India’s Pakistan Policy?

By Anjum Altaf

What exactly is India’s Pakistan policy? For years (decades, really) I have puzzled this over without being able to discern anything coherent. True, I am not privy to the inner councils of the Indian establishment but backward induction from observed actions does not seem to suggest I am grossly mistaken.

The Pakistani establishment, by contrast, has a very clear India policy: keep the pot boiling, engineering an incident when needed; bleed by a thousand cuts with the bleeding outsourced to third parties; shore up domestic support by transforming education and information into indoctrination; and minimize public contact across borders to prevent any erosion of the mythology.

India’s policy, at best, could be characterized as a reactive tit-for-tat illustrated poignantly by the exchange of helpless fishermen released from time to time by both sides after having languished pointlessly in jails for years. Yes, there is back-channel diplomacy, the occasional handshake over cricket, and citizen vigils but these hardly count as policy.

The question remains: what explains this lack of policy? I suppose one could find a rationale of the mindless tit-for-tat until, say, the end of the 1980s, in the general perception of equivalence between two poor countries but for the fact that India had six times as many people. That, however, is no longer the case – the trajectories have diverged markedly since then with India aspiring to be key global player within the century and Pakistan floundering to save itself from itself.

Clearly, or so it would seem, India needs a Pakistan policy that would resolve the chaos in its neighborhood and enable it to reallocate its efforts and resources to claiming the prizes so tantalizingly within its grasp. But signs of a new policy remain far from visible. I reflected on this again last year on the occasion of an address by the Indian Foreign Secretary to an audience in Washington, DC; the most charitable characterization I could manage of the articulation of India’s Pakistan policy was hawkish bluster.

Had there really been a debate in India regarding the options that could be adopted vis a vis Pakistan, I wondered, and had the hawkish option emerged as the one likely to be the most effective?

The only change I detected from past pronouncements was an outcome of the US-led War on Terror but even this, I felt, was not fully thought through. India, it was claimed, was just as much a target of terrorism as was the US and thereby just as entitled to carry the fight to the terrorists. That was fine as far as it went but the US could retreat ten thousand miles inside its borders if the strategy failed to deliver; India had no such option.

Was it really the case that there were no smarter alternatives that would serve India’s interests better?  That could not be the case and, indeed, a few months later I did come across an opinion that could provide an adequate point of departure for the exercise. The opinion (cogently titled ‘What do you do with a problem like Pakistan?’) was expressed on Centre-Right India, a website ‘directed towards nurturing an intellectually vibrant right-of-centre tradition in India.’

Starting with a statement of the obvious (‘India almost seems to be at its wits ends as to how it should tackle this problem, but let it be frankly said, that India has never taken a dispassionate look at the options it has in this area’), it lays out a maximalist position (encourage a Pakistan splintered into four smaller states) and posits the following steps, in summary, to work towards a solution:

  1. Cause economic pain to defense forces/related entities
  2. Offer to pay this mercenary nation for better behavior
  3. Reach out to the suffering masses
  4. Denuclearize this rabid state
  5. Increase focus on fissures within Pakistan
  6. Resolve Kashmir
  7. Threaten to break all diplomatic relations
  8. Provide a face to India’s Pakistan initiative

One doesn’t have to subscribe to the maximalist position or point out that some steps might be at cross-purposes to appreciate a number of key conceptual advances in this suggestion. First, it clearly rests on a pragmatic argument of self-interest; second, it employs a mix of carrots and sticks; and third, and most importantly, it breaks with the dominant narrative in which India and Pakistan are treated as unitary actors.

This last is what I have always found the most frustrating and the root cause of setting discussions on futile paths. Pakistan and India are inanimate pieces of earth and it makes little sense to claim that Pakistan did this or India did that – the paradigm leads immediately to wanting to settle scores as between two individuals. Surely there are diverse opinions and interest groups on both sides that need to be disentangled – that should be the first element in the design of any smart strategy.

Thus it was really refreshing to see an articulation that assigned responsibilities appropriately and realized the importance of reaching out to the suffering masses. Leaving everything else aside, this itself provides the core of an Indian Pakistan policy that could aspire to be smart. In essence, the policy is quite simple: isolate the actors within Pakistan with a stake in perpetuating hostilities with India while reaching out and empowering those who have most to gain from better relations.

Moving this forward calls for ceasing to play to the Pakistani tune, understanding the objectives of the policy adopted by the Pakistani establishment, and working to undermine it. It requires weakening the hold of the indoctrination that has been successfully built up and maintained in Pakistan by prying open the doors that provide its isolation from reality and making it obvious that there are gains, big gains, for many, especially the young, from better relations.

It is in this framework that I had on a number of occasions asked leaders of peace delegations from across the border why India adheres to a self-defeating tit-for-tat policy. Why doesn’t India unilaterally ease some rules regarding, say, trade, travel and education, show up the unreasonable positions of the Pakistani establishment to its citizens, and begin the process of unraveling the anti-India mythology carefully nurtured over the years? After all, people-to-people interactions are almost always positive and money and opportunities talk. Every time I have been provided an enigmatic answer, that says, in so many words, ‘You do not know the mind of the Indian bureaucrat.’

Does this contain the answer to the continuation of the ‘lose-lose’ tit-for-tat policy, the unitary paradigm, and the absence of rational discourse? We may be living in the Age of Reason and striving for global objectives but do we remain slaves to emotions aroused by ghosts of imaginary pasts as choreographed in the pages of revisionist history books. Do all the ‘fortunate’ who are educated, be they bureaucrats or diplomats, find it difficult to progress beyond the visceral need to redress the wrongs of the past? Are wounded psyches achieving the same results in India that require conscious indoctrination in Pakistan?

