Let’s remove any confusion from the very word go. India has earned no favour from Pakistan. It is a malign, hegemonic actor, dominated since the 1990s by religious fundamentalists. New Delhi has not, does not and will not manufacture public policy that is favourable to Pakistan.
Arguments for normalisation with India, or better relations with India, or dialogue and engagement with India, therefore are never made under any illusions. India and its realpolitik are not pro-Pakistan, and never will be pro-Pakistan. And because we know this, we also know that Pakistan should never offer India easy paths to pursue its anti-Pakistan obsession. To block such paths, Pakistan must do two things. One, it must continue to seek dialogue and engagement with India, especially for the sake of the people of Occupied Kashmir. Second, it must eliminate the space for India’s misuse of international institutions against Pakistan.
Important in forging a path to deal with Indian aggression is some context. Whilst India’s overarching policy arc has always been anti-Pakistan, there are three events in the last two decades that have helped forge today’s viscerally anti Pakistan generation of decision-makers and voters in India. We may debate how much of these events were the work of officialdom – but responsibility is only relevant if we are litigating blame. Regardless of who was behind these three events, they have been definitive in shaping India’s posture toward Pakistan (notwithstanding its organic negativity).
The first and most definitive was the 1998-1999 Kargil fiasco. It is fruitless to interrogate Kargil any longer without reference to Nasim Zehra’s epic work of meticulous research and analysis. The Cliffs notes version is simple: Kargil was enacted during a series of epochal diplomatic measures (the Sharif-Vajpayee summits) between the two countries that had a transformative trajectory. Kargil’s outcomes were manifold but the most important may have been the toxic impact it had on the Indian establishment’s view of the predictability and trustworthiness of dialogue with Pakistan.
The second and most potent was the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. The Mumbai attacks – broadcast globally, in real time, live, for nearly sixty hours – helped convert the ordinary Indian into as much, or more of a hawk, than the most bitter of post Kargil Indian strategists. If Kargil poisoned the South Block, Mumbai poisoned the Indian imagination and re-incentivised the Indian public discourse: hatred for Pakistan became an information product with substantial ratings potency.
The third and most transformational is the 2019 Pulwama attack in Occupied Kashmir. With almost no evidence, other than a video confession, and despite bold invitations for dialogue from Pakistan in the immediate aftermath, the Indian public discourse, the ordinary Indian, the Indian political elite, and the Indian military were in unison: ‘Pulwama was another Pakistani attack on India’. That PM Modi escalated the situation as dangerously as he did, and that India suffered a series of military and diplomatic humiliations in the immediate aftermath are matters of secondary detail. When it comes to Pakistan, the national consensus in India now is ferocious and unmistakeable: it is a problem to be defeated, humiliated, isolated and browbeaten into submission.
Pakistan is not perfect. Strategically, its sovereignty has been compromised through fiscal weakness, or strategic compulsion. But these compromises have a consistency. Only global and regional powers not named India need apply. If one was born in the 1950s or 1960s or even 1970s, one may assert rather boisterously that Indian hegemony has been and will continue to be resisted no matter how many courses of grass are on offer.
But more than 133 million Pakistanis were born in 1988 or thereafter. These ‘youth’ of Pakistan have no memory of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Indeed, when the reward for “eating grass” was delivered in the hills of Chaghai through Pakistan’s defensive nuclear tests of 1998, these 133 million youth were mostly either unborn or mere infants.
Does this mean today’s young Pakistani is incapable of making a sacrifice for Pakistan’s national security? Not at all. If anything, young Pakistanis are probably more passionate about their freedom and independence than any prior generations. But how this freedom is practised is a complex black box that Pakistani strategists need to examine carefully. This isn’t the eat grass generation. Not today, not tomorrow. Not ever again.
Pakistani freedom is a tenuous and complex thing. It took the political and military elites of Pakistan from 2008, the year it became clear that the terrorism problem had metastasized into a Frankenstein’s monster that needed to be tackled, till the end of 2014, when the full force of national power was finally deployed to defeat it. That is a full six years of processing.
In that time, young Pakistanis were forged in an age of terror. This is easy to forget in the warm glow of the images of a resplendent PSL final from Karachi’s National Stadium. It is easy to forget that a country that had never before had even one timely election has managed to have three consecutive general elections, as per schedule, while it first bore the brunt of terrorism, then learnt to fight terrorism and is now trying to bury it forever. Those Pakistanis that have grown up in this era are not going to be content to eat grass, because as they bore the brunt of war, they held their country to high standards. And the country responded: more democracy, more infrastructure, more federalism, less corruption. All delivered during the longest and toughest war that Pakistan ever fought. Now that the worst of the terror is over, young Pakistanis aren’t about to give it a pass.
Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership is not immune to the hunger and the ambition of the Pakistani youth. This is why, to his great credit, Prime Minister Imran Khan and his core team of thinkers and doers in Islamabad and Peshawar have been relentless on engaging with policy challenges in the districts formerly known as Fata, and why Sartaj Aziz’s Rs100 billion plan for the region has been endorsed and reiterated by PM Khan.
The youth challenge however is not restricted to the discontent in Bajaur or Waziristan. Their cousins, sisters, comrades and brothers in Lahore, Hyderabad, Gujranwala, Multan and Quetta are just as young, and just as hungry. They don’t like grass either. They like McDonalds.
The 64 percent of Pakistanis below the age of 30 (133 million) will happily fight for Pakistan. But not on empty stomachs, and not for fake or phantom symbols. They have grown up in an era of terror and have watched their soldiers and cops die in the line of duty. Unlike India’s mainstream youth, which has been raised on a diet of hyper nationalism with no sense of the costs of war, Pakistani youngsters have lived through a war. They do not want war – but they know how to fight and win one.
The Pakistani self-confidence of this youth needs to adopted by the dinosaurs that occupy positions of power. Lacking self confidence and incapable of introspection, policy dinosaurs have persisted with failed and failing policy options. We should worry that they may persist through Pulwama and its aftermath.
Change in Pakistan should never be enacted because some war-mongering Hindutvavadis want it. Change in Pakistan needs to be enacted as a tribute to the martyrs of the war we have already won, and to win the war in the arenas that matter for those 133 million young Pakistanis.
Pakistan’s future (and the future of the oppressed people of Occupied Kashmir) lies in Pakistan’s ability to assert its sovereignty. If failed policy options from the past threaten to stifle and upend its economy, its ability to trade within and beyond its region, and its capacity to outmanoeuvre, outhustle and outthink India – then it is time to let the dinosaurs meet their destiny, which is extinction. It is time to correct mistakes.
The key object of the conversation around eliminating the autonomy, freedom and operations of illegal, banned terrorist groups is not to secure certifications from paper tigers like the FATF, or hypocritical and weak international institutions like the UN Security Council.
The key object is to serve the people of Pakistan. Especially those to whom the Pakistan of today and the future belongs. We cannot continue serving our people grass. No more grass.
The writer is an analyst and commentator.