Some realist advice for Hafiz Saeed

Saeed can present us list of Indian perfidy & end up being wrong or rethink approaches that make him vaguely right.

Ejaz Haider July 31, 2012

Hafiz Saeed, chief of the Jamaatud Dawa which is also a part of the self-styled Difa-e-Pakistan Council, says India wants to deprive Pakistan of its waters. Warning: this will result in a future conflict. He also continues to express solidarity with the people of Occupied Kashmir and remains opposed to granting MFN (Most-Favoured Nation) status to India and trading with it.

The problem with Saeed and others on the Right is rather simple: while they present certain facts — e.g., India’s treatment of Kashmiris, which is shameful by any benchmark — their solution is more, not less conflict. Of course the assumption here is that they want the conflict to end, which mayn’t be correct. In fact one could argue, and some would call it a no-brainer, that if the conflict between India and Pakistan were to end, or even become manageable, there would be a proportionate decrease in the public fortunes of Saeed and other such leaders.

Even so, let’s assume for the sake of the argument that such groups do want the conflict to end, though their ideal end to the conflict would mean favourable terms for Pakistan. If such be the case, and I argue in and through the realist framework, then the problem of their approach must stare them hard in their faces.

They could begin by doing a little assessment of their own “successes”. Where does India stand after fighting multiple insurgencies? Has it buckled under? Are the Kashmiris any closer to getting rid of India than they were back in December 1989? Please note that all my statements, for the purpose of this analysis, are value-neutral. I don’t think that India should be in possession of Kashmir. I deeply resent India’s oppression of Kashmiris. But a realist analysis and a viable policy is never based on wish-assumptions. It requires is-assumptions. Is-es and wishes cannot be conflated.

Take water. The Indus Waters Treaty has worked very well so far. Yes, there have been disputes; yes, the treaty is more focused on the engineering and legal aspects of water-sharing than the ecological systems of individual rivers and that is a problem; yes, there are areas which need to be tackled keeping in mind the spirit and not just the letter, for example the provision that allows India to build as many run-of-the-river projects on western rivers as it wants, throwing up the problem of  “cumulative effect” which can hurt flows, etc. Yes, all of this and more is correct. But try finding one sensible person in Pakistan or India that would say, “Do away with this treaty”.

No one would because imagine Pakistan and India sans this treaty. There would possibly be more conflict and more bad blood leading to even more conflict. And what’s a treaty if not about the spirit of finding a cooperative solution to existing and subsequent problems and disputes? Disputes can either be cooperatively resolved or fought over. Which of the two options is better?

In the real world states use both options. But fighting is never an end in itself; it must lead to some advantage. Also, fighting requires a clear appreciation of when and how to fight, when to stop and to what end. Saeed would do well to read up on Otto von Bismarck. And if he finds that Bismarck would not have agreed with him then Saeed might want to reassess his approach.

There is a time when states find that jaw-jaw is better than war-war. That they need to resolve disputes differently, not in a political sense but by making the politics of the dispute disappear. If Saeed is sensitive to the plight of the Kashmiris, as I am sure he is — just like I am, belong as I do to AJK — and if Kashmir cannot be wrested from India militarily, a fact that should not be lost on him, then he needs to ask a simple question: what can be done to give back to Kashmiris their life and dignity?

There are many Indians, even centrists, who believe that India has much to be ashamed of in its treatment of the Kashmiris. How about strengthening them? Surely such approach would demand eschewing violence and devising more sophisticated strategies? It would require knocking the ground from under the feet of Indian hawks. At the state level, trade and investment are good, solid approaches to creating interdependencies, the very idea Saeed finds loathsome. I must confess that I am a hard convert myself to this idea; I will also concede that at this point the ground is not even. I also believe that in the initial phases at least nothing magical could be expected. But as an economist said to me recently, quoting Keynes, “I’d rather be vaguely right than precisely wrong”.

Saeed can present us a list of Indian perfidy on any given day and end up being precisely wrong or he can rethink approaches that could, in the interim, make him vaguely right. The choice is his.

One of the biggest problems with the Right — both in Pakistan and India — is that it wants the politics between the two states to become non-temporal and millenarian. The Germans, who coined the term realpolitik, understood the concept as modest approaches in a real world — as opposed to the ideal which can be moral, ethical and, very often, absolutist. Politics and interstate relations are neither static nor cast in stone.

In Europe, conservatives often embarked on slow liberal policies both to put down the socialists and as a tool to give from the top-down to avoid what could otherwise become an explosion from bottom-up.

The Right here remains unsophisticated and uncouth. It also tends to sacralise the state and thereby reduce rather than increase the state’s options. And when it can’t influence the state, it threatens and attacks it. All of which means that it is a threat, not only to individual liberties within but also to state’s options without. A bigger problem: the internal and external threats for Pakistan are now supplementing each other and Saeed and his cohorts are a hindrance to streamlining policies.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 1st, 2012.

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