It is a sobering thought and therefore, much as I was encouraged by the proposal on Centre-Right India, the task of salvaging it from those with real and imagined wounds and wounded imaginations might prove to be more difficult challenge. Even the most rational strategy would run the risk of being hijacked in such a scenario. The Centre-Right opinion immediately drew a comment from a supporter: “Very well stated. The crux of the issue is India has been apologetic about its size and power. The big brother now needs to deliver the slap that would set the ears ringing for a long time to come.”

How ironical that we might have to consider it fortunate that there are very large segments of the population on both sides that have never been to school and an equally large number that never advanced to the stage where they could be taught any history. Do our hopes for the future rest in their hands? If so, how do we enable them to reach out to each other over the heads of their representatives?

Here is a story about the forgotten prisoners who bear the brunt of the absence of policy on one side and concern on the other: Released Indian and Pakistani prisoners describe trauma

There is a parallel discussion focused on different aspects of this topic on 3 Quarks Daily where this article has been cross-posted.


  • omar
    Posted at 19:06h, 21 April Reply

    I think there IS a sort of policy at the bureaucratic level. I met an Indian Ambassador once and asked him this question and this is the gist of what he said: “Pakistan is slowly but steadily killing itself. But it is a significant power with the ability to create a lot of mischief. Our aim is to keep the mischief as limited as possible and wait for Indian capabilities to improve. As India develops, it will become less and less vulnerable to cross-border adventurism. Then Pakistan will either come to its senses or fall apart and we should prepare for both eventualities”.
    Your prescription (that India should unilaterally liberalize and thus undermine the Pakistani state narrative) is good, but faces several hurdles:
    1. Indian officialdom is more sclerotic and hidebound than the Pakistani variety (who, by now, are somewhat prone to adventure). Any creative impulse tends to get smothered.
    2. SOME right wing Hindu nationalists have accumulated a very toxic mass of psychological issues and pseudo-historical or partly-historical hatreds over time. That makes them prone to irrational and emotional overkill that extends beyond mere rhetoric (irrational in the sense that its manifestations can go contrary to their own self-interest and the interests of India as a successful state). As India develops, some of the toxins created by ancient inferiority complexes will dissipate, but economic development itself creates some transient toxins in the emerging middle classes, see Gujrat for examples… Still, I am optimistic. I think over time, economic self-interest will bring many (most?) right-wing Hindus towards a more enlightened policy (though I expect rhetoric will remain somewhat toxic). Until then, they are a significant hurdle to such creative thinking.
    3. Dont underestimate the ISI and its shrewd ability to undermine such intiatives. Traders can bring in explosives, cultural ambassadors can explode, visiting peaceniks can be attacked….there is many a slip betwixt cup and lip.

    Overall, I think many in India already understand your prescription and even try to act on it. Bureaucracy and its stubborn determination to obstruct everything is probably the biggest hurdle in practice. Toxic hatred from the Hindu right is another. Emerging middle-class and its transient love affair with fascism may also play a role. Its going to be a long road home..

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 06:44h, 22 April

      Omar: Given the stakes one would expect India to have a proactive Pakistan policy under the aegis of the political leadership. In the absence of such a policy, there could be a bureaucratic position or a security contingency plan but neither of these qualify as policies. If and when a proactive policy gets the political blessing, the bureaucracy would begin to fall in line even though there would be the typical stonewalling with which we are familiar. And ways would also be found to neutralize the machinations of the ISI. So, the question still remains an open one: Why isn’t there a proactive Pakistan policy at the political level?

  • Javed
    Posted at 01:39h, 22 April Reply

    LOL at omar’s attempt to raise the spectre of the “hindu right.” There is a *lot* more fascism and nastiness in our own Pakistan than in India, sadly. Pointing fingers like this is diversionary.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 13:38h, 22 April

      Javed: The Hindu Right is not relevant to the argument. It would be if the question had been: Why doesn’t India have a ‘soft’ Pakistan policy? But that is not the question; It is: Why doesn’t India have any Pakistan policy? A Congress government could well opt for a ‘hard’ policy and break off some Right wing support in the bargain.

  • Vivek Tandon
    Posted at 10:43h, 22 April Reply

    The fact that there’s been no retaliation to the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai embodies India’s sluggish under-responsiveness to Pakistan’s deep aggression … to imply that India should unilaterally soften its behaviour/interface with Pakistan, in the hope of softening that deep aggression, is putting an unfair (and impossible) burden on the saner of the two countries …

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 11:02h, 22 April

      Vivek: The article aims to highlight the absence of a policy and to understand the possible reasons for the absence. Whether the most effective policy would be a hard or soft one would be for the Indian policymakers to determine.

  • Gaurav
    Posted at 18:29h, 22 April Reply

    Very interesting article. India seems to be caught in a Catch-22: on the one hand, we want the army/ISI out of the driver’s seat in Pakistan, whether that means a truly civilian government or the break-up of that state into splinters. On the other hand, creating policy or even articulating that as an official goal will only strengthen the hand of the army/ISI combine in Pakistan, since they will then shrilly and ceaselessly trumpet this fact 24/7 across the Pakistani media as ‘evidence’ of their long-standing conspiracy theories that India is a mortal enemy and is plotting Pakistan’s destruction… thereby feeding the fear of those Pakistani stakeholders who might otherwise have been interesting in taking the army/ISI out of power and creating an alternative, but will be pressured into ceding power to the army in the face of this apparent Indian plot.

