Skip to main content

Why Pakistan Sticks to its Guns

Walter Russell Mead

Kashmir’s summer of unrest looks to be showing no signs of letting up. The Wall Street Journal:

A mounting death toll in Kashmir, where street protests erupted after security forces killed a well-known separatist fighter this summer, is stoking long-smoldering public anger with Indian rule in the Himalayan region.

Efforts by New Delhi to calm tensions across the mostly Muslim section of Kashmir it controls—neighboring Pakistan administers another—have foundered as the violence stretches into a third month, fueling resentment and raising the prospect of a return to armed struggle. […]

More than 70 people have been killed, almost all of them civilians, and thousands injured in near-daily clashes between law enforcement and stone-throwing demonstrators demanding more autonomy and fewer Indian troops. Security forces have fired birdshot into crowds, tearing flesh and lacerating eyeballs.

Americans look at the India-Pakistan rivalry and ask why Pakistan continues to overspend on the military and focus its foreign policy on what looks like a hopeless struggle with its larger, richer and stronger neighbor. Why not move away from radical Islam, American diplomats and visitors have been asking their Pakistani counterparts for years, and do the sensible thing: cut defense spending, increase spending on education, and concentrate on building a normal, peaceful Pakistan that can join other Asian powerhouses (including India) on the export-led growth bandwagon?

A lot of Pakistanis also wish this would happen, but the people who matter—the military and intelligence officials who call the shots—see things differently. They look, for example, at the latest surge of violence in the part of Kashmir under Indian rule, and see big problems ahead for Delhi. Despite everything India has tried to do, Muslim-majority Kashmir seems to be slowly growing more alienated. Not all Kashmiris want to join Pakistan— surprisingly few people around the world would like to have a government or an economy like Pakistan’s—but whether the protestors want Kahsmiri independence, union with Pakistan or self determination, it’s a sign to Pakistani decision-makers that India is less strong and less stable than it looks.

With 172 million Muslims, roughly 14.2 percent of the population, India has more Muslims than any country in the world except Pakistan and Indonesia. The rising tide of Islamic militancy and pride around the world, they hope, is beginning to be felt inside India. The hope is that growing Islamic self-awareness will goad non-Muslim Indians into identity politics of their own—a path already blazed by some elements in the ruling BJP coalition. That would then further radicalize Indian Muslims, with another counter-reaction among the Hindus, and on and on.

Islam, these Pakistanis recall, came into the Indian subcontinent as a conqueror. Muslim invaders established kingdoms and states that kept the Hindu majority firmly in check—until the British came.

In the short term, the “hard school” of Pakistani nationalism hopes that China’s growing interest in the New Silk Road, and its growing concern about what looks to some in Beijing like an American plot to strangle China with an alliance including countries like India and Japan, will lead to more support for Pakistan from the neighboring superpower. In the long run, the centrifugal forces of identity politics will pull India apart.

To most foreign observers, those hopes seem delusional. India has been around for a long time and it has actually been Pakistan that has faced the biggest secession movements (in what is now Bangladesh, for example). But the combination of what they see as a rising tide of world Islam, their own success in building a nuclear arsenal in the teeth of American opposition, a new relationship with China, and the communal tensions in India all look like good reasons to stick with the plan: use the power of Islam to help pry India apart.

The trouble in Kashmir helps keep those hopes alive.

Related Articles

Afghanistan Adrift One Year after the Taliban Takeover

Richard Weitz

Richard Weitz on the current state of affairs in post-withdrawal Afghanistan...

Continue Reading

Biden Is Taking a Big Risk with China

Michael Pillsbury

Michael Pillsbury appears on Fox Business to discuss why Biden may be wrong not to worry about China’s increased aggression. ...

Watch Now