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India-Pakistan: Parity by Any Other Name

Aparna Pande

For those of us who study South Asia, the new year appears to bring cheer with an improvement in trade relations, as well as a step forward with respect to visa related issues. However, for these policies to lead to fruition there is a need for a change in the world view of Pakistan’s security establishment.

Pakistan’s weak civilian government, facing a battering in every arena, deserves credit for the efforts it has made in the last few years to improve ties with India. Ironically, a similar hope for improvement in India-Pakistan ties was there even in 1988, led by the same political party, but under a different civilian government. What this demonstrates is that by and large there is a civilian consensus in Pakistan on the need for better ties with India.

However, if one wishes to know how inflexible Pakistan’s security establishment is, one need only read the views expressed by some of their sympathizers and intellectuals. These regime apologists argue that for peace and stability to flourish in the region there must first be “strategic restraint” on the part of India. What this translates into is what I refer to in my book as Pakistan’s eternal drive for parity with India.

According to this argument, since Pakistan has found it impossible to achieve conventional military parity with India, the latter must agree to restrict its conventional capability so that the two reach a happy medium. Further, while Pakistan will not stop building its nuclear weapons, if India restricts its arsenal Pakistan will stop when the two reach equilibrium. It is not clear whether the irony of such an argument is visible to everyone, but it is akin to Mexico asking the U.S. to tailor its forces to achieve a balance between the two.

Pakistan’s desire for parity with India is not new and dates back to its Independence in 1947. Pakistan’s founding elites and later leaders drew a parallel between Hindus and Muslims being India’s two leading communities, put Pakistan’s old Muslim League on par with the Indian National Congress and later argued that Pakistan and India were, in fact, equal. However, while Pakistan has sovereign equality vis-à-vis India (and other countries in the world), there is a difference between sovereign equality and parity.

The perception amongst Pakistan’s leaders that India did not accept the creation of Pakistan and would try to one day undo it pushed the country to seek allies and resources that would help build Pakistan’s conventional and, later, nuclear capabilities. Pakistan’s ties with the United States, China and countries in the Muslim world are thus best understood as transactional and necessary to help Pakistan attain parity with India.

Military aid from the United States has helped Pakistan build its conventional military capability, and economic aid from the U.S. and multilateral institutions provides the government with the funds it needs for development, as defense expenditures absorb most of the country’s revenue. Chinese military aid, both conventional but especially nuclear, has filled those key gaps where American aid was lacking. Pakistan’s close ties with key American allies in the Middle East enabled it to obtain access to American military equipment and spare supplies. However, despite a tremendous amount of military aid and assistance, Pakistan has not been able to achieve parity with India, a country with a population seven times that of Pakistan, and whose GDP is eight times Pakistan’s.

Hence this game, where at regular intervals Pakistan’s security establishment makes a demand on the international community in order to prevent a strategic imbalance in South Asia. The demand put forth will range from providing Pakistan with military aid to build its conventional military capability (i.e. the eternal quest for F-16s), to arguing that the U.S. should provide Pakistan a civil nuclear deal akin to the one it signed with India. It is obvious that by setting an unattainable goal Pakistan’s security establishment is attempting to guarantee its own job security.

India and Pakistan have fought four wars and had a conflict-ridden relationship. Yet they share not just historical and civilizational ties but the need to devote more of their resources on development. Recent attempts to build trade ties, renew sporting events and travel related issues are hence much needed policy improvements. However, no major change will occur until and unless there is a fundamental change in the world view of Pakistan’s security establishment.

It is legitimate for Pakistan to say that India should not threaten Pakistan, but it is not legitimate for Pakistan to say that the mere existence of Indian military power is a threat to Pakistan. No country can deal with the psychological quirks and insecurities of another, but actual security concerns can be dealt with by mutual assurances guaranteed by the international community. That would be a good place for Islamabad and New Delhi to start.

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