The rivalry between India and Pakistan has adversely affected peace and stability in South Asia. We live in the twenty-first century, an era in which states have adopted the model of regional integration and the policy of economic cooperation to safeguard their security objectives. The South Asian region, despite being a potential economic hub because of its attractive market value and manpower, has been unable to fully utilize the opportunities the modern era has offered to developing economies around the world. Unfortunately, the challenges of terrorism and extremism, along with other socioeconomic problems, have not been addressed collectively by the regional states. The threat of terrorism poses a grave and equal challenge to every state in the region, and a cooperation-based approach among the South Asian states holds the key to tackling this menace. The volatile relationship of India and Pakistan, coupled with their inability to materialize the convergence of interests into economic integration and counterterrorism in the region in general, and in Afghanistan in particular, are the main impediments to regional economic integration and prospects for cooperation on counterterrorism in South Asia.
There have been many attempts to normalize relations between the two countries, with little success. There are several factors that do not allow for the normalization of relations between India and Pakistan, but one very important factor that I believe is a root cause is the mindset of both countries. Being a Pakistani, I will try to explain in this article why the Pakistani mindset is misguided and why it needs to be changed.
Pakistan was created on the basis of a two-nation theory, which implied that Muslims’ rights (being the minority) in united India could not be guaranteed unless there was a special constitutional arrangement, or unless they could have their own political arrangement as a separate country. When the ideology of Pakistan is discussed or taught for educational purposes, the impression is given that the two-nation theory was actually the product of a serious confrontation between the Indian Muslims and Hindus. The struggle of the Muslim League is projected as the struggle, not as a political one, but the struggle of virtue against evil. The matter of truth is that the Muslim League was a political party that wanted to manipulate the Muslim communal factor. All the leaders of this political party were from the elite, and most of them were not even from the existing geographic entity of Pakistan. They found the Muslim cause and capitalized on it to pursue their political goals.
The point that I am trying to make is that the roots of the Pakistani state are based on political reasons, rather than the result of a confrontation with the Hindu majority population. The Muslim League leadership had a genuine case to advocate for Muslims, as there were socioeconomic and political insecurities for the Muslim population. But where they erred was the exploitation of religious sentiments to advance their political goals, and this mistake caused the loss of lives of thousands of people in communal violence at the time of partition.
To strengthen my argument, it is stated that Muslims, along with all other religious entities in India, fought collectively against the British in the 1857 Rebellion. Moreover, Muslims and Hindus were united in their political struggle against British rule, as the Congress Party had a significant representation of Muslims, not only as its members, but in the mainstream leadership as well.The Khilafat Movement is one such example in this regard, in which Mahatma Gandhi was among the top leadership of this campaign. Most importantly, during the last years of British rule in India, the leadership of the Muslim League had accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan in 1946, according to which the current Pakistan would have been a part of united India. According to this plan, national matters such as defence, diplomacy, currency, etc. would have been controlled by the centre. The acceptance of the Cabinet Mission Plan by the Muslim League shows that the Muslim leadership did not rule out the idea of coexistence with the Hindu majority, provided that the political rights of Muslims were protected through constitutional arrangements.
The decision-making elite has used the ideology of Pakistan, with a distorted perception of history, to build a narrative that serves their institutional interests. The key component of Pakistan’s ideology is anti-Indian rhetoric. Anti-Indian rhetoric has portrayed Hindus as having never wanted the creation of Pakistan and as having been trying to disintegrate Pakistan like India did in 1971 in East Pakistan. But the matter of fact is that it was Pakistan who backed the tribal people to liberate Kashmir in 1948 and provided the opportunity to Indian forces to take the control of Jammu and Kashmir. In 1965, it was again Pakistan who launched operation Gibraltar in a failed attempt to liberate Kashmir. In 1971, India did invade East Pakistan, but this was one major factor among several other factors that caused the disintegration of the country. The Kargil war is another example of how Pakistan used force as an instrument to change the status quo. Pakistan has been involved in fueling militancy in Kashmir, which has domestically affected Pakistan by fueling religious extremism and radicalizing the society. I believe that this strategy has not only harmed my country, but has also undermined the genuine cause of Kashmir by providing the opportunity to India to label the freedom movement as state-sponsored terrorism.
Currently, the vital challenges to Pakistan are its weak economy and its internal security threat emanating from religious extremism. The public is extremely frustrated because of the energy crisis, unemployment, lack of education and health facilities, and the issue of terrorism. The improvement of relations with India might not be the solution to every problem, but it can significantly help in terms of exploring more economic opportunity and to effectively address the issue of terrorism in region. Even though Pakistan has suffered heavily from terrorism, as more than 50,000 people have lost their lives, not to mention the socioeconomic cost, Pakistan’s security policy is still mainly India-centric. Pakistan’s defence budget is still far larger than the budget of its law enforcement entities. The Army is fighting against terrorists, but the point is that the permanent solution of the problem lies in investing in the law enforcement security apparatus. The law enforcement forces are still underdeveloped and are not being provided the necessary funds. On the other hand, it is evident that Pakistan is actively developing its nuclear weapons program, which may not be a smart investment, considering the threats confronting the country.
Pakistan needs to reshape its security policy by reevaluating threats to its existence. Furthermore, Pakistan should determine the exact nature of the threat from India. In my opinion, the decision-making elite has exaggerated the threat from India to safeguard their own institutional interests. Anti-Indian rhetoric was used to justify defence funding to build a powerful military in Pakistan, and it is still being used today, especially in Pakistan’s nuclear development program. India could be a threat to Pakistan, but only if Pakistan continues to use non-state actors to achieve its political goals. But this strategy has failed in the past and will not succeed in future, since the international environment has changed drastically. Moreover, even though the majority of Kashmiri people want to get rid of India, they do not want to be part of Pakistan either. The best policy for Pakistan, taking into account the challenges it is facing, should be to make the economy its first priority, and the rest of its policies should be in line with its economic objectives. The threat of terrorism should be Pakistan’s first and foremost priority in articulating its security policy. Most importantly, Pakistan needs to engage India by providing the surety that it would not allow any terrorist group to operate inside its territory. Pakistan needs to realize the ground realities in the region demand a more pragmatic approach to address the issues of national security.
The possibility of this shift is much less due to the mindset and institutional interests of military establishment. The civilian leadership is most likely to reshape Pakistan’s security policy, but at this time it is too weak, incompetent and irrelevant to take such bold decision.