Shashi Tharoor is no fool. Quite the contrary. He is a high achiever and combines brilliance with great marketing skills. So, why would he pen an article in the Deccan Chronicle (“Delusional liberals”, July 21) that seems, on the surface, to be fairly lightweight? Precisely because he is smart.
He knows perception-formation is important; he also knows reinforcing perceptions is crucial; and he knows the basic rule about perceptions: They are quick to form but resistant to change. The last paragraph of his article must, therefore, be seen not as an exercise in naivete but in considered perception-formation and reinforcement. Let me reproduce it here.
“Indians need to put aside their illusions that there are liberal partners for us on the other side of the border who echo our diagnosis of their plight and share our desire to defenestrate their military (italics mine).” He then honours me by capping his article thus: “Nor should we be surprised: a Pakistani liberal is, after all, a Pakistani before he is a liberal.”
India has diagnosed Pakistan’s problem; the Pakistani military needs to be defenestrated (it means to throw something or person out of a window — sigh!); the liberals in Pakistan must share that diagnosis and work in tandem with India to do so. But because they don’t seem to, India must put aside the disillusion that she has any partners in Pakistan.
Let me leave Tharoor here for a while and note that this is an orchestrated exercise. We already know what Aatish Taseer wrote about the Pakistani military so I shan’t recap that. But there was another interesting piece in The Wall Street Journal, “Cut Pakistan loose” (June 9), by Nitin Pai, a young analyst who writes on military and economic affairs. Pai’s argument is that America and the world should cut Pakistan loose because Pakistan comprises two entities, the state and the military-jihadi complex. According to this thesis, the military-jihadi complex formulates policies and the state is a wretched, helpless entity that simply looks on while the military-jihadi complex troubles both the Pakistani state and the rest of the world. Pai concluded that recent developments have created a vertical fault-line between these two entities and Pakistan stands on the verge of a political transformation. This transformation should be allowed a free hand because it might just empower the Pakistani state. To this end, he wanted complete aid and funds cut-off since that money only reaches the military-jihadi complex.
Even a cursory study of the basic literature on what a state is and where it can be located (some of the best minds have been grappling with this) would tell us that Pai’s framework is deeply flawed. He knows it too. But like Tharoor, he too is not teaching a political science class. He is forming perceptions and reinforcing those that make someone predisposed to accepting his argument. His piece is not meant for the Political Science Quarterly but for mass dissemination.
But wait. The smartest of them is yet to come — Ashley Tellis. Tellis, an Indian-American, was adviser to former US ambassador to India, Robert Blackwill. Tellis also contributed immensely to the process that led to the India-US civil nuclear deal and he has been one of the strongest intellectual voices selling India and New Delhi’s vision of itself. He has successfully sold the idea that the US and Indian interests in the region, and especially vis-a-vis Pakistan, are synonymous.
In a recent article in The National Interest, captioned, “Pakistan’s army rule” (June 28), Tellis, after declaring Pakistan a “frenemy”, highlights the civil-military divide within this country, arguing that the US raid to take out Osama bin Laden has not only resulted in a “damaging enervation of Pakistan’s already-frail civilian authority”, but the army’s riposte has further strengthened “the power of the very military that has taken the country to perdition repeatedly since its formation”. No prizes for guessing the common strand in these articles — the civil-military divide and the military’s perfidy. The only way Pakistan can be redirected is by getting rid of the Pakistani military. Once that happens, Pakistan will become a ‘normal’ state and everyone could take the much-needed rest.
The liberals must join the rest of the world — and India — in doing this. But, to return to Tharoor, “Pakistani liberals are particularly prone to the desire to prove themselves true nationalists” because “it is the best way to ensure that their otherwise heretical opinions are not completely discredited by the men in uniform who hold the reins of power in the state”.
In these analyses, terms are bandied about loosely and that is deliberate. No one would call an Indian a “nationalist” in an accusatory tone. Not so with a Pakistani because Pakistani nationalism, as it presumably stands, is a function of the military’s worldview, not Pakistan’s. By this logic, a Pakistani must be a liberal first — as if there is a world-body of liberals that stands above and beyond their states — and a Pakistani only secondarily. The military must be defanged; Pakistan must accept India’s supremacy in the region as also the US interests because those are interests based on some conception of “universal values”. Disputes will be resolved, for sure — on India’s terms.
This is of course bogus in the extreme. But it works. It works because there is a civil-military divide in Pakistan; because the military has primary input in policymaking; because the civilians have, repeatedly, proved themselves largely incapable of asserting themselves. All these are facts. But then there are other facts. Consider.
Most peace initiatives towards India have come while Pakistan was under the jackboot. This should not have happened if the military requires a permanent state of war with India to retain its primacy in domestic affairs. (That has its structural reasons but this is not the place to go into those.) Similarly, Pakistan was pushed into the 1965 war by two civilians, not an army general (even though Ayub Khan should have known better). Pakistan’s nuclear programme is owed to a civilian prime minister, not a general. Pakistan’s decision to test was taken under a civilian prime minister and there’s credible evidence to suggest that the then-army chief was sceptical about it. Pakistan’s Taliban policy — in conjunction with the US — was formulated and implemented under a civilian prime minister and the ISI was opposed to it (in fact, until the Taliban captured Kabul in ’96, former DG-ISI Lt-Gen Hamid Gul (retd) would constantly refer to them as American stooges).
One can go on. But four points need to be kept in mind: One, the civil-military divide is Pakistan’s internal matter and we would do whatever it takes to ensure that this country moves towards effective civilian control of the military; two, this divide does not mean that those of us who are opposed to the military’s primacy would, ipso facto, ignore Pakistan’s security interests. Like every other state in the world, Pakistan is also a self-interested state and the rest of the world must live with this fact; three, we have no intention of defenestrating our military, even as we would continue to kick them to extract obedience; four, we don’t need advice from across the border, especially because the Indian pundits crawled on their bellies when Mrs Indira Gandhi slapped her two-year emergency rule. We have seen worse without giving up or giving in. Thank you!
(To be concluded)
Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th, 2011.