    I think this dilemma drives a lot of the Pakistan policy in GoI — change in Pakistan is a goal that must remain unspoken because to explicitly state this as a goal would be to render the goal itself more distant.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 03:13h, 23 April

      Gaurav: It is possible there is a policy that exists (‘change in Pakistan’) but cannot be announced for the reasons you mention. But a policy must imply some actions. Are there actions that can be observed that would lead one to believe there is such an unannounced policy in place?

  • manojk
    Posted at 19:59h, 22 April Reply

    >> Why doesn’t India unilaterally ease some rules regarding, say, trade, travel and education, show up the unreasonable positions of the Pakistani establishment to its citizens, and begin the process of unraveling the anti-India mythology carefully nurtured over the years? After all, people-to-people interactions are almost always positive and money and opportunities talk.

    Since 1980s after Afghan war, Pakistan emboldened by Jihadi machinery it built using CIA help, it made a misadventure and misadventure while India’s PMs went on extending their hands of friendship in a naive manner just the way MMS is doing.

    1. Khalistani network training and exporting of terror via Sikh terrorism in 1980s
    2. Mumbai bombings using Dawood network by Pakistani 1990s
    3. Kashmiri Jihadi network training in 1990s
    4. Infiltration of Pakistani and foreign jihadis all thru 1990s into Kasmir and other areas.
    5. Kargil occupation
    6. Parliament attacks
    7. Hijacking of IA flight
    8. Bombings all over India in Akshadaram, Mumbai trains, Delhi
    9. 26/11 attacks in Mumbai

    While the PM after PM from IKGujral to MMS including Vajpayee went on extending the hand of friendship, Pakistani army and ISI on kept increasing the level of terrorism.

    You give easy visas as during Cricket matches – they sent terrorists using the visa.

    You introduce Samjhuta Express – They send crores of fake currency

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 03:16h, 23 April

      manojk: This would suggest that the ‘naive’ policy of extending the hand of friendship did not work. What would be a more effective policy?

  • Sumant
    Posted at 20:40h, 22 April Reply

    It seems that the obvious is being ignored.India has maintained a very simple and thus far succesful policy in regards to Pakistan i.e. the superiority of official Secularism. This has allowed it to keep the moral highground and and eventually transform the secular and liberal vision of Jinnah to its current Islamic Republic form of Pakistan.With the adoption of free market policies its merely a matter of time before Pakistan realises the futility of its ‘bleed India’campaign and then…need one say more.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 03:23h, 23 April

      Sumant: This is possible but the argument is susceptible to the danger of ex-post rationalization. At any point in time many outcomes are possible but only one is actually realized. People looking back can claim that what was realized was because of their policy. In actual fact, it could be quite accidental.

      One would also need to specify the way in which you are measuring the ‘success’ of the policy.

  • kumar shiv
    Posted at 14:41h, 24 April Reply

    Hello friends, the policy is of doing nothing. well this time one may say that it is right policy adopted because it is the best policy under the circumstances. we dont want to kill a few terrorists with guns in Pakistan while the majority of the people have a islamofascist mindset nurtured by Zia which is taught in madrassas and mainstream schools.

    so why stir a pot and invite trouble on us when india is developing economically and waste money men and materials on a war which will have no end as the Americans have found out. Pakistanis are killing themselves and fighting with each other so let them be occupied in this activity as they have enough guns and bullets to kill each other many times over.we should be concentrating on our development and securing our borders and also our internal security so that terrorists from pakistan or some dis gruntled elements within us do no mischief. if we can do this pakistan problem will solve itself.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 17:36h, 24 April

      kumar shiv: A do-nothing policy is fine if it can be shown that it is the most effective policy for India. Where I do have an issue is the implication that the alternative to a do-nothing policy is war which is the inference from your statement “so why stir the pot and invite trouble… on a war.” Nor I am I convinced that the “Pakistan problem will solve itself.” I feel there is room for an alternative policy though I don’t quite know what it might be.

  • trickey
    Posted at 15:13h, 24 April Reply

    From an Indian point of view,
    1. Pakistani administration will not be able to deliver on any commitments it makes.
    2. Pakistani civil society has suspect liberal credentials(especially post-Taseer, post-Bhatti and post-large hearts), so there isn’t much hope there either.
    3. That leaves Pakmil, which still believes that radicalizing it’s own country is a fantastic idea.

    There is very little to work with. In the short-medium term, the idea seems to be to create some sort of Great Wall of India on the Western front.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 17:41h, 24 April

      trickey: I feel you are right on all three points. There is little to work with but that is also the source of the intellectual challenge. If one thinks of where Europe was at the end of WW2 and where it is now one can see that the right policies and the right incentives can make a difference.

  • Vinod
    Posted at 05:47h, 25 April Reply

    Anjum, I have the same pessimism as other Indians here even though I stay with a Pakistani. If my house mate is a sample of a Pakistani then it seems Pakistani are in a blissful denial of the terrorist attacks the govt of Pakistan has orchestrated on India, whether it be Akshardham or Mumbai. In relation to Kashmir, they believe they are fully justified in bleeding India.
    If this is the thinking of the common on-the-street Pakistani it is hard to find a starting point to start working with them.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 07:46h, 25 April

      Vinod: I share the pessimism. Still, I would like to make the point that simply by being a single data point, your house-mate cannot be a representative sample of Pakistanis. Therefore, it remains an empirically open question as to what the real distribution of opinion vis a vis India is in Pakistan. It might be dangerous and self-defeating to take the answer for granted. There are many communities of opinion whose views are never canvassed and whose voices are never heard. The fact that visitors from across the border are almost always surprised by their interactions with people in the street suggests that there is a complexity of emotions that we might be missing.

