>>>India and Pakistan: An intractable conflict?

India and Pakistan: An intractable conflict?

Why is a definition so important? Definitions help us understand and label content better, making it more relevant. Without them, life would be far too wild and unpredictable for one to fathom. What, then, is the definition of a neighbour? Is it simply a person who manages to rent a house next to yours and maintains a kind of cordial indifference? No, that would be far too narrow and regressive. A neighbour in a progressive, evolving society ought to be someone who understands you and your problems better, and seeks to grow together. India and Pakistan are an antithesis to that argument, and there are multiple reasons for that.

‘Every instinct will persuade you that there should not be a Pakistan,” the Los Angeles Times declared in 1943. As it went on to explain, “Only an old-school Southerner who thinks Appomattox was a shocking bad show could go for Pakistan.” The idea of Pakistan emerged from the anxieties and prejudices of a decaying class of India’s Muslim elites, who claimed that Islam’s purity would be contaminated in a pluralistic society. If Muslims remained a minority in India, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, warned in 1940, they would be responsible for the “complete destruction of what is most precious in Islam.”

Jinnah had once been a proponent of interfaith collaboration in India’s struggle against British colonial rule. But when his own political ascent was stymied by the unexpected entry of Mohandas Gandhi on the nationalist stage, Jinnah reinvented himself as the savior of India’s Muslims. Insisting that Muslims and Hindus were two immiscible “nations” inhabiting one land, he demanded the amputation of India along religious lines. The British, exhausted by war and eager to exit, reluctantly surrendered. The subcontinent was partitioned into two independent nation states: Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. Immediately, there began one of the greatest migrations in human history, as millions of Muslims trekked to West and East Pakistan (the latter now known as Bangladesh) while millions of Hindus and Sikhs headed in the opposite direction. Many hundreds of thousands never made it. It was the largest human exodus in history.

But mutilating India proved easier than building Pakistan. Jinnah had incited partition on the premise that Muslims and Hindus could not coexist in one nation. But millions of Muslims remained in India, whose success in fashioning a nationality out of its staggering diversity immediately debunked Jinnah’s argument. For Pakistan’s creation to be vindicated, India should have become, as Jinnah said it would, a cesspit of “Hindu Raj.” Instead, just three years after partition, India gave itself a secular constitution.

Pakistan, on the other hand, became captive to the sectarian hysteria in which it was forged. It could not relegate religion to the private sphere without belittling the sacrifice of those who had been wrenched from their homes in the name of Islam. Nor could it embrace secularism without dissolving the bond of faith that constituted its two territorial wings, separated by a thousand miles of India, into one nation. So when Jinnah died, just over a year after partition, his paranoid heirs, petrified that they might be subsumed into India, placed Pakistan on an intensive program of Islamization. A whole new past, depicting Pakistan as the worldly manifestation of Islam, was fabricated. Schoolbooks were crammed with fables about the supremacy of Muslims and the treachery of Hindus. Major public projects were given the names of the great Islamic invaders who had ravaged medieval India. This innate hostility built up by proponents of the two-nation theory, and the failure to properly understand the nature of the problems back then, was the reason for the complete breakdown in relations between the two nations. India and Pakistan continue to argue over this moment in history, but unfortunately you cannot turn back time.

Subsequent governments tried to resolve the conflict, but three massive wars have pushed back these attempts at reconciliation. The war of 1965, which started following Pakistan’s Operation Gibraltar, which was designed to infiltrate forces into Jammu and Kashmir to precipitate an insurgency against rule by India,who retaliated by launching a full-scale military attack on West Pakistan. The seventeen-day war caused thousands of casualties on both sides and witnessed the largest engagement of armored vehicles and the largest tank battle since World War II. The war of 1971 , a war precipitated by the crisis created by the political battle brewing in erstwhile East Pakistan between Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Leader of East Pakistan, and Yahya Khan and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, leaders of West Pakistan, culminated in the declaration of Independence of Bangladesh from the state system of Pakistan. Following Operation Searchlight and the 1971 Bangladesh atrocities, about 10 million Bengalis in East Pakistan took refuge in India. India intervened in the ongoing Bangladesh liberation movement. After a large scale pre-emptive strike by Pakistan, full-scale hostilities between the two countries commenced, causing large scale damage on both sides. And the famous Kargil war, which left both countries devastated. Apart from this, there have been multiple engagements along the LOC( which still remains a bone of contention). The conflict has been sustained in recent times by Kashmir, an extraordinarily beautiful place held captive by violence and extremism, and Pakistan’s use of violence on Indian soil, the Mumbai attacks being a prime example. The former issue requires a concrete analysis of Kashmir; its history, its conflict, its culture, and an almost seismic clash of civilisation. The latter is of immediate concern. However, in both cases, we are missing a very crucial and basic point

