Undercurrents of conflict: Hope is not a policy, says Cohen

South Asia expert shares dark outlook on Pakistan-India ties.

Saim Saeed November 30, 2013
South Asia expert shares dark outlook on Pakistan-India ties. PHOTO: FILE


Despite initial optimism over Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s overtures towards India, the fact is that “he doesn’t make all the policies in Pakistan himself,” says Stephen P Cohen. “The business communities, the military intellectuals, the Islamist parties, they all have a role in this, and in a sense he can’t wish something to happen and it’ll happen.”

Cohen has been one of the foremost experts on South Asia for close to 50 years. In an interview with The Express Tribune, he explained his reservations regarding a possible détente between India and Pakistan - the subject of his new book, Shooting for a Century: The India-Pakistan Conundrum - wherein he justifies his pessimism and identifies key factors that could change the status quo.

He believes that Nawaz might simply have too much on his plate. “He is trying to establish a new relationship with the army, a new relationship with India, a new relationship with the US. If he did any one of those things in 3-4 years, it will be a major accomplishment. But to try and do all of them, while trying to rebuild the economy, is a big task.”

On Pakistan-India ties, Cohen has a dark outlook. “It is important to get them to understand that they’re both digging a hole for each other.”

However, the people of both countries do want change and friendly relations. Can a miracle happen? “Don’t wait for miracles. Hope is not a policy,” he responds.

“It’s like looking into a pool of water; on the surface it may be calm, or moving in one direction but underneath it may be flowing in another. So it’s more complex than you can imagine.”

Short-term trends are not indicative of what the long-term trends are going to be, according to Cohen. “I think in the long term, the positive trends are a youth generation and freer press in both countries and political parties generally being in support of normalisation. Certainly in Pakistan all of them are except for the extreme right wing.”

Meanwhile, the Indians have to reciprocate to Pakistan’s overtures. “It takes two to tango.”

In his book, he observes that there is a major debate under way in India about relations with Pakistan. “The standard Indian view has been ‘let’s ignore Pakistan or let’s destroy Pakistan – let’s not deal with Pakistan’ [...] But clearly, many sensible Indians understand that if Pakistan goes under, then India is going to suffer more than anybody else.”

What the US Can Do? Not much, it seems. “The American government has no South Asian policy. We have an India policy, we have four Afghanistan policies, and five Pakistan policies. We don’t have a single strategic view of the region. So don’t look to the Americans for help.”

Positive outcome of nuclear weapons

The fact that both countries are nuclear means that they cannot have a war between them of any consequence, concludes Cohen. “They [nuclear weapons] are clearly dangerous and unusable. But because they are dangerous and unusable, they make normalisation inevitable, or at least more likely.”

Published in The Express Tribune, December 1st, 2013.



Asif Luqman Qazi | 7 years ago | Reply

Despite Pakistan's current problems, it will be unrealistic to assume that Pakistanis will cave in to India, and India will be able to have a hegemonic role in the region.The American establishment wants India to be a counterweight for China in the region. This can never materialise unless India bases its relations with Pakistan on Justice, equality and peace. India has to understand that Kashmiris are not willing to consider themselves as Indians and this will always remain so. For how long will India maintain hundreds of thousands of troops in Kashmir and allow them to operate with impunity ? We want good relations with India but, as Mr. Cohen rightly said, "India has to reciprocate".

naeem khan Manhattan,Ks | 7 years ago | Reply

@Raj - USA: As Dr.Cohen said,"“The standard Indian view has been ‘let’s ignore Pakistan or let’s destroy Pakistan – let’s not deal with Pakistan". I assume you are an educated person living in the US but it seems you have the same mindset like the rest of the Indians. Forget about Muslims and their so called Muslim card,it is a stupid idea, the fact is that these same very people from west of India has ruled India for more than 600 years and they will not go away even if majority of Indians do try to destroy them, India will be destroyed in the process too.Don't forget that in 2001 Pakistani government did give the authority to even the rank of Brigadier to prepare and lob the nuclear weapons toward India, in case India did, a rank of Brigadeir, think about it seriously, it was Pakistan's survival at stake. Pakistan is here to stay, all they need is honest and determined leadership and it seems the young generation is providing that leadership. Don't get so cocky, India is still considered as third world country like the rest of her neighbors.

Replying to X

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

For more information, please see our Comments FAQ


Most Read