals. This is a truism and applies especially and disturbingly to prolonged adversarial relations. In such cases, the conflicting sides, after alternating between hot and cold war, may even settle down to an understanding that aggression can be committed without actually coming to blows. In fact, possession of nuclear weapons can play a major part in pushing adversaries into such restive calm. And if it is presumed that militarily the adversaries have acquired a certain equality of destructive power, then conflict will have a natural tendency to move to less violent, though not necessarily less destructive, means and battlefronts.
The multiplicity of battlefronts, which also adds to the complexity of conflict, is what the above-mentioned truism seeks to highlight. A good example of such conflict is the India-Pakistan adversarial dyad. One of the battlefronts in this conflict that Pakistan has ignored to its peril is mythmaking and image projection. A perusal of Indian opinion (just the letters received by TFT from its Indian readers would make a great study), the Indian media and official statements will highlight to a discerning Pakistani the near unanimity of views emanating from India.
These views present an image of Pakistan and then offer a stark contrast by presenting an image of India. Two myths particularly stand out in this regard (we will eschew discussion of how many more myths they spawn). The first relates to the fact that the conflict between India and Pakistan is perpetrated and perpetuated by the Pakistan Army. The second holds that Pakistanís obscurantism (read, Islamist extremism) is a necessary corollary of the communal politics of the Muslim League which led to Indiaís partition. If Pakistan were to become pluralistic, democratic and secular, it would lose its rationale because then it would come to resemble India, they imply.
Clearly, these myths do not exist separately but are part of a package meant to present a certain image of Pakistan. Resultantly, they share the same premise and serve to complement each other. But let us begin with the first.
If the Pakistan Army is indeed responsible for perpetrating and perpetuating the conflict, then one can conclude that: There are no structural reasons for India-Pakistan conflict; by getting rid of the Pakistan Army, India-Pakistan conflict will come to an end; the issues that hang fire between the two countries are part of the Pakistan Armyís agenda to keep the conflict alive; there is a chasm between the perception of the Pakistan Army and the rest of Pakistan; the Pakistan Army would not allow the civil society in Pakistan to get in the driving seat because it wants to keep the conflict with India going on and therefore it is not in its interest to do so.
None of this is true, of course. But much of it sticks because the Pakistan Army is all too eager to take decisions internally that serve to reinforce this carefully constructed myth. India-Pakistan conflict is owed to structural reasons and it is ridiculous to think that a civilian ruler, with or without the army breathing down his neck, would be more amenable to making friends with India. The umbilical chord of history, the geographic contiguity, Indiaís perception of itself and its place in the world, its mercantilist nationalism (born of a coercive, majoritarian consensus and channeled through democratic means), the processes through which India has tried to convert a state-nation into a nation-state, the reaction to all this in Pakistan, Pakistanís own quest for a place on the map of the world and a host of other factors are the structural constraints that serve to keep the conflict going on. The Pakistan Army itself is born of that conflict. To blame it for being the perpetrator of it may be great mythmaking but it is not a fact.
To a large extent, of course, the Pakistan army has no one but itself to blame for this image. Its constant interventions into the system, its desire to become the makers of policy rather than its implementers and its passion for intervening in, and influencing, national security decisions is what has kept the myth alive. Yet, some of the most important security decisions in Pakistan have been taken by civilian leaders rather than military generals. For instance, after the Soviet invasion, General Ziaul Haq basically followed the contours of a policy that was begun by Mr Bhutto. Of course, later events inflated the process much beyond anything that Mr Bhutto could possibly have visualised.
Similarly, the Taliban policy, a shift from the earlier policy, was formally effected by a civilian government, not the army. The decision to test the nuclear weapons was also formally taken by a civilian prime minister rather than by the army chief. The then chief of the army staff, General Jehangir Karamat, simply gave the militaryís assessment of the situation and left the decision to the government. So too, in 1958, it was Mr Bhutto who tried to convince a military dictator of the necessity of Pakistan acquiring a nuclear-weapon capability. The idea was dismissed by Ayub Khan, who absurdly said that Pakistan could buy a weapon off the shelf if it so wanted. Again, it was Mr Bhutto who initiated Pakistanís nuclear programme in 1972. In all these cases, however, the penchant of the army to appropriate national security polices led it to become their guardian after they were kicked off. The best example of this is the Taliban phenomenon after Ms Bhutto was removed from power.
The second myth is worse. It deliberately ignores the context in which the Muslim demand for a separate homeland was made. Not only that, this myth by implication absolves the Indian Congress party of all blame for the exclusionary discourse that created the communal divide and which continued to deepen in the run-up to the creation of Pakistan. The myth therefore thrives on a complete ignorance of the history of Partition and cannot even be extenuated on grounds of a simplistic reading of it. What is dangerous is that it is perpetuated by Indian secularists, many of whom are also part of the peace movement. This fact creates a major problem for the Pakistani intelligentsia. Who does one talk to in India? The BJP and the Sangh Parivar, or the secular-liberals?
Clearly, the correlation between Partition and Pakistanís obscurantism is part of the effort to present an image and contrast it with Indiaís. Again, the image sticks not because India does not have its extremists (Gujarat is just a recent example), or the Sangh Parivar is not trying to turn Hinduism into a dogmatic, political religion, or there is any less corruption among the politicians or the army-wallahs, it is because the Indian propagandists are more savvy, understand the market better, can sell a democracy even with the Sangh Parivar and Jay Lalitas, and the Indian Army does not consider itself the repository of all wisdom.
The point of all this is neither to absolve Pakistan of its follies nor to run India down Ė which is doing what it has to given the conflict ó but to put the record straight and to point to policymakers in Pakistan the imperative of fighting the war on the image front more effectively. Itís laughable for anyone to think that the image-war can be fought by PTV on the basis of the poppycock it generates in the name of carefully scripted interviews and strategic evaluations.
Published in Pakistan Weekly TheFridayTimes