Still seeking elusive parity

When Pakistan’s establishment fears it is losing the narrative it puts out news stories and opinion pieces to reassure both itself and reiterate the myth before the public. On August 23 the National Security Advisors of India and Pakistan are scheduled to meet in Delhi and discuss the issue of terrorism. Pakistani media has already stated “It is felt that Pakistan is disadvantageously placed in this format of talks on terrorism.” Thus if the talks go nowhere, Pakistan can claim this was because of India.  

Further, hawks in the Pakistani establishment have come out against these talks. In a recent piece former Pakistani diplomat and hyper nationalist Munir Akram argues that Pakistan is losing the narrative in its existential struggle with India. Akram starts his piece with a quotation from Pankaj Misra, just as in yesteryears Pakistani analysts would quote from Nirad Chaudhuri. Apparently in their eyes citing an Indian critic gives legitimacy to Pakistani arguments about India.

Akram uses the well worn out Pakistani argument that India’s democracy, secular and pluralistic identity and economic growth are not real and instead is simply a great public relations media fiction. For Akram Pakistan has been wrongfully maligned as a failing state with weak institutions and a center of global jihad.  

In Explaining Pakistan’s Foreign Policy: Escaping India (Routledge, 2011), I argue that the two underlying principles of Pakistan’s foreign policy are a desire to escape an Indian identity and seek a Middle Eastern identity and second, seek parity with India. Munir appears to make my point when he argues: “Normalization between Pakistan and India can be achieved only if Pakistan pursues an equal relationship.”

In my book I demonstrate how this desire for parity is reflected in three arenas: conventional military parity, nuclear parity and the economic arena. In his article Munir asserts that Pakistan needs “military balance” because India’s military build up “poses an ever growing threat to Pakistan’s security and needs to be neutralized, either through arms control or a reciprocal defensive build-up.”

In the nuclear arena, Munir argues for the use of battlefield or tactical nuclear weapons and missiles by stating “Pakistan cannot be deterred by Western admonishments from taking measures, including short- and long-range missiles, to deter Indian aggression or adventurism.”

Coming to the arena of trade, Munir argues that the “field has to be leveled” before the two sides can trade. Munir chooses to ignore the fact that while India offered Pakistan Most Favored Nation (MFN) status in 1996, Pakistan has yet to offer it to India. Further, in the context of India, Pakistan’s government has changed MFN to NDMA (Non Discriminatory Market Access). For Pakistan even trade with India involves identity and nationalism.

Both Afghanistan and India have long requested that Pakistan allow them transit trade. India seeks land access to Afghanistan and Central Asia for trade and energy and these countries seek access to India. However, Pakistan has refused to provide this access.

According to Munir Pakistan cannot provide such transit “until the issue of Indian subversion through the BLA (Baluchistan Liberation Army) and the TTP (Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan) has been resolved.”

Munir and the Pakistani establishment, refuse to acknowledge the problem of Baluch irredentism preferring to see it simply as an Indian conspiracy. Similarly, the TTP and other jihadi groups in Pakistan are also blamed on foreign powers like India, Afghanistan and the United States.  

Pakistan’s foreign policy technocratic-military-intelligence establishment has always sought to keep Kashmir at the heart of the India-Pakistan dispute. China and India have placed their border issue on the back burner and moved ahead with economic and diplomatic ties. Pakistan has, however, refused to follow the example of its dearest friend China.

At the August 23 talks the key issue to be discussed will be terrorism. Pakistan has always insisted that Kashmir is the central issue of discussion, whereas India has insisted that it is terrorism. For Munir the talks between the NSAs scheduled for August 23mean that Pakistan is losing the narrative and India is winning.

Not only does Munir insist that Kashmir is critical he justifies previous Pakistani support for attempts to wrest Kashmir from India and asserts that this will continue. According to him, India’s policies will lead to “another Kashmiri revolt” and “Islamabad would not be able to restrain support flowing to a new Kashmiri insurgency even if it wanted to.” This would be a repeat of 1965 and 1999 wars.

Pakistan’s establishment has always sought to limit civilian influence in foreign policy. In recent years whenever Pakistan’s civilian politicians attempted to changed foreign policy there has been a pushback from the military-intelligence establishment. Munir’s central thesis is that the “naïve” civilians do not know how to run foreign policy and that in order to “normalize” foreign policy there is a need to “integrate” the security establishment into foreign policy making i.e. let the military and intelligence make the decisions.