By Devirupa Mitra
Former Pakistan ambassador to the US and
well-known academic scholar Husain Haqqani believes that the current round of
troubles in Kashmir will not have a different outcome than in the past, with
the disputed region seeing yet another cyclical period of unrest and trading of
barbs between Indian and Pakistan.
Author of books on Pakistan’s internal
actors and ties with the US, Haqqani’s latest, India vs Pakistan: Why Can’t We
Just be Friends?, explores the dysfunctional relationship between New Delhi and
Islamabad. Haqqani has long advocated that India and Pakistan should talk to
each other despite disagreeing over core issues so that progress can be made on
other important and less controversial areas. “India and Pakistan are unique in
the sense that we have the attitude that until and unless, everything is
resolved, nothing will be resolved and that is never the way forward,” he said.
Speaking to The Wire, Haqqani was rather
pessimistic about any reconciliation between India and Pakistan, noting that current
“circumstances” didn’t enable either Prime Ministers Narendra Modi or Nawaz
Sharif to do much diplomatic outreach. While Pakistan was already dominated by
a certain nationalist narrative pushed by the army, Haqqani also saw similar
signs of Hindutva nationalist redefinition in India, which could further fuel
any possibility of a sustained peace process.
With Modi set to travel to Pakistan for the
SAARC summit in November, Haqqani advised him to keep it very low-key. “This
relationship has gone bad in a 70-year period. It is not going to get better in
a 70-hour interaction in a SAARC conference and that is something we need to
tell our people.”
Where do you place the current troubles
in Kashmir in the arc of the India-Pakistan story? Is this an old pattern or do
you see any new elements in this situation?
India does definitely have a Kashmir
problem. The fact that Pakistan has destroyed its international case on Kashmir
by destroying jihadi groups does not take away from the fact that India will
someday have to deal with the unrest among Kashmiri Muslims. That said, the
current round of troubles is not going to end differently than the previous
It will be unfortunate for a lot of people
in Kashmir. A lot of force will have to be deployed to deal with it. There will
be the usual recriminations between India and Pakistan, with Pakistan
emphasising Indian atrocities and India emphasising Pakistani support for
extremism and terrorism. Yet, it will certainly not result in a solution. Something
that has been happening cyclically for 70 years will not end differently from
the previous cycles.
But the use of social media, the
striking pictures of Burhan Wani’s funeral all over Kashmir, don’t you think
there is a different spirit among the Kashmiri underground that has come to
Kashmir has been a restive for quite a
while. Every few years, India puts in effort into winning over Kashmiris and
there is a period of relative calm. But, until and unless the undercurrent of
unhappiness in Kashmir is addressed, this will just be something that will
The reason that I don’t think the unrest is
strong enough to result in an outcome different from the past is simply because
of the balance of forces in the Valley.
Part of the Kashmir problem seems to be is
that the state of Jammu and Kashmir as incorporated in the Indian constitution
has become two very distinct regions. The Kashmir Valley feels a certain way
and Jammu feels a certain way. And politics within the Indian-controlled part
of Kashmir ends up creating a sense of unhappiness in one or the other part of
As far as the dispute between India and
Pakistan over Jammu and Kashmir is concerned, such restiveness in the past has
always been interpreted in Pakistan as an opportunity to try and change the
status quo. But I do not see the status quo changing, simply because I think
that India will be able to bring to bear tremendous force. I think that is
unfortunate. I think that it is sometimes unjust. But, just as within Pakistan,
extreme elements are dealt with a lot of force successfully. A similar process
can and will continue to take place also in the Indian controlled parts of
Jammu and Kashmir.
Indians must understand just as in 1971,
Pakistan would not have lost East Pakistan if the people of East Pakistan were
not unhappy with the state of Pakistan. Similarly, in Jammu and Kashmir, there
would not be protests of this scale, unhappiness of this scale, unless they
have genuine grievances. And young Kashmiris do have grievances.
Militarisation of any area results in
grievances. So those grievances exist. At the same time, there is always a
pragmatic and realistic assessment of the situation. And my assessment is that
we will not see an outcome very different from the past.
How much do you think the Indian
government, state or central, erred in addressing the situation?
I would not address that question myself. I
will just refer to many Indian commentators who feel that the Jammu and Kashmir
state government, as well as, the Indian government have not always handled
Kashmir sensibly. And they have created circumstances for unhappiness and
unrest, which then they had to deal with tremendous force.
And this situation will repeat again and
I am afraid that it will happen again.
Basically, the people of Kashmir have been a football between Pakistan, the
state policy of Jammu and Kashmir and the Indian central government. Kashmir is
one of the most highly militarised zones of the world. People are unhappy on
both sides of the Line of Control and it is not a happy situation. Human rights
violations are a reality. Yet, we all know that there is a logic of power. And
the logic of power favours the status-quo.
Kashmiris could end up being the
Palestinians of South Asia. But, we know that even the Palestinians with all
the international support that they had could not get what they wanted. And in
the case of Jammu and Kashmir, there is not even that level of international
support that exists in the Palestinian question.
