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October 4, 2016

Doing the same thing, over and over again

Opinion

October 4, 2016

The writer is an analyst and
commentator.

The total national income (GDP) of India in 2015 was $2,074 billion. During the same period, Pakistan’s GDP was $270 billion. This is not a small difference. But it gets bigger when we consider the trajectory that these two countries are on.

India has been growing at well above five percent per year for several years (and expected to grow at over seven percent this year). Pakistan is scheduled to cross the five percent annual growth rate for the first time in many years this year. During Pakistan’s best growth year in a decade, it will grow a full two percentage points slower than India. One percentage point growth in India means about $21 billion. Which means just this year, as we debate which of India’s many tumorous television personalities is the worst, India will gain an extra $42 billion on Pakistan, in terms of gross domestic product. Which is equal to about one seventh of the entire Pakistani economy.

When US National Security Adviser Susan Rice calls evil geniuses like Ajit Doval to pat them on the back for his post-Uri info-ops, she is not signing up to become an RSS sevak. She is doing the math that her country’s taxpayers pay her to do.

As it happens, it doesn’t matter how ridiculous Indian news television is: many assistant producers there make more money peddling the garbage peddled in India than several prime time anchors make here, peddling the garbage we peddle at home. That our garbage is less toxic than theirs should not be any consolation – unless we were always only looking to win the Miss Congeniality award to begin with.

Pakistan has serious problems with India, and history has established the limited scope available to seek solutions. The most Pakistan can do is to make sure that Kashmir continues to be something we remind the world of regularly. Even this our impotent Foreign Office is incapable of doing, because the Foreign Office and its people have historically been happier being the outward-facing supplicants to power in the twin cities, rather than being serious, thoughtful diplomats.

Now that a three-star general is in-charge at ISPR, one wonders what real utility there is to having the foreign secretary tag along with delegations, other than the ceremonial import of pretending that there is such a thing as a diplomatic service funded by Pakistani taxpayers.

If serious diplomacy was something Pakistan did, it would be obvious that there may be urgent issues that have plagued Pakistan’s relationship with India. Little effort has been invested by Pakistan to explore solving those issues, or even talking about them. Siachen, Sir Creek and Samjhota – the veritable three Ss of our non-Kashmir engagement with India are surely important, but they do not come close to the urgency of addressing India’s deliberate and provocative positioning in Afghanistan, and its long-standing habit of taking advantage of Pakistani own-goals, circa Balochistan.

Instead of grappling with the troublesome Afghanistan-India relationship with the self-confidence of an integral state, for the region and the world, Pakistan has constructed a voice of victimhood on India in Afghanistan. To the more gullible idiots, we have sold the fiction of over two dozen Indian consulates in Afghanistan. All the while forgetting that even without a single consulate, Indian ingress in Kabul is deep and thick enough to build and sustain a narrative of Pakistan’s state institutions that mirrors that of the most rabid and cartoonish voices in New Delhi, the New York Times and other places.

The old broken record deserves a hearing for its pure, unadulterated truth: by not cracking down on the operational freedoms enjoyed by the Haqqani Network, we have done more to help India than anything India has done in Afghanistan itself. The Indian aid rupees we are told of are not disproportionately higher than aid provided by Pakistan. Yet the Indian brand is accompanied by posters of Hrithik Roshan and Priyanka Chopra.

Our brand is accompanied by whatever is the most recent attack in Afghanistan. It stopped mattering long ago whether these attacks have the blessings of anyone in a position of authority in Pakistan. What matters is the perception that they do. This is murder for a country needing friendly neighbours as badly as Pakistan does.

Since the Uri attack, we are learning something about the murderous nature of perceptions. A foolhardy feeding frenzy of hatred in India is exposing the truth about India’s journey toward being a global superpower. Suffice it to say, this is a trip that has barely begun, and already it shows the fragility that comes with having about three Pakistan-fuls of people living below the poverty line. India is no America, or Russia, or China. It is barely India. One could write volumes on India’s economic, social, and political limitations.

Yet here we are. We Pakistanis can tell one million nasty truths about India, but the single truth about Pakistan just won’t give up: we are a country that has developed an abiding expertise in converting strengths into weaknesses.

The South Asian Muslim ethos (rather than the more convenient, but inaccurate moniker of ‘Islam’) was to be the original source code of strength for the country. We’ve seen the different take people in this country have developed on that ethos. Takfiris hunting Barelvis. Barelvis hunting Deobandis. Deobandis hunting Shias. Shias hunting Syrian Sunnis. All of this, at least partly underwritten by either the state itself or states that claim to be our friends. As Iran rises and the Gulf gets petty about ports and shipping, we should buckle in for more, not less, of this orgy of righteousness.

Pakhtun identity, and its deep links with Afghanistan, should have always been the lubricant that welded together either side of the Attock River. Instead it has been problematised, inter-generationally, with new and improved variant strains of the problem emerging with alarming frequency. For a country that has mismanaged Fata for as long as we have, the ham-fisted national discourse on absorbing Fata into the country properly is as resplendent a display of low-IQ, iodine-free discourse as one will find. We should tread delicately as we guffaw at the wild prime-time bellicosity on Indian news channels. Their stupidity is directed at us. Ours is directed at us too.

In Washington DC, unlike Islamabad, there is clarity. You cannot have your left hand tinker with the HQN, LeT, JuD, JeM, and have your right hand shake Ash Carter’s or Susan Rice’s or anyone else’s. The November election in American will change almost nothing for Pakistan. India’s bad guys are America’s bad guys, and eventually they will be bad guys for our new almost-BFF Vladimir Putin and old, reliable BFF, the Communist Party of China. Either President Trump or President Clinton will continue lecturing Pakistan. Our toes may curl at the sight of their snivelling arrogance – but it is we who have provided them with the tools to speak at us with such disdain.

All of this would matter little if someone could explain the national interest served by sustaining space for these groups to continue to exist in Pakistan. If the national interest is served by continued antagonism with India, a cancerous non-relationship with Afghanistan and the perpetual rebukes of the ranking superpower of the day then many of us could sleep better at night. But we can’t, because we can’t.

In fact, weakness of this sort is a betrayal of the promise of Pakistan. It is a betrayal of the hopes and aspirations of Pakistanis, and of those Kashmiris that live under Indian occupation. Our geographic, cultural and religious strengths have become so contested and we so jaded that in every opportunity we are forced to consider the threat, in every strength, the weakness.

This is what makes Ajit Doval a genius: the vastness of our vulnerabilities, on full display, for enemies to toy with at their leisure. Who is responsible for creating, sustaining and deepening these vulnerabilities? And can we expect the same institutional dynamics that have brought us here, to deliver us from this place? The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over again, and expecting a different result. If we keep doing what we’ve been doing, we are insane.

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