Opportunity in Pakistan: What India should do (and not do)

Islamabad is changing fast: will New Delhi calibrate its assessment?


BV Rao | May 30, 2011

Shame is a kind of anger which is turned inward. And if a whole nation really experienced a sense of shame, it would be like a lion, crouching and ready to spring.
--Karl Marx in 1843.

Sometimes when your fortunes are on the slide, it is best to hit rock bottom quickly. You might still retain the energy and the will to stand up and begin the long trek back up, sooner than later.

What is true for individuals is true for nations as well.

Abbottabad, May 2, could well be that rock bottom for Pakistan.

When the US Navy Seals pierced the night sky and landed on Pakistan’s sovereign territory – either without the military getting to know or not wanting to get involved – they didn’t take out just Osama bin Laden. They took away Pakistan’s pride.

With every short civilian regime interlude turning out to be more greedy, corrupt and ineffective than the previous ones, the Pakistani people had come to look upon one institution for deliverance: the military, more specifically, the army. The army was the one which had the national interest as its foremost concern and the army it was that saved the country from every situation.

The protracted military reigns – directly as in the case of Zia and Musharraf or by proxy as in the case of Gen. Kayani – have not been any less greedy, corrupt or ineffective. But such was the trust in the army’s sense of purpose and pride in its ability to protect Pakistan that it continued to enjoy the status of the country’s sole benefactor.

In 40 swift minutes that image was destroyed. Cyril Almeida, a popular columnist of The Dawn who writes for the upcoming issue of Governance Now on invitation, had written with telling clarity: “If we knew Osama was here, we are a rogue state. If we did not know, we are a failed state.” The same can be paraphrased for the Pakistani military. If it did not know of Operation Geronimo, it was a failed force. If it knew and yet couldn’t protect Pakistan’s sovereignty, it was a useless force.

Suddenly, Pakistan’s gods, it seemed, were hiding feet of clay inside their military boots.

Four lost wars with India have not cost the Pakistani military such loss of face and faith. Losing to a declared enemy is nowhere as humiliating as being belittled by a friend. It hurts more when all you can do after such humiliation is to receive their secretary of state with a smile, frosty though it may be, return the chopper wreckage to the US and allow the CIA access to the very bin Laden hideout that exposed your frailties to the world.

If every crisis is an opportunity, the opportunity in Pakistan is the intense public scrutiny following this national shame of being violated by a friend and being let down by its military. In the past, the military could pull off any coup because it had the trust of the people, now it has just joined the long list of civilian suspects. This is sure to, over time, lead to fundamental rethinking in Pakistan’s existential questions, its Islamisation, its terrorism as state policy, its diplomatic duplicity with friends and worse, its duplicity with its own people.

As Marx has observed, history tells us that national humiliation has always led to internal revolutions or external wars. Luckily, Pakistan’s new enemy no. 1 is distant and mighty and any thought of retribution is quickly buried. So, Pakistan will most likely be forced to turn the anger on itself, introspect and undergo an internal churning.

If the way the Pakistan media, civil society and its people have reacted to the events of the last few weeks is any indication, that churning has already started. It is tough to predict what will come out of the churning but it would be stupid to underestimate the power of a people seeking answers.

This will have enormous significance for the world and especially for India because peace with India or the world ceases to be Pakistan’s immediate quest. Exposed as a two-timer, terrorised by the Frankenstein it has created, Pakistan will have to first find peace with itself. That can only be good for India, the region and the world.

What should India do meanwhile? Nothing much. After six decades of its nationhood based on India-hating, Pakistan has found a new enemy outside (the US) and inside (al Qaeda and Taliban et al). India gets an unforeseen diplomatic reprieve and should enjoy this downgraded status to advantage by not doing a few things. Such as not gloating over a neighbour’s misery, not being smug (“ah, we told you!”), not shoving lists in Pak’s face that are more wanting than wanted and not making ballistic prime time TV debates the basis of its Pak policy.

Rather than step hard and take advantage of Pakistan’s vulnerabilities, it is time for India to give Pak some time to catch its breath. Of course nobody can predict the outcome of all this, but decades from now when a more peaceful Pakistan, or a Pakistan more at peace with itself, reflects on a few moments that might have changed its course for the better, it will recall the midnight raid in Abbottabad that pricked its pride and forced it to reappraise.



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