Ideally, the people of Kashmir should be
heard. The various governments and entities that deal with their lives like the
Azad Kashmir government in Pakistan, federal government of Pakistan, the state
government of Indian controlled Jammu and Kashmir, Indian central government –
they should all act more sensibly that they have done historically. But I do
not see that happening. It is something that I would want, but will it happen…I
am not too optimistic.
So, do you have any hope of ever seeing
any kind of solution – in your lifetime, perhaps?
No, my lifetime is too long. I actually
hope that I have a few more years to live. I hope that there can be a better,
more pragmatic outlook.
Look the curse of South Asia is a constant
defining and redefining of nationalism. In 1947, for example, there was a
competition between Indian nationalism and Muslim nationalism that resulted in
the creation of Pakistan. In 1971, Muslim nationalism was challenged in East
Pakistan, which led to the creation of Bangladesh. It was challenged by Bengali
nationalism. Now, we are seeing a rise of Hindu nationalism, which is inspiring
Muslim nationalism all over again.
I am a pragmatic moderate and I think that
hard-line ideology of all sorts actually hurts human beings. The subcontinent is
mired in ideological politics. So, my assessment is very different from my
desire. My desire is that people should resolve issues in a pragmatic manner,
but at the moment, ideological and emotional politics prevails, that creates
the difficulties that you and I are discussing.
What kinds of circumstances are required
for such a solution? Does this require a change in polity in Pakistan and
Pakistan has to stop thinking of itself as
an ideological state. Pakistan has to accept that it exists, that it does not
need to explain its existence or justify its creation anymore. That may have
been necessary in 1947-48, but it is not necessary in 2016. Pakistan is there
and it must make policies that are for the betterment of its own people.
Pakistanis must realise that in 1947, Pakistan’s literacy rate was 16% and
India was 18% – a 2% difference. Today, there is a 22% difference between India
and Pakistan’s literacy rates. India’s economy is growing faster. Pakistan’s
exports are falling. Pakistan needs to start looking inward to find a route
towards prosperity. There is no need to continue the narrative that Pakistani
nationalism has to be, by definition, anti-India.
On the Indian side, people have to
understand the psychology that has driven Pakistan towards paranoid policies
and a policy driven by fear. And instead of rejecting the fear, even if you
want to reject it, do it in a manner that does not feed the paranoia further. I
think that it will require a level of statesmanship, which does not exist at the
Wouldn’t it also require a change in
balance between the military and civilians in Pakistan itself?
Pakistan’s nationalism currently is defined
by militarism. Pakistan inherited a much larger share of the British Indian
army than the share it inherited of British India’s resources. We got only 17%
of resources, but 33% of the army. The army has been the dominant reality. Even
now, retired military officers write more in the Pakistani media than retired
military officers write in any [other] country’s media. They act as if they are
the guardians of Pakistan’s identity. And they have defined Pakistan’s identity
in a certain way in which ‘anti-Indianism’ is more important.
I often say that if Pakistan can survive 69
years without its jugular vein, which is what Pakistanis call Kashmir, it can
survive for a few more years. So let us pay more attention to what can be
resolved rather than chasing issues that cannot be resolved. But, that said
sometimes, it is too simplistic to just blame the Pakistani army. Yes, it is
under the influence of the Pakistan army that Pakistan has developed a certain
narrative of nationalism. But, that has become the dominant narrative and it
also affects the civilians. Civilian ascendancy is important. [The]
consolidation of civilian rule in Pakistan is important. It will take a long,
long time. At the same time, military’s intellectual and ideological influence
over the civilians also has to diminish.
So, the military has already relinquished
direct control in Pakistan, but its influence at an ideological and
intellectual level is still all pervasive.
Pakistan’s military controls the narrative
of Pakistan and very frankly, all countries should allow multiple narratives
and I would say that it applies to India also. Ideological states try to create
a straitjacket of ideas. That never serves them. China has prospered much more
after it opened itself a little and started questioning Mao Tse Tung and his
policies, even while looking back at history. The Communist Party of China has
changed its vision of China – even though it still remains the dominant force
[In] Burma, the military for many years
defined what Burmese nationalism was. Now they have opened it up to different
Pakistan has opened up a space in terms of
sharing political power with civilians. But, it has not yet opened up the
battle of ideas completely. So, people like me who have a slightly different
view of Pakistani nationalism, who love their country but still think that the
country should have a very different set of objectives and goals are not
necessarily welcome. A lot of people in Pakistan, who say that Pakistan should
have a different worldview, are targeted as traitors and even as sometime as
Kafirs, unbelievers. That is not conducive to progress.
So, I would say that while the Pakistani
military has definitely moved forward in sharing power, it has not yet moved
forward in sharing control of the national narrative.
Talking of circumstances required to bring
about a solution – there is a certain theory that a right wing nationalist
government in India is necessary for this mix. Do you subscribe to this?
In my book I have explained many times how
new theories have been propounded. There was a time when Rajiv Gandhi was
elected here [in India] and Benazir Bhutto was elected in Pakistan. [The]
theory was given that ‘both of them are [of the] post-partition generation, so
they will deal with issues differently’. Nothing changed.