The main problem in Pakistan, as a state, is not that of terrorism. Sure, terrorism exists, but it is part of wider issue. If we try to understand Pakistan as a “terrorist state”, we will fail to see the underlying conditions. The larger problem in Pakistan, the resolution of which is important in improving relations, is that of a power struggle between the people, ruling government, and the Army. In Pakistan’s case, the army became powerful in the early years of the country’s history and there were two major reasons for that. The first reason was that Pakistan faced existential threat from India from the time it got independence, which meant that the state had to prioritize defense over everything else. British decision to withdraw from the subcontinent was a decision made in haste, which resulted in subsequent territorial disputes and large-scale rioting. The British withdrew, one year ahead of their original plan, after the rioting had already started. Moreover, the division of territory between India and Pakistan was controversial and the British also did not amicably settle the issue of princely states, which resulted in conflict between the two countries immediately after independence. The second major reason was the weakness as well as incompetency of the civilian side exacerbated by low political institutionalization. Political institutionalization was low in Pakistan from the very beginning, allowing the army to become an important political player. An early part of Pakistan’s history was marked by constant changes and palace intrigues, resulting in a lot of political chaos which enabled army to intervene easily.


Once the army became a powerful political stakeholder, its role and position became entrenched due to path dependency. The argument is that if civil institutions, due to legacy or incompetency, do not get anchored in the polity, then the army and civil bureaucracy, due to their better discipline and competency, end up managing the civil affairs as well. Once that happens, a path is established which the polity follows. In the case of Pakistan, once military became involved in politics, its role was further entrenched due to adaptive expectations of the other political actors (both domestic and foreign), positive feedback and exercise of power (backed by instruments of physical violence). The real losers in this tug of war are the people of Pakistan.

There exists a body of opinion that says this is an intractable conflict. If there is a fundamental problem with the nature of the Pakistani state, and its distribution of power, can India really change anything from the periphery? The blunt reply, as you have realised, could possible be no. However, there are a few things we can do to change this, and it constitutes four major areas.Military-  In the face of an aggressive army that will go to any end to justify its disproportionate acquisition of resources, we have to be careful not to be sucked into war. That is exactly what their army hopes will destabilise our country. We cannot play the game on their terms. In any case, I would like to think that we value our soldiers enough to not sacrifice them just to fill our ravenous, blood-thirsty stomach. What we can do is improve our preparedness for infiltration bids, and secure our borders even more to aid in protection

Diplomatic- India has to keep the diplomatic option open to apply the necessary pressure on the civilian government to act on the perpetrators of war. This can take the shape of bilateral meetings, or condemnation in front of the world. However, I remain skeptical of how seriously the nations in the UN take our case. 

Cultural- India has to actively pursue more cultural exchanges with the people of Pakistan. This certainly involves more programmes by Pakistani artists in India. And yes, we most definitely should play more cricket matches with them. We do not have any animosity with the people of Pakistan, who want peace just as much as we do.


Economy- India has to be pragmatic here. Our economy is much larger and healthier than that of Pakistan, and their army knows this better than anyone, despite their bluster and rhetoric. The Pakistani army wants us to come down to their level, and they will try everything within their power to make that happen. Being an emerging, evolving market in the world economy, India should not be lulled into playing this game on the Pakistani army’s turf. Instead, we should focus on improving trade relations with individuals and organisations in Pakistan, whether it involves liberalizing visas, opening up our economy to investment, or creating a market in Pakistan for our commodities.

These are just some of the steps we can take to improve relations. There is a pattern in every step. We must make it harder for the army in Pakistan to continue to disproportionately acquire resources. This, potentially, could raise the cost for them to wage war on our land. However, we must also keep in mind that Pakistan is a very difficult problem, and it will take a long time for things to change, seeing the inherent institutional flaw that exists there. We may even fail sometimes. We may face a few punches in the form of stubbornness and policy failure. However, as any great boxer will tell you, victory is not simply about being more powerful. Sure, strength is an important feature. But it is not as crucial as the ability to withstand the punches, stand up, and get ready to fight. For India, its ability to ride the punches as they come will stand for more than anything else.



By | 2017-02-04T01:34:45+00:00 February 4th, 2017|Categories: Regional Politics|2 Comments

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  1. Nitin Potdar February 8, 2017 at 21:11 - Reply

    Dear Parth – I am impressed with your well articulated piece on India-Pakistan relationship. Your deep analysis supported by rich vocabulary is simply awesome. Great!! I congratulate you on your thought process.

    I agree with your suggestion that exchange of cultural programs and economic relations is the only way to improve our relations with Pakistan.

    It’s very sad that previous generation of leaders and thinkers have left this problem open to your generation. The patience in your thought process would go a long way and would certainly fructify.

    Looking forward to read many more such pieces fro you. Once again congratulations.

  2. Sandesh Kesarkar February 10, 2017 at 12:14 - Reply

    Quite in-depth and informative write-up. The truth is opened-up line by line, made interesting reading.

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