What attitude must Pakistan change? - by Philip Oldenburg Back   Home  
Indian leaders, putting India on a war-footing with Pakistan, have repeatedly asked for a “change of attitude” by Pakistan to defuse the crisis. This is usually meant to refer to giving up reliance on “cross-border terrorism.” Support of “cross border terrorism” is a policy; the “attitude” Indian leaders mention must be something broader, more fundamental. One indication of what “attitude” is meant can be found by looking at one specific step that India has asked Pakistan to take–to turn over 20 persons India holds responsible for terrorist crimes in India. According to the list published in The Indian Express (January 5, 2002), only two persons are linked to the Kashmir jihad. The majority are either Sikhs (5 names) or Bombay gangsters (10 names). Thus the “attitude” change is not entirely, or perhaps even particularly, about the Kashmir dispute. It is about the finality of Partition in territorial terms. India has slowly come to a position of accepting the permanency of Pakistan (though many Pakistanis continue to doubt this), while Pakistan has not accepted India in the same way (though this is probably the view only of the elite.)

Pakistan’s independence was justified in part by the two-nation theory. Pakistanis saw the rejection of that claim by Congress Party leaders, even after independence, as an unwillingness to accept the fact of Pakistan, and they saw the Indian role in Pakistan’s civil war of 1971 as an attempt to reverse history. When Bangladesh became independent, some Indian newspapers headlined the event as the “end” of the two-nation theory.

Hindu nationalists have used the slogan of “[Return to an] Undivided India” in political campaigns. That has disappeared from the agenda, not so much because Hindu nationalists have given it up as a moral position, but because it is self-evidently impractical to consider absorbing 140 million antagonistic Muslims into India. Prime Minister A B Vajpayee sought to emphatically demonstrate the change in India’s attitude in his February 1999 speech at the Minar-i-Pakistan.

For Pakistan, the two nation theory implied that Muslims could not be adequately represented by a non-Muslim government, and Pakistan felt that therefore it had a legitimate standing to speak on behalf of all Muslims of what had been British India. The Muslims of India understandably never explicitly said that Pakistan should represent them, though it is likely that many welcomed Pakistan’s forceful interventions. With the emergence of Bangladesh, the legitimacy of the claim of legitimate representation of Indian Muslims became even more questionable.

It was India that was supposed to break up, not Pakistan. And even now, many Pakistanis do not believe that the breakup was a consequence of Pakistan’s domestic politics. India has indeed been accurately called a “civilization-state” since by the criteria of a single language, religion, culture, and history it is at best a “nation-in-making”. Indian leaders in the first decades of independence were fearful of the “fissiparous tendencies” that threatened Indian unity. But Indian democracy knit together the peoples of India; it will remain united even if Kashmir is “lost.”

Pakistani leaders have not understood that, drawing a false inference from the emergence of Bangladesh (and the bitter realization that Pakistan would never again be able to resist militarily a united India with conventional forces) – that Pakistan could only protect itself from India by encouraging its dissolution. I believe that it is this “attitude” that India is asking Pakistan to renounce.

A Pakistani slogan that captures this attitude refers to India as a wobbling wall: “one more push [and it will collapse].” It so happened that the prime battleground for that effort has been Kashmir, but it was not confined to Kashmir. Sikhs fighting for an independent “Khalistan” were given at least sanctuary, and probably military support. Sikh hijackers of Indian Airlines planes were given sanctuary. Pakistan’s ISI has undoubtedly helped terrorists to operate within India, including by supplying bomb material.

The fight to detach Kashmir from India and bring it into Pakistan has aimed not only to complete what Pakistan believes to be its legitimate territory, but to undermine India’s unity. The Kashmir dispute has of course autonomous roots–including in the popular movement led from 1930 by Sheik Abdullah–and Pakistan’s efforts to stir up sentiment for merger with Pakistan were not successful, up to the time of the movement that gained great strength in 1989-90. That movement demanded “azadi” for Kashmir, and happily accepted Pakistani support. Whether the terrorist acts that became part of that movement were provoked by Indian state terrorism is less important than to recognize that terrorism fed on terrorism, with both sides seeing it as an appropriate instrument. It is also utterly clear that terrorism has not worked for either side: the freedom movement has not been eradicated, and the Indian state shows no signs of giving up Kashmir. The insertion into the fight of foreign terrorists supported by Pakistan has, if anything, been counter-productive for the Kashmir freedom movement.

It will not be easy for Pakistan to accept that India is not going to crumble. It should be possible to recognize that efforts to take advantage of the stresses and strains of Indian nation building may well produce a rampantly Hindu nationalist India that will be a far worse danger than what they now face. It will not be easy for Pakistan to convince India that its “attitude” is at least beginning to change, but in fact both countries have had lots of practice in sending and receiving subtle signals. Let us hope that that path is chosen.
Published in Pakistan newspaper TheFridayTimes