    • trickey
      Posted at 11:56h, 25 April

      Anjum, I was trying to be generous earlier when I spoke about Pakistani civil society in general.
      The fact is, almost all encounters I have had with Pakistanis have left me extremely disturbed. Fascist tendencies abound, almost down to a person.

      If someone with international exposure and a responsibility to maintain relations such as Afridi and Tanvir can speak against a religious community in derogatory terms, it is clearly indicating that something has gone wrong. When a Pakistani politician can call his Indian counterpart a rented Muslim, eyebrows will be raised. When that liberal Salmaan Taseer can talk about waging war with India to “save Indian muslims”, how is anybody supposed to reach any other conclusion?

      Pakistan has undergone decades of radicalization and indoctrination. Nobody seriously believes that these problems can be fixed within a generation.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 13:03h, 25 April

      trickey: As I said before, I don’t disagree with you. I would make two points though. First, if you are meeting Pakistanis outside Pakistan or observing them on TV shows, you are limited to a very narrow representation. In a country with great diversity across numerous dimensions, this could be quite misleading. I myself have no hard evidence, just a sense that there are voices we haven’t heard. Second, the decades of radicalization and indoctrination rests on very flimsy foundations. When, it unravels it will take much, much less than a generation. In my view, this will be the big surprise of the future. The worst move would be to assume otherwise.

    • trickey
      Posted at 15:21h, 25 April

      Why will you hear those voices, when they keep getting murdered and there is widespread public support for the murderers? Why will anybody open their mouths in a country which prescribes death penalty for alleged blasphemy?
      Could it be that rational Pakistanis do not really comprehend how the world views the showering of rose petals on Mumtaz Qadri?
      What is one supposed to conclude when Gen. Kayani tells his Western counterparts that there is widespread support for Qadri among the cadres?

      If Pakistanis cannot put up a single liberal public personality who can 1)Behave 2)Stay alive, why blame the world for not looking closely enough?

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 07:06h, 26 April

      trickey: I agree that Pakistanis cannot put up a single liberal public personality that satisfies the conditions in your last sentence. But what is the inference to be drawn from that conclusion? What is to be gained by assigning blame? The problem that needs to be resolved remains and perhaps one might make some headway if one looks beyond the public personalities. Pakistan is half rural and half illiterate – there is a very large number of people whose views are not fully known. I am not saying all those voices would necessarily be different, just that we do not know for sure at this moment.

  • Vinod
    Posted at 08:21h, 25 April Reply

    Anjum: Psychological research has shown that the contact hypothesis – simply bringing people who have a conflict between them together – is insufficient for resolving the conflict. What is needed is a superordinate goal – something common to the combined group that they can work towards together.
    Is there a superordinate goal that Indians and Pakistanis can work together to accomplish?

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 09:48h, 25 April

      Vinod: I agree – bringing people together is a necessary but not a sufficient condition to resolve conflicts. Sometimes, it can even make the conflict worse if the people who have been brought together begin to quarrel. Therefore a moderated interaction is needed to propel the process in the right direction. A superordinate goal helps channel the energy positively. I would think that a goal to rapidly eliminate the worst excesses of poverty in South Asia should be a worthwhile goal that can satisfy our moral, religious and social aspirations.

    • Vinod
      Posted at 02:17h, 26 April

      Anjum: The goal should be something that necessitates cooperation between the parties. One has to build a case of why the conflict between the two countries will forever prevent the removal of poverty. If poverty can be seen to be resolved given the status quo between the two countries it will be an uninspiring superordinate goal.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 06:52h, 26 April

      Vinod: I suppose such a case could be built. The persistence of such extensive and intensive poverty six decades after independence suggests that there is something amiss. Even if conflict is not directly responsible, it is one of the contributing factors. One can also argue that mutual trade would be the fastest route to increased prosperity that is wide-spread. However, I do agree that this might be too abstract a goal and a more concrete and tangible one might motivate better. Perhaps readers could suggest some possible goals that would meet this condition.

  • rightwingdian
    Posted at 09:39h, 25 April Reply

    Hi Anjum,

    Just came across your lovely piece and thanks for using my blogpost as a launching point for yours. Nice to see some appreciation of the point from “across the border”, so to speak. 🙂

    I blog at and there is a follow-up post to my Pakistan piece therein, as well as the complete unedited original piece also.

    My primary constituency was the Indian establishment, which I find to be asleep at the wheel. very dangerous for an apparently emerging power of teh 21st century.

    You also pointed out the apparent contradictions in some of my positions, and also dont subscribe to my “maximalist” position (which is fair from your perspective). The apparent contradictions are deliberate (like breaking diplomatic relations and offering aid) as the first is a reaction to an incident and the other a policy decision. As far as splitting up is concerned, while I feel India shud play up the fissures in Pak (to show that two can play this dirty game), but I feel that the split if at all, will be triggered by internal incidents within Pakistna, and not necessarily by Indian actions (or inactions frankly). Pls read my post “The impending Af-Pak Fak-Ap”.

    It would be nice to interact with you. I am a bit confused about your position on what you feel Pakistani civil society (middle class mainly) should do, as they are frankly the biggest potential beneficiaries of this detente (if it happens), and also the ones to be blamed for having mentally seceded from Pakistan).



