Ayesha Siddiqa was the first Pakistani woman to work as director of naval research with Pakistan Navy. After serving 11 years as a civil servant, she worked for 11 years before making headway into academics where her expertise in military technology, defence decision-making, nuclear deterrence, arms procurement/production and civil-military relations in South Asia is now most sought after.
In an interview with Trithesh Nandan in New Delhi, she dissects Indo-Pak relations. Edited excerpts:
What is your view on Indo-Pak relations at the present moment?
If you see on a scale of 0 to 10, the trust level is somewhere between two and three. It is not very high. There is nothing happening substantially to increase the trust. The Pakistani political government is trying to take initiative of using other methods to expand Indo-Pak relations. There should be at least some effort from the Indian side as well.
What’s the problem on the Indian side?
I will tell you that peace process is elitist in nature. The Indians are now behaving in a way that Americans used to earlier. You are behaving as if your foreign policy is like the US foreign policy.
What do you mean when you say the Indian foreign policy is becoming more like an American foreign policy?
When I say that, it is how you look at Pakistan or judge Pakistan entirely from the prism of war on terror or thinking force or pressure will do the job as far as Pakistan in concerned. I think it is a very American attitude. America is thousand miles away from the Indian subcontinent. India and Pakistan are next door. I don’t think that India has that luxury of treating Pakistan like Americans do. Americans love to talk to some stakeholders leaving more people behind. In the last few years, India has been approaching in the same way. There is a huge stake involved in the peace process.
What is the mindset of common Pakistanis? What do they want from India?
The common Pakistani has to learn (there are) benefits from following India and connecting with India. When I asked a taxi driver in Karachi about the Kashmir issue after the then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit to Pakistan in 2004, he immediately stopped his car and told me there are so many benefits if there is peace. We will have money to spend on ourselves – health and education. The ordinary Pakistani sees the benefits of peace dividends as that and also in rest of South Asia.
The ordinary Pakistani will want to follow in India’s footsteps. We are not jealous about India’s economic growth.
Then who are creating hurdles in the way of better relationship between the two nations: politicians, bureaucrats or the intelligence people?
It is a combination of all three. When we say vested interest, it is not the one or the other. In India, there is a strong ministry of defence, civil–military bureaucracy, which probably doesn’t want peace at a fast pace. In Pakistan’s case, it is similar.
Why did you say that the peace process is elitist in nature?
Look at the peace process, who do we get? Come to India or Pakistan, it is the same people. I think it needs to be broadened. There is a need to change its policy. Every Pakistani who crosses and comes to India legitimately is asked to get a character certificate from police or get intelligence clearance from here (in India). It is unfair. Same with Indians who go to Pakistan. It is not going to help.
But in Pakistan there are different centres of power – military, judiciary, parliament.
Slowly, democracy is gaining in the country. I would say democracy is in transition and when it is in that stage it is always weak. As long as the government is not destablised, the process continues.
Are the confidence building measures effective?
The CBMs are very necessary but these are very tactical. We need to begin to change our attitude and unless we change the way we assess each other, there is no way forward.