Solving the Pakistan Problem

Nitin Pai
Pax Indica
Opinions - IN

India's Pakistan problem is over. Even before this year's floods destroyed what was left of its socio-economic structures, it was abundantly clear that the idea of Pakistan had failed. You don't have to believe hawkish Indian strategists -- just search the web for "Pakistan", "at the crossroads" and read what Pakistani columnists have to say on the topic. Now, there is no doubt that the Pakistani military-jihadi complex has both the intentions and the capabilities to pose a strategic problem for India. That it continues to thrive even as the state of which it is a part has "descended into chaos" is not because of 'Pakistan', but because of the external powers that scaffold its collapsing structure. India's problem, therefore, is not Pakistan. India's problem lies with the powers that stand in the way of its re-invention: primarily, the United States, China and Saudi Arabia.

It is generally a good idea to let bad ideas self-destruct. For all the chaos in Russia in the 1990s, few people -- at least in the West -- will argue that allowing the Soviet Union to collapse was a bad thing to do. Imagine what ordinary Americans might have thought if, say Japan, had injected billions of dollars to prop up the Soviet Union, because, you know, "who wants a failed state with nuclear weapons?" Yet that is exactly what the United States is doing now with Pakistan.

Instead of letting the Pakistanis sort out their own political future, and then dealing with the consequences, the United States is engaged in perpetuating a bad idea at great cost to itself, to India and to the rest of the world. China and Saudi Arabia are happily free-riding on American blood and treasure, enjoying strategic benefits at a fraction of what it might have cost them were they to invest in the project on their own.

You don't negotiate with the delinquent teenagers who willfully break your window panes. You negotiate with their parents. It does not make any more sense treating the dialogue with Pakistan as if it would, even in theory, get the Pakistani military-jihadi complex to abandon its anti-India dogma. It does not make sense because for the military-jihadi complex, that dogma is an existential one. It's as if the teenagers playing cricket outside your compound do so with the sole purpose of damaging your property. You could talk to them. You could buy them ice-cream hoping to win them over. You could refuse to return their ball. You could berate them. But the smart thing to do would still be to speak to their guardians.

India has sought to reassure the military-jihadi complex of its peaceful intent through a policy of unilateral reassurance. In the words of a former high commissioner to Pakistan,"[if] we want to give the Army reasons to change its mind on India, we can only do it through the reassurances we convey in a sustained dialogue." The reassurances, unfortunately, have been read as arising out of weakness: there is every sign that General Ashfaq Kayani is resolutely focussed on the old project. (Some Western analysts are sympathetic to the argument that intentions mean little and Pakistan is justified in worrying about India's growing capabilities. By this logic, Mexico and Canada must have nuclear arsenals, hundreds of missiles and non-state actors targeting the United States).

Even as New Delhi communicates with the centres of power in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, we need a shift in strategy.

We need to stop believing that dialogue with Pakistan will somehow convince the military-jihadi complex to change. We need to start engaging the powers that scaffold Pakistan and compel them to influence the behaviour of their charge.

We need to stop believing that it is only about raising Pakistan's costs. We need to start working on making it prohibitively expensive for the United States, China and Saudi Arabia to indulge the Pakistani military-jihadi complex. If these countries want to continue to stand in the way of Pakistan's transformation, then that is their choice. But they should not be allowed to believe that they can do so painlessly.

This does not mean adopting a hostile attitude towards relations with Washington, Beijing and Riyadh. Pakistan is just one item in the bilateral agenda, and India's relations with Pakistan's three biggest scaffolds are growing. Indeed, strong bilateral relations are in themselves a source of leverage whose importance cannot be overstated. But merely having good relations with these countries is unlikely to be sufficient. India must demonstrate that it is capable making things difficult for them.

For instance, India could swing away from acquiescing in the US and the Saudi line on Iran. Surely, if the United States and Saudi Arabia can finance the Pakistani military-jihadi complex and simultaneously pursue good relations with us, we should be able to back Iran while pursuing good relations with them. Just as Pakistan's nuclear weapons don't threaten America and Arabia, Iran's nuclear weapons -- when it does have them -- don't threaten India. They do threaten Israel. So we should expect the Israelis to counsel their American friends on how sensitivity to India's interests can help them both. Similarly, Looking East beyond Singapore, swinging towards towards the United States and its allies in East Asia is more likely to persuade China to be more circumspect in its dealings with Pakistan.

These are options that are within India's reach today. If the astute minds in New Delhi's strategic establishment were to concentrate on a shift from direct engagement of Pakistan to a direct engagement of Pakistan's scaffolds, it is certain that a number of strategic options -- ranging from the geopolitical to the geoeconomic -- can be developed. India has spent fifteen years in the futile attempt to reassure the military-jihadi complex. Given the reality of the all-round failure of the idea of Pakistan, it is time to reframe the problem. It's time to go after the scaffolders.

Nitin Pai is founder & fellow for geopolitics at the Takshashila Institution and editor of Pragati - The Indian National Interest Review, a publication on strategic affairs, public policy and governance. He blogs at The Acorn and is active on Twitter too.