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February 15, 2011

Subrahmanyam and Davis


Web Desk
February 15, 2011

Mosharraf ZaidiOn February 2nd Indian strategic affairs guru, Krishnaswamy Subrahmanyam passed away at 82. Subrahmanyam or Subbu was well known among Pakistani defence thinkers and analysts. His characterisation of the East Pakistan crisis, as an “opportunity of a lifetime to cut Pakistan to size” was about as popular as his frequent characterisation of the break up of Pakistan in 1971, as one of India’s great achievements. More recently, he worked tirelessly to align India’s nuclear ambitions to the country’s relationship with the United States. At a memorial service held for him on Saturday however, no one remembered Subrahmanyam as a tormentor of Pakistan.
Instead, the memorial described a man as the godfather of long-term, strategic thinking, a factory of ideas, and a crafter of young talent. It is only natural that the substance of Subrahmanyam’s positions will be seen differently in Pakistan, than it is in India. Yet as Pakistan absorbs the “Raymond Davis” incident and goes through yet another epileptic fit about a single incident, the life and times of K Subrahmanyam might offer some insight for Pakistanis who want to live in a homeland that is peaceful, prosperous, powerful, and proud.
It is not surprising that the debate over the American “diplomat” widely referred to as “Raymond Davis” is focused on the small stuff – the Vienna Convention, diplomatic immunity, Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s newfound passion, Hillary Clinton’s bad mood and US government’s angst. These kinds of distractions are exactly what the Pakistani national discourse has become very adept at. Take a single incident and derive numerous analytical angles from it.
Of course, the “Raymond Davis” incident is more than just a one-off event. For all the national pride at stake, Pakistan is not going to take the ghairat angraai to its logical conclusion. Since 1947 Pakistan has consistently made long-term strategic choices that position the country as a

junior and dependent partner to the United States in this region. This continuum is not about to be changed because people are having nationalist heart attacks on TV talk shows and at anti-US rallies.
Similarly, for all the real (and contrived) outrage of the US government, Uncle Sam is not going anywhere. US troops in Afghanistan, the high-cost of the NDN and long-term US interests in South Asia will continue to require Pakistani acquiescence to the US in order for the US to continue its business in the region.
Clearly, Pakistanis cannot accept ugly (and clearly less skilled) versions of Jason Bourne to drive around shooting up Pakistani citizens. It is ok to state this point forcefully and passionately. However, it is not ok to evade the context in which things are happening.
This context is complex and disturbing. There are two separate wars that are taking place in Pakistan. One is the Pakistan-versus-the-terrorists war that has ravaged the tribal areas, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The other war is the counter-terrorism war that the US is fighting against Al-Qaeda, and its affiliates, on Pakistani territory. This war is not restricted to the “Af-Pak” border. It is right across the country. Neither war is taking place without the consent and active participation of the men and women of the Pakistani military.
The first war is incomplete because it is ideologically incoherent, especially for westerners. It is not a war against all extremists. It is a war against those extremists that have declared war on Pakistan.
The second war is incomplete because it is functionally and operationally incoherent, especially if you live in Pakistan. It is not a war that has formally been declared. It is not entirely clear who and what is being used to fight the war. It is not a war that can be measured by parliaments or by body counts.
The first war is a war of the past. It is a war of the 19th century being fought by a 20th century military that is more accountable to a foreign country’s leaders than it is, to its own.
The second war is a war of the future. It is a war of the 21st century being fought with a 19th century disregard for rule of law, being fought by warriors that are accountable to no one.
This is the real world. It is the medium and possibly long term context within which a single one of possibly hundreds of American instruments of war killed two Pakistanis in the middle of a street, in broad daylight, at an intersection where no American diplomat I know, will ever wander knowingly.
We can choose to obsess about a single meeting between Husain Haqqani and Tom Donilon. Or the relative measure of Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s patriotism, versus that of the president’s. But we should be aware of what those choices represent. They represent a deliberate refusal to examine the incident within the strategic framework of Pakistan’s national security, economic and political realities. They represent an underdeveloped conception of strategy. Perhaps, more than anything else, this infatuation with petty information represents a collective cowardice to accept the present starkness of reality, and commit to altering the future.
A vision for a reality-based narrative of the future is what K Subrahmanyam has bequeathed to India. His enormous shadow lurks over India’s current strategic success, as largely as any other. Yet twenty years ago, or even ten years ago, very few Indians would have predicted the parade of honours and memorials upon his death. Throughout the cold war era, Subrahmanyam was seen as too pro-Soviet. After testing nuclear weapons in 1998, Subrahmanyam increasingly came to be known as too pro-American. At his memorial, Indian journalist Inder Malhotra pointed what is often not obvious to critics of public figures at the time. That Subrahmanyam never changed his central stance, that he was neither pro-Soviet, nor pro-American. He was simply interested in the path that offered the greatest benefits to India. He was just pro-Indian.
This is a powerful lesson. The greatest burden carried by some of Pakistan’s most valuable strategic minds is not the substance of their perspectives, but often the labels we attach to them. Our thinkers are either too pro-American, or too pro-establishment, too closely allied with the Pakistani military, or too deeply invested in democracy. This silliness has to stop.
“Raymond Davis” is a transient story. There is a much larger and deeper discussion to be had. Being reasonable and rational and having a long-term view of the present and the future does not have to come at the cost of sentiment. Indeed, perhaps the most poignant moment at the Subrahmanyam memorial was during the final tribute, made by Subrahmanyam’s son, UCLA professor Sanjay Subrahmanyam. The professor said that his father’s realism would have made no sense, in the absence of sentiment. Sentiment, he said is what gave realism, true meaning.
In trying to understand and make sense of the “Raymond Davis” case, Pakistanis need not extinguish their sentiments. They simply need to leverage them to successfully navigate a complex future. The details of the Vienna convention are peripheral to that complexity and to the future. The question isn’t of diplomatic immunity. It is of Pakistan. How did we get here, and where do we want to go?

The writer advises governments, donors and NGOs on public policy.

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