    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 12:51h, 25 April

      rightwingdian: Thanks for making contact. I have been searching for years and your presentation was the first one ever that made sense. I said as much – that though readers might find things to quibble with, in terms of the conceptual framework it was a quantum jump and the right place to start.

      I don’t see a contradiction between breaking diplomatic relations and offering aid for the reasons you mention. My reservation on playing up fissures in Pakistan is that you are reverting back to the hard-to-resist ‘tit-for-tat’ (“two can play the same game”) without evaluating what the costs of that might be. Playing up fissures could lead from the frying pan to the fire for India quite asides from the fact that it would inflict immense pain on the already suffering masses in Pakistan to whom you wish to reach out and who are not the decision-makers. But these are minor details (in terms of strategy, not consequences) that one can talk about once there is a sensible platform for thinking through these issues. Your immense contribution is to have provided the platform.

      My feeling on Pakistani civil society is that it will do very little or nothing but there is much than can be done to it. The article was cross-posted on 3 Quarks Daily and there is a good parallel discussion there. I have argued there that the game-changing move would have to come from the Indian side simply because the establishment in Pakistan prefers the status quo and civil society is too weak to either alter this preference or launch a flanking initiative. Despite its weakness and confusion, my guess is that there are some segments in Pakistan that would respond to incentives. This is just a guess but one that can be tested.

      (I was struck by your characterization of the Pakistani middle class as having ‘mentally seceded from Pakistan.’ This is how Arundhati Roy has characterized the Indian middle class. Is it the case that we are faced with a peculiar feature of the middle class in South Asia, a region of countries with the bulk of the populations comprised by the very, very poor?)

      I look forward to interacting and will certainly read the posts you have mentioned. On our own blog we have mulled over the peculiarities of liberals and the nature of Af-Pak:

  • rightwingdian
    Posted at 14:07h, 25 April Reply

    Hi Anjum,

    Thanks for your quick response.

    Firstly, and if you promise to not feel that I am being patronizing, I love teh English language and the leverage that it gives to play with words and create nuances (which I think is not so easily possible in other languages). I think the smartest piece of sentence in your blog (purely linguistically) was “the task of salvaging it from those with real and imagined wounds and wounded imaginations”. Please accept my compliments for that. Having said that, I must disagree with you slightly, as there is a wounded Hindu psyche (which I dont carry myself), but is insensitive to deny (but that’s for a diff day).

    I liked your comment on “playing up on fissures” within Pakistan as being a tit-for-tat. Frankly, I disagree there, as it is part of an overall strategy, which as you said was “carrot-and-stick”. Well that is part of the stick. You have a point that it would increase the miseries of the suffering masses of Pakistan. However it might be my intention to want to minimize the further suffering of the masses, my first priority os towards Indian masses, who are also sufering the impact of Pakistani sponsored terror. Not doing any tit-for-tat, in my view is one of the fundamental problems of India (and no I am not talking about moronic tit-for-tats like exchaning fishermen and throwing diplomats out). If I can’t bring about a change in the Pakistani power structure and attitude, I would rather play up the fissures to keep the Army occupied in internal strife, so that they have less energies to divert for percipitating another 26/11 on India. Its a bit self-serving I know, but you cant blame me for it. I represent a nation that has genuine grouses against Pakistan, and I cant deny it (even though I dont want to play them up and have it as the only strategy to tackle our “problematic” niighbour.

    That notwithstanding, I think the centripetal forces inside Pakistan dont need help from India, to get pulled apart. I hope that you get time to read my follow-up blogpost on this,a dn would love to hear from you post that. I am not advocating arming of Baluchi rebels, or let alone supporting acts of terror inside Pakistan, but yes, I do want to provide moral support to the fact that Baluchis are being decimated violently inside Pakistan. I do want to tell Sind that if Punjab starves them of water, then we will threaten blocking flow of water to Indus. Again, self serving, but I cant be faulted for it.

    Lastly, I genuinely believe that teh current state of Pakistan is an artificial state created on hate, and try as one might, this cannot be changed. I genuinely believe that splitting into four parts will be better for teh peoples of these regions in the long run, although frankly, the process of this would be violent (but then, even today, it is a crazy situation right?).

    Oh, one more point, the secession of he Pakistani middle class that I commented is very different from the one that Arundhati has talked about (a person whom I cannot stand – she seceded into an independent mobile republic for herself). There is a disconnect that the Indian middle class has from teh Indian state’s governance structure, which is regretable, although they are completely engaged with the Indian state. The Indian middle class is willing to shed blood from maintaining its state, which I am not sure about the Paksitani middle class (Pakistani Armt officers largely come from the landed feudal military gentry).

    Please do post your email id, or if you can contact me through the mail id provided in mu log-in, as it would be a pleasure to interact with you.

    Thanks and all the best.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 07:35h, 26 April

      rightwingdian: It is easy to get carried away by linguistic elegance. The sentence would have been more elegant if it had juxtaposed just imagined wounds and wounded imaginations. But it would have been inaccurate because there are indeed real wounds to consider. However, the larger point in this context is that whether the wounds are real or imagined, one can’t formulate national policy that is driven by psychic needs. And it is quite easy to tell when emotion precedes thought – you don’t need any disclosure.

      I can’t object to “playing up the fissures” as part of an overall strategy. The point I am making is that it is generally not considered methodologically sound to constitute a strategy without a reasonable assessment of its fallouts, the costs they might impose, and the capacity to control and manage those fallouts. I have yet to see that for the “playing up the fissures” component.

