We should not blame our cricketers or our hockey players for our dismal record against Pakistan. It is something to do with our national psyche. This hypothesis is validated if we look at the bigger game both our countries have been playing ever since independence. And since the people are of the same stock should we not look at our deeper religious, cultural and historical moorings for answers?
The first match between us was played out just after both of us acquired independence. We had a major crisis when the tribal hordes backed by the Pakistani Army invaded Kashmir. Admittedly, we were given little warning for that game. That was our first defeat. The only redeeming feature of that encounter was that by the time the match was over, we were able to reduce the margin of defeat. All of Kashmir was not lost. Substantial territory was recaptured but Pakistan Occupied Kashmir came into being.
The humiliation against the Chinese in 1962 deepened our insecurities and also heightened our defensive mentality. Thus in 1965, we were happy playing for a draw. The outcome of our match in 1971 was an aberration. The team spirit of the Pakistanis was at its lowest then and with some match fixing thrown in, we managed to create Bangladesh. Nothing before or after suggests a national inclination or desire to win or to assert itself.
A survey of events since 1971, clearly confirms our passive and defensive way of thinking. Right through the eighties and the nineties, the Pakistanis kept taunting and needling us but we refused to react. It began with the support to the Sikh militants for Khalistan, and then the shift to terrorism and insurgency in J&K. In between, threats of war were thrown in during Brasstacks and in early 1990. Right through we refused to bite.
When Kargil happened, again, we were content settling for a draw, despite the grave provocation and considerable international support. After the terrorist attack on the Parliament in Delhi, there was the faint possibility that India had eventually found its national will. For a short while during the massive military mobilisation for Parakrama, there were some of us who felt that at last our threshold of tolerance had been crossed. But the pacifists prevailed and the troops returned to barracks without firing a single shot.
Let us take the example of the ongoing dialogue with Pakistan initiated by Vajpayee and now being followed up by the present UPA Government. There are no two opinions on the desirability of peace and tranquillity on the Indian subcontinent. Hostile relations with neighbours do inhibit economic cooperation for mutual benefit. There are other wide- ranging advantages also. Besides, we have our problems in Kashmir. Reconciliation of our differences through negotiations and dialogue makes eminent sense. And, therefore, the peace process should be lauded and supported, even if we have been brought to the talking table at gunpoint.
We must not lose sight of this discomfiting reality. We tried to take the high ground that talks were acceptable only if Pakistan stopped support to militancy in J&K and terrorism across India. Musharraf responded with rhetoric and some clever grandstanding but never gave a clear and unambiguous commitment on curbing and ending cross border terrorism. Yet we have agreed to talk because of our own domestic compulsions and some nudging from the US and a few others. Given the international climate, the prevailing situation in Pakistan, Afghanistan and adjoining areas and our internal security and integration worries, the wisdom of the decision cannot really be faulted.
Staying engaged in the dialogue with Pakistan, notwithstanding the many not so insignificant provocations and unfriendly acts, would at this juncture be prudent and wise. Injury to national pride and other such irritants could be swallowed for a while. Of course, much as the peace process is important, we have to draw a line; the limits of tolerance must be clearly articulated. And that line must be known to Pakistan, as also to the international community. We should be prepared to demonstrate our commitment to peace and stability but there is a limit to the reach of the proffered hand of friendship.
We have been on the peace train for close to two years with considerable sincerity of purpose. Encouraging people to people contact, vainly trying to expand the scope of economic and commercial cooperation, supporting cricket culture and cinema and facilitating access to our education, medical care centres, we have tried to open all doors that could lead to a durable peace and friendship between us.
In return what have we got? Every now and then a warning through strikes of the kind in Pulwana, that India must bend, otherwise we will be back to business by increasing the intensity of militancy in J&K – not only J&K but maybe Punjab also. The recent resurgence of Khalistan militants is not without its message. We would be naïve to not see the bigger sinister design. The game is not being confined to the west alone. The ISI is active in Bangladesh and Nepal besides its huge network across India. The intentions are certainly not benign. Do we have any indications of scaling down by the ISI, now that we have extended the olive branch? No. To the contrary the pause is being used to expand and consolidate the network.
Pakistan’s position on according us MFN status has not altered. Our moving together on the Iran pipeline is certainly not evidence of cooperation. Its willingness to partner the project is not because it wants to do us a good turn but because it offers significant commercial and strategic advantages to Pakistan.
Take the case of our aspirations and claims to be inducted into the UN Security Council. Maybe it would be too much to expect Pakistan to support our candidature. But to vigorously and actively oppose our case can do little to foster goodwill or give us comfort at the negotiating table. Such hostile activity would definitely vitiate the atmosphere. It is a credit to us that we are still engaged in peace parleys.
Pakistan’s opposition to the Baglihar power plant is another example. That we agreed – contrary to our long held position – to arbitration by the French just goes to show the distance we are prepared to go to establish our sincerity. And what has Pakistan to offer in return?
Militarily too, Pakistan continues to feverishly augment capability. As a US ally in the war against terrorism, Pakistan has succeeded in extracting considerable military aid. Consequently, our capability for punitive action is getting rapidly eroded. Conversely, Pakistan’s potential for military adventure is growing. We do not seem to be taking serious note of these developments.
This is an area like so many others, where there is much to learn from the Chinese example. That country has never baulked at the acquisition or use of military power to further national interests. Even when the country was poor and underdeveloped, it made sure that militarily it would not let itself be bullied – whether it was the Soviet Union or the USA. Nuclear weapons, missiles technology to include intercontinental ballistic missile and MIRV capability were given the highest priority. Economic development, they were sure, would follow. And it did, exceeding their expectations some would say. The better illustration of Chinese purposefulness is that country’s approach to the Taiwan issue. It has unambiguously stated its intent to assimilate Taiwan and it shall do so even if it has to use force. Having declared its position it has continued to concentrate on building the military capability considered desirable and necessary to accomplish the mission of capturing Taiwan. We should also note that the commitment of the US to the security of Taiwan has not deterred China from pursuing the military capability that it considers necessary.
In India, the role of military power to protect and advance national interests has never really been understood. This may be attributed to our first Prime Minister who had a profound disdain for the military. Much of this disdain percolated to the bureaucracy and subsequent generations of political leaders. The military must also share in substantial measure the responsibility for not doing enough to try and change, educate and influence the nation’s political and intellectual elite. In the first few decades of our independence, most of the military hierarchy seemed to have been nurtured in the ‘question nothing, you will get what you need and you will do what you are told’ school. So most service officers spent their careers insulated and isolated from the national mainstream hoping in vain that someday some enlightened leader would awaken to the importance of the equation between national security and military power. A neglected military will always encourage adventurism against us. Conversely, a powerful military coupled with the demonstration of national will to use such power can act as an effective deterrent. This is a dictum we have yet to fully assimilate.