Pakistan and India: A Game Of Thrones

Between 1947 and 1971, Pakistan consisted of five major geographic regions, each with a clear majority ethnic group: East Pakistan (Bengali), Punjab (Punjabi), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (Pakhtoon), Baluchistan (Baluchi), and Sindh (Sindhi). Karachi, the capital of Sindh, attracted a significant number of immigrants from India after the partition; these people became the majority ethnic group in the city. But Pakistan had an original sin: it failed to create a democratic constitution upon independence, and thus failed to devolve power to provinces and cities. This has had grave implications on the history of the country, and must be addressed for the protection of its future.

While such heroes of the independence movement as Jinnah and Iqbal were driven by a desire to create a model Muslim nation, key backers of the movement were local/provincial feudal land owners, maharajahs, or other equivalents who might have been driven by power. They were the elite Muslims in the sub-continent who served in the British bureaucracy and the Army, institutions that saw natives as second-class citizens. Civilized “gentlemen” were expected to dress and behave in a particular way, and ironically this characteristic was lacking among most of the native civil-ians of a poor country.

While Bengalis formed the biggest ethnic group by far, Punjab was the power center of the country, partly because it was the heart of the British Army and partly because East Pakistan was geographically separated from the rest of the country. For almost the entire first decade of the country’s existence, no constitution was formulated arguably because that would have led to devolution of power away from the center. When the first constitution was created, it did not last more than a couple of years before martial law was declared and constitution scrapped. Power again went back to the default power center, a war with India happened. Bengali’s in East Pakistan called for their democratic rights, but their calls were ignored. When they protested, the military government responded with force. When they fought back armed, encouraged and armed by India, they were seen as traitors and saw the full wrath of the Pakistani military. Bengali people were subjected to unspeakable brutalities, and after much violence, Bangladesh gained independence. Pakistan was broken, literally, but there was some hope.

A charismatic “Islamic socialist” from Sindh managed to unite a new Pakistan, giving the country its first real democratic constitution that miraculously brought all ethnic groups unanimously on board. Few in the country doubted Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s mandate, but he retained the mindset of a feudal lord. His socialism mostly manifested itself in the form of destructive nationalization, and the imposition of job and other quotas for rural residents in Urban areas. So martial law was imposed once again, Bhutto was hanged, and his family imprisoned. Power once again went back to the same center.

The power center decided to actively fund and train religiously driven militants against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and then later against India in Kashmir, possibly as revenge against India for backing and arming separatists in Bangladesh. Pakistan and the United States packaged jihad as a liberator and launched a wildly successful marketing campaign for this new thought product. But a few years later, the dictator died mysteriously when a crate of mangoes exploded in his plane. A new democratic government was formed; a new Bhutto managed to captivate the imagination of the people. But political instability and uncertainty rose, as governments were repeatedly dismissed before finishing their terms. Instead of intervening directly, the power center chose to fund and manipulate political parties instead. This weakened the government, but strengthened the real state, which continued to be dazed in dreams of jihad in Kashmir. However, the weakening of the government created space for India to support and ally/infiltrate with political uprisings in Karachi and Baluchistan.

Operations against the ruling MQM in Karachi started as early as 1992, but their success was short-term due to the inconsistent policies and shifting political alliances of weak governments. Political survival after the kind of state brutality MQM witnessed in these operations encouraged it to arm itself further. The state within the state, built relationships with other states. They probably realized for the first time that as much power as the military has, if the power is exerted in ways that can appear unfair, their own political power may increase rather than decrease. After about a decade of musical chairs in the National Assembly, another military general decided he could bring real democracy to Pakistan. And while democracy was nowhere to be seen in the horizon, there seemed to be more order on the surface. Afghanistan was secured, and Karachi and Baluchistan were under control, but then 9/11 changed everything.

Pakistan was happy having the Taliban in control in Afghanistan, but now it faced a population primed to sympathize with the Taliban on one hand and a super power thirsty for vengeance on the other. Hoping there would be a pro-Pakistan government in Afghanistan after the Taliban were toppled, Pakistan joined the war happily, agreeing to all demands made by the US Secretary of State. However, when the pro-India Northern Alliance ended up controlling Afghanistan instead, Musharraf was not happy. Pakistan began a strategic double game: it would offer intelligence, ports, bases, and all kinds of support in the war, but not target those Afghan Taliban in Pakistan who could help negotiate power sharing in Afghanistan after the departure of foreign forces. With the Taliban controlling much of Afghanistan to date, and the American president having announced troop withdrawal by 2014, Pakistan chose to wait and see. Very recently, a Pakistani helicopter en-route to Eastern Europe for maintenance crashed in the Logar province of Afghanistan. A spokesperson from the Afghan Taliban gave a statement that the Pakistanis “captured” were well, enjoying tea and food, and that there was no need to talk to the Afghan or American governments about it because they have no control in the province.

As a bloody wave of  violence overcame the country post-2005 for Pakistan’s support of American wars in the Middle East, even Kashmir went on the back-burner. In fact, at one point, Pakistan and India were making great progress on the Kashmir issue. Musharraf cracked down in Baluchistan, but managed to build a rapport with the MQM in Karachi, which saw a few years of relative peace. There was some balance.

However, the boat was rocked once more when the lawyers’ movement in Pakistan, with support from major political parties,triggered Musharraf’s downfall and saw the PPP win a majority in the 2008 elections. This government rolled back the local government system Musharraf had introduced in Karachi and the rest of the country, and started heavily arming its own supporters in Karachi, as admitted on video by Zulfiqar Mirza, a former senior PPP official and ex-BFF of Asif Ali Zardari. The ANP happily joined the turf war. In the ensuing chaos, it became increasingly difficult to distinguish between a criminal, a mafia killer, a political party worker, or a foreign agent.

In both the change in Pakistan’s stance on infiltrating militants into Kashmir, and the ensuing chaos in Baluchistan and Karachi, the Indian government sees not an opportunity for peace but an opportunity to consolidate itself as a regional power once and for all. Afghanistan is already under the sphere of Indian influence. Without Sindh and Baluchistan, Pakistan would be a land-locked country surrounded by hostile regimes, most of which will inevitably be allied to India because no separatist movement in Pakistan would win without India’s support. It would also solve the Kashmir question once and for all so it is a tempting proposition. But it breeds negativity and pessimism, and makes it difficult for Pakistani decision makers to both soften India’s public image in the country and reconcile with the hawks in its own ranks. Both countries need to do that for peace to ever truly be on the table. Years of needless instigation of hate among the masses have to be undone, and this is not the way to do it. In fact, the status quo is continuously strengthening radicals in both countries.

This is why Pakistan does not see Afghan Taliban as a terrorist organization; they control the half of Afghanistan that is not allied with India. This is why the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is of utmost strategic importance to both Pakistan and China. This is why China, which has historically been unequivocally dismissive of the Taliban, recently invited representatives from their diplomatic outpost in Qatar. This is why Gwadar is an important alternate port to build. This might even be why India felt the need to execute Burhan Wani, and responded so aggressively to protests in Kashmir, perhaps assuming or suspecting that after Pakistan’s recent concerns about Indian involvement in Karachi and Baluchistan, it might be re-igniting jihad in Kashmir. This is another song of ice and fire, from the snowy peaks of Kashmir, to the fiery heat of Karachi, and it is a sad song.

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