      I have read the follow-up post and must congratulate you once again on an excellent exposition. The scenario analysis is very pertinent; all of them have some possibility of coming to pass so they need to be thought through carefully and their likely implications evaluated.

      I am less pessimistic about the possibility of change. We are dealing with emotions and states of mind – such things can often switch with surprising rapidity. Post-WW2 Europe is an example. But it calls for a long-term vision and sense of enlightened self-interest which seems in short supply at the moment. Think of the very different visions that followed WW1 and WW2 and the respective outcomes.

      I am wary of people who are willing to shed blood.

  • AnonymousIndian
    Posted at 02:38h, 06 July Reply


    Interesting that you mention post-WW Europe. I think the critical difference between Ind-Pak and Europe is that in spite of the war, all European nations continued to share a common civilization. After the war, the unity was culturally built around this common civilization and economic rebuilding was done by the Marshall Plan. The common cultural heritage that every nation continued to buy into was the critical foundation on which the European project was built. Here is Jacques Delors on this:

    Pakistan, ever since its birth as a nation, has continued to distance itself from its Indo-Hindu roots, seeing it as an embarrassment. It has consciously adopted militant Islam as the core of its identity. The neo-convert’s zeal, inferiority complex and the need to prove his loyalty to the older adherents of his new faith is a well-studied and understood phenomenon. Everything Pakistan has done since 1947 against India can be explained by this rabid and militant anti-Hinduism born of a deep inferiority complex that places Pakistan at the bottom of the Islamic hierarchy as a recent convert.

    Just today I came across a comment by a Pakistani on a blog that talks about everything from the Islamization of Mohen-Jo-Dero to the replacement of “Khuda Hafiz” with “Allah Hafiz” as evidence of this process:
    This continuous anti-Hindu indoctrination and propaganda has really damaged the collective psyche of the Pakistani society. How do you think it will ever cleanse itself of this enmity? It cannot possibly admit failure of its ways because it understands that its failure reflects upon the fundamental flaws of a society designed around Islamist principles.

    Three takeaways from this:

    1.You should examine the hypothesis of this neo-convert Islamist mindset as a root cause of Pakistan’s problems.

    2.A Europe-style South Asia project cannot succeeds unless Pakistan rids itself of this triumphalist mindset that continues to dream of creating a caliphate in India and destroying HInduism. But it cannot shed this mindset without losing the very core of its national identity. This is the core dilemma for the subcontinent, one that can only be resolved by the break-up of Pakistan.

    3.Hence Center Right Indian’s position makes sense. The fundamental goal of Indian policy makers must be to ensure the failure of the Pakistan experiment without – and this is the critical part – military conquest. Even if India did militarily overrun Pakistan, it would be counterproductive because the failure of Pakistan would then be blamed on the lack of military power and not the fundamental bankruptcy of Islam itself. The survivors of Indian victory would only go on to regoup under the same Islam and wage another thousand year war against India.

    For the sake of peace in the Indian subcontinent, Pakistan must fail by itself, without any possibility of blame being assigned to an external actor. History needs to record this failed experiment to expose the barbarism, brutality and backwardness of Islamism as an ideology. To that extent, the closest equivalent to Pakistan is the Former Soviet Union. FSU needed to fail for the world to see the barbarism, brutality and backwardness of Communism as an ideology. Same is the case with Pakistan and Islam. Of course, many lives will be lost before (if) it happens. Here is to praying for the minimal loss of lives.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 13:39h, 06 July

      AnonymousIndian: I find your generalizations so sweeping that they lose the power they might carry with more attention to detail:

      1. How would the failure of Pakistan demonstrate the fundamental bankruptcy of Islam itself? Why wouldn’t it demonstrate the follies of the Pakistani leadership instead?. Pakistan is not the only Islamic country. There are many others; some are doing poorly and some doing quite well.

      2. How does the failure of the FSU demonstrate the barbarism, brutality and backwardness of Communism as an ideology? China subscribes to a communist ideology and is doing quite alright.

      3. How would the failure of Pakistan ensure peace in the subcontinent?

      4. You are employing the same framework that Hitchens did, seeing Pakistan as a person that by turns suffers from a deep inferiority complex, needs to prove its loyalty, is fired by a neo-convert’s zeal, or motivated by a triumphalist mindset. If you see Pakistan as a place where many different viewpoints are contesting the political space, you might see a more nuanced picture.

      5. The fact that two countries are at loggerheads does not mean that they do not share a civilization.

  • anon4cec
    Posted at 04:43h, 08 July Reply

    1.As we discussed and you agreed in a different thread, India-Pak-Bangladesh constitutes a large socio-political experiment of societies that started at the same level of cultural-economic development but used different foundational ideologies. The ideology is the key control variable and therefore the difference in outcomes can be directly or largely attributed to how the courses charted by the ideologies played out. Same as S Korea vs North Korea or East Germany vs West Germany. Other Islamic countries are irrelevant in this experiment because they have evolved quite differently and there are too many other socio-political variables that would render such comparisons much less useful than the controlled-experiment setting of India-Pakistan-Bangladesh. As I mentioned earlier, here’s a direct prediction from my analysis of this observation: Bangladesh will leapfrog Pakistan in socio-economic development. You can track it or test it as you please.

    2. Come on, seriously? Entire forests have disappeared to produce papers on this. I also think you are smart enough to know the difference between the Chinese and Soviet systems, degrees of economic vs. political freedom and the nuances of state-guided market economy with one-party rule etc etc.

