What the Pakistani establishment fears the most is not military defeat by India but the absorption of the Islamic Pakistani uniqueness within the greater Indian civilisational identity.
On May 11, 2013, Pakistan will hold elections that will be significant mainly because it will be the first time in its history that a civilian government will be removed from power by the ballot not by a coup — judicial or military. In this context, with numerous stakeholders trying to hold on to power, jingoism and especially ‘the India factor’ is the expected norm.
A recent piece typical of this approach argues what India should do if she wanted to “become the sort of neighbour which does not see a conspiracy against it in every alliance of its neighbours.” An objective reading of the above-mentioned lines in the context of South Asia would lead one to presume they applied to Pakistan’s ties with India, and often, Afghanistan. However, these lines come from a recent piece in a right-wing conspiracy-ridden Pakistani national daily titled “Indian fears”, in which the argument put forth is that Indian fears about Pakistan’s ties with China have led India to imagine a Sino-Pakistan nexus. This is a common refrain one hears in the Pakistani media and amongst Pakistani analysts that it is India’s fears of Pakistan’s ties with China or US aid to Pakistan or Pakistan’s close ties with the Muslim world that drive Indian foreign or security policy. The reality is actually the reverse of this.
At the heart of this Pakistani narrative lies a fear of India, not just military as much as psychological. What the Pakistani establishment and its sympathisers and supporters fear the most is not military defeat by India but the absorption of the Islamic Pakistani uniqueness within the greater Indian civilisational identity. As I point out in my book Explaining Pakistan’s Foreign Policy: Escaping India, the key drivers of Pakistan’s foreign policy have been a desire to escape not just an Indian heritage but, if possible, virtually relocate Pakistan within a Middle Eastern, instead of South Asian, geographical zone.
Pakistan’s goals in this field have benefitted from ties with the US because as a country that comes under CENTCOM, Pakistan is grouped together with Middle Eastern countries, instead of being placed in PACOM with the rest of South Asia. Hence instead of being viewed as the most radicalised of South Asian countries, it is often viewed as one of the moderate Middle Eastern ones.
This policy to escape India and seek parity with India has framed Pakistan’s ties with almost every other country. Pakistan’s relations with the US have been predicated on the fervent hope that US economic and military aid would help Pakistan achieve economic and military parity with India. While the US has provided Pakistan tremendous assistance, close ties between India and the US have prevented the latter from viewing South Asia solely from the Pakistani prism.
Often terming the US a ‘fair weather ally’, Pakistan’s leaders have always turned to their ‘all weather friend’ China to provide the economic and military support that the US has not provided. China has provided Pakistan with tremendous support in the military arena, including nuclear, and also invested in Pakistan. However, Chinese aid and investment has never reached a level where it could in any way replace what Pakistan receives from the US.
Pakistan has been the leading champion of causes tied to the Muslim world, from decolonisation to the Palestine issue. This is tied to the Pakistani belief that in its existential conflict with India, ties with ideologically similar allies — fellow Muslim countries — would be critical.
In the initial years after Independence Pakistan’s leaders spoke about the need for an alliance between like-minded Muslim neighbours: Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran-Turkey. However, none of the other countries were interested in such an alliance. Pakistan’s ties with Afghanistan too are structured by the Pakistani fear of a strategic encirclement by India and Afghanistan, i.e. the well-known pincer movement. Pakistan has, therefore, sought to have a pro-Pakistani, anti-Indian Afghan regime, which has involved support for the anti-Soviet Afghan mujahideen during the 1970s-80s and the Taliban during the 1990s and later. However, from the vantage point of Kabul, India is the ideal counterweight to Pakistani interference in Afghanistan, and Pakistan has instead had to deal with the blowback of rising radicalism within Pakistan.
Turning to ties with the Muslim Middle Eastern countries, especially the Gulf Arab countries, these were seen as critical in helping Pakistan escape India. Economic and energy driven ties with the Gulf countries have played a key role in the aim to seek parity with India. Pakistan also has a close military relationship with the Gulf countries. These countries have often funded Pakistan military purchases and Pakistanis have served in and trained the Gulf defence forces. Notwithstanding the economic and security ties with the Gulf Arab countries, there are close economic, counter-terror cooperation and diplomatic ties between India and these countries.
Pakistan has sought to escape India (ties with the Muslim Middle East), seek parity with India (ties with the US, China, Muslim countries) and contain India (with China’s help). If it would instead cooperate and collaborate with India, both countries would benefit. Considering how critical these elections are to Pakistan’s future, instead of jingoism, statesmanship is the need of the day.