    3.Exposing the intellectual bankruptcy of a medieval barbarian ideology like Islam will hopefully lead its adherents to introspect and search for modern solutions. Admittedly, this is more of a hope than a prediction. Politically, the smaller and scattered remnants will be much less powerful and some of the more progressive ones like Sindh can hopefully be brought into economic alliances with India through Free-Trade Agreements etc. The smaller extremist states can be punished more effectively. Nukes will be a wild card – hopefully, the US will confiscate them before Pakistan blows up.

    4.Why does it matter who came up with that characterization? As a social scientist I am sure you know that whether I employ it or Hitchens does, the validity of a model should only be judged by its usefulness. I find the psychotic Islamic model of a Pakistani society useful because it reliably predicts and explains Pakistan’s actions. Certainly, there are different voices in any society. But just as certainly, there is a dominant narrative that forms the core belief system as well. This then serves as the center of the political spectrum around which rival sub-ideologies disperse themselves in a left-right spectrum (or in a two-dimensional political-economic grid). Unquestionably, the dominant narrative of Pakistan fits the pattern the psychotic Islam practiced by a neo-convert full of inferiority complex. You do a disservice to your purported intellectual analysis of Pakistan’s problems by not examining this hypothesis.

    5.We do share a civilization, just not as much as you think we do and certainly not enough to share political space. That is my key point : we shared much more in 1947 than we do today because Pakistan, acting as a neo-convert wanting to curry favor with its new ideological masters, has consciously disowned the shared civilization and charted a course for itself that has taken it further and further away from it. In fact, you can perhaps even design research to measure how this distancing has been propagandized, implemented and effected by the Pakistani state since 1947. If you read the article from Hoodbhoy today, it’s right there in front of you. Just look at how secular your military was in 1947 and compare it to today. Or the press. Or the schools. Or the media. Or proportion of people worshiping at Sufi shrines vs Arab-funded mosques. Hell, just measure the proportion of people who use Arabized terms like Allah Hafiz or Ramadaan or Salaat in their routine language and see how the proportion has changed over the years.

    But you will ask yourself these questions only if you can bring yourself to examine the hypothesis of Islamization being the root cause of all problems for Pakistan. Do you have the intellectual honesty and courage to do it?

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 11:13h, 08 July

      anon4cec: I have differences with most of the points you have made:

      1. India-Pak-Bangladesh is indeed a controlled experiment but what makes you absolutely certain that ideology is the key and only control variable? You mention East and West Germany as a parallel but they are one now – what does that do to your argument? And other Islamic countries are not irrelevant because the argument that you have been making is not about the failure of Pakistan but about the failure of Islam.

      2. Yes, seriously. You made a sweeping generalization about the bankruptcy of communism but when explaining real events you have to make distinctions about degrees of freedom, nuances of state-guided economy, one-party rule etc.

      3. The intellectual bankruptcy of a medieval barbarian ideology is your verdict. There are plenty of non-Muslims who would not agree with that characterization. If this is Islam then surely the Muslims in Sindh (or Bangladesh for that matter) cannot be exceptions. How they will reform is hard to understand. Yes, you are right, this is more hope than a sensible prediction.

      4. It doesn’t matter but both formulations are incorrect. To conceptualize a country as a person is a basic error in social science. Different narratives become dominant at different times. Therefore it is important to pay attention to them. Why worry about the spectrum if only one narrative is going to matter for ever?

      5. That is also what I said – there is a shared civilization. That was not obvious in your last comment. You have a horizon that is dominated by a human life; history doesn’t much care for that. Things can swing either way in historical time. The Islam was very much the same but Akbar’s time was very different from Aurangzeb’s which in turn was nothing like Mohammad Shah Rangeela’s. If one just focuses on religion one would not be able to explain any of the differences or why things moved first one way and then the other. What makes you so sure that proportions can change only in one direction?

      I have no problem in examining the hypothesis that Islamization is the root cause of all the problems in Pakistan but so far I remain unconvinced by the arguments you have advanced to support that conclusion. And in any case, assuming that hypothesis is established, how does one get from there to the intellectual bankruptcy of a medieval barbarian ideology all over the world? How is that hypothesis to be tested or is it so obvious that no testing is required? In that case, why leave out other Islamic countries if not because there are many other socio-political variables that enter the analysis?

  • Kabir
    Posted at 15:26h, 08 July Reply


    I think that in blaming Islam for all of Pakistan’s problems, you are making a very bad argument. As Anjum has noted, Pakistan is not the only Islamic country in the world: some are doing well and others are not. What is it about Islam’s role in Pakistan in particular that is causing the problems in that country?

    I also think that your perception that Islam is a “medieval backward ideology” is a misperception. Recently, a documentary was made that examined data from the Gallup poll conducted in several Muslim countries. Contrary to expectations, the data showed that Muslims substantially agreed with “Westerners” on a number of issues such as gender roles, democracy, etc. You can learn more about this documentary here:

    Frankly speaking, blaming Islam for all of Pakistan’s ills sounds quite bigoted. It is analogous to blaming all of India’s ills on Hinduism or the caste system. I think you would agree that that is a bad argument?

  • SouthAsian
    Posted at 02:24h, 16 January Reply

    Once again, the predictable tit-for-tat that makes little strategic sense. This one draws a sensible editorial from The Hindu:

    “Not every malaise has a cure; some can only be managed better or worse, and certainly not through indiscriminate blood-letting. India’s relationship with Pakistan is one of them.”

    • Anil Kala
      Posted at 03:50h, 16 January

      I don’t think the writer has understood government’s response at all. After a lot of noise in media and rabble rousing by opp. leaders government had to show that they are serious about the beheading of Indian soldiers. As it is this government is under tremendous pressure on corruption, price rise and cut in subsidies tough response to Pakistan is free collection of points. This government or any other government be it BJP of Third Front will do nothing beyond gestures. Only Indira Gandhi was capable of taking calculated risk, even Narendra Modi, if he ever becomes PM, will not go beyond gestures. All these responses are short term measures to mollify an enraged nation ….

      What the hell the writer expects from the government to do?

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 16:33h, 16 January

      Anil: The editorial argues quite clearly that a tough response does not come free: “real gains have been made since 2003, not the least a ceasefire and de-intensification of cross-border terrorism which has saved the lives of thousands of Indian soldiers. Nothing ought to be done to jeopardise this.” It also makes what should be an obvious point: “precipitating a crisis serves the interests of Pakistan’s generals — not Indians.” Therefore, the writer expects a strategic response that serves the interests of India not one that plays to the gallery. When the middle class gets mature enough to respond to Sushma Swaraj’s comments with ridicule rather than applause, it would be a sign of progress in the political culture. Till then, you are right, the governments will do nothing beyond gestures and even the gestures would be ridiculous and ineffectual. Freely elected governments do reflect the will and wisdom of the people.

      PS: A good analysis by Nirupama Subramanian. All credit to The Hindu for providing the space for contrary opinions:

      “To borrow a term from the medical profession, we are in the middle of what doctors call the Golden Hour, the first hour after a road accident, in which there is a possibility of setting things right for the victim. Get it wrong now, and it can only get worse from here.”

    • Anil Kala
      Posted at 06:13h, 17 January

      SA: But where is the tough response, it is just appearance of tough response and any government will be forced to act in this way when media and opp. leaders have taken to shouting but the case of present government is even more pitiable. These writers are crying wolf when there is none. Even in mature democracies like US, I remember President Clinton ordered bombing of Iraq just before his re-election for the flimsiest reason. India is nowhere near a mature democracy but its leaders have always acted in more mature and responsible manner than any of the evolved democracies. It was not India which allowed Pakistan to acquire A- Bomb, it was mature US looking the other way for the sake of political expediency, it is China which is keeping a rogue North Korea afloat and sure enough in future date they are going to repent it just as US is rubbing its hands in despair.

      People of India have a right to be indignant at provocative acts of Pakistan and India’s leaders have responsibility to act sensibly. How can India’s middle class be blamed for behaving in the manner they are behaving? You need to be an Indian to realize how enraging it is to suffer repeated acts of madness coming out of Pakistan, repeated betrayals, multiple power centers to negotiate deals etc. If only Pakistan were a regular nation there would not be need for such exasperation….

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 19:17h, 18 January

      Anil: Are you arguing that the US action in Iraq provides the model for how India should act with respect to Pakistan? Indians are very justified at being enraged by the repeated acts of madness coming out of Pakistan but what, in your opinion, is the response that would best serve the interests of Indians?

    • Anil Kala
      Posted at 05:02h, 19 January

      Beats me! The US example was cited to illustrate exact opposite that India does not follow advance West in indulging in extreme politics.

      Let us consider the ‘Golder Hour’ paradigm you have specially highlighted from the ‘The Hindu’ article. How is this ‘Golden Hour’ and not when Vajpei visited Pakistan. What has changed in Pakistan, have the militants disappeared or the Army isn’t calling the shots or ISI’s wings have been clipped? What makes the writer think another ‘Kargil’ or Mumbai massacre will not derail effort at detente this time?

      I think India has no choice but to follow what it has been doing all along, remain vigilant and engage with Pakistan but expect nothing from them. Just hope some day things will change in Pakistan….until then it is a matter of managing the losses and keep focus on its own economic progress.

      Actually an economically successful Pakistan way ahead of India is the only way it can get rid of India obsession but that doesn’t seem to be happening. The more India progresses economically the more trouble it will invite from Pakistan.

      I would like to hear what you think India should do?

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 14:59h, 19 January

      Anil: Finally, there were some sensible statements that point towards a strategic response:

      “Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reminded his Congress colleagues at the chintan shivir that Pakistan also had a constituency for peace. So while a strong message needed to be sent to that country after episodes such as the recent one when two Indian soldiers were beheaded on the LOC, it was equally important to think, the PM said, of ways of taking that relationship forward by addressing this constituency which believed in democracy.”

      “Seeking to temper the discourse on Pakistan in the wake of the beheading of an Indian soldier, Rahul Gandhi on Saturday made some plain speaking saying taking tough steps and showing emotions are two different things.

      Mr. Gandhi, who spoke in the sub-group on ‘India and the World’ at the party’s brainstorming conclave in Jaipur, is believed to have told the participants that while tough steps are taken in some situations, decisions cannot guided by emotions, sources said.

      “We should take tough steps but not be emotional in our response,” he said as the majority of participants sought strict action against Pakistan.”

  • SouthAsian
    Posted at 14:30h, 24 January Reply

    An accurate description but one that only laments and does not explain the strange response from the Indian political leadership:

  • SouthAsian
    Posted at 19:58h, 22 September Reply

    Update September 22, 2016.

    As the situation undergoes another very predictable downturn here is a set of suggestions from India. These should trigger a useful discussion.

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