Then when Sharif was elected and [Atal
Bihari] Vajpayeeji was elected, people said ‘both represent conservative, right
wing governments’. But that didn’t change anything.
Then when [Pervez] Musharraf came to power,
it was assumed that a military ruler who has full control and wants to have a
dialogue will be able to deliver. Well we heard that there was a very
interesting process of negotiation etc but it never went anywhere. Before a
deal could be consummated, Musharraf went out [of] power.
In my book, India vs Pakistan, I also show
that any Pakistani leader who has been close to a[ny] sort of a deal with India
has always ended losing power in Pakistan. So, that cannot be ignored.
Similarly, India can make peace under a
centrist government, or a left-wing government, or a right-wing government, if
the circumstances are right. And the same applies in the case of Pakistan; I
think that we should focus more on what issues need to be focussed on than who
will be able to bring that peace. In Pakistan, it is important that whoever
controls the rein of power, understands that solving disputes first and then
becoming friends, is always more difficult than becoming friends first and then
solving disputes. Even the closest of friends and allies in the worlds have
disputes. Canada and [the] US have an open border and a free trade agreement
and yet, they have nine outstanding disputes. But that does not interfere in
the normal relationship between the two.
India and Pakistan are unique in the sense
that we have the attitude that until and unless everything is resolved nothing
will be resolved and that is never the way forward.
India has said that Kashmir should be on
the backburner, while both countries deal with other issues like trade.
I personally think that realism demands
that dispute resolution be put off and normal exchange start first. While India
has said it, it has not always facilitated it. India, sometimes justifiably so,
says that we cannot open free travel, for example, because Pakistan will use
that to infiltrate [India with] more terrorists. So, in this case, in India and
Pakistan’s case, a lot is said that both sides know is rhetoric. But, what I am
talking [about] is a great leap forward in [the] relationship, in which both
sides say, you know what, this is not about winning the argument, it is about
winning the peace.
Can Modi and Sharif achieve this great
They might be the statesmen who can do it,
but neither of them have the circumstances that will enable them to do that. I
don’t want to comment on their personalities. Personally, I am not one of them
who believes that history is shaped by individuals. I believe circumstances and
events have a lot of role to play. On neither side of the India-Pakistan border
right now is the situation ripe for that great leap forward.
On the Indian side, India is wrestling with
the idea of what level of cultural and religious identity should play a part in
Indian nationalism. That essentially has repercussions on Pakistan’s side,
because it is interesting that hard-line two-nation theory starts becoming
weak, it starts finding resonance in India. So, if we have to go beyond the
debate of 1940s, both sides have to do it, not just one.
On the Pakistani side, we already know that
the military has a peculiar and particular way of looking at India and it does
not allow people to discuss it, let alone, change it [the view]. So, whatever
the stature of the statesman in charge of Pakistan, the question is can he sell
it to the army; sell the idea to the army and then to the general public, about
how Pakistan and India need peace for economic growth and just for having
Look, nations that are dragged down by the
burden of hate don’t do too well. Nations that free themselves from that, free
themselves from issues of ideology and culture and pursue prosperity and
happiness, they are always happier. If there are going to be disputes over what
people should eat or not eat, and there are going to be murders, that is not a
healthy society. Similarly, if there is a society in which people are killed in
their mosques for belonging to a different sect that is not a healthy society.
I think that both India and Pakistan need to deal with the unhealthy trends in
their respective societies. And until that is done, agreements and shaking
hands between statesmen will not make such a big difference.
There have been 59 summit level meetings
between Pakistani and Indian leaders. If 55 meetings have not changed the
reality of our relationship, [the] 56th meeting or 57th meeting is not going to
change it. Something else needs to be done. We need to take out the poison of
anger and hate towards one another that has permeated our body politic.
You said in your book that Indian
leaders haven’t consistently reached out to the Pakistani public to reassure
them that there is no plan to undo Partition. How does the Indian government
conduct such outreach?
My point is that Indian leaders have
occasionally tried it. When Vajpayee went to Pakistan, he went to
Minar-e-Pakistan to indicate that India accepts Pakistan wholeheartedly. Then,
[L.K.] Advani went to [Muhammad Ali] Jinnah’s tomb and made some positive
comments about him. But then both of them faced backlash in India from people
who said that ‘no, no, no you cannot praise Jinnah or you cannot praise the…
[then] you cannot say the idea of Pakistan is here to stay’. That then becomes
a vicious circle, so people there [in Pakistan] say that these people are not
What I am talking about is a more sustained
expression of the notion that India does not want to finish off Pakistan. That
India or Indians may disagree with the fact of Pakistan having been created,
but they accept that fact. It’s like, in a family, that [people say] ‘I do not
want you to get married to so and so’, but once the marriage has taken place
and children are born, [they] accept those children as their nephews and
nieces. It’s that kind of attitude that is needed.
In my book, I actually cite how Indian
leaders pursued their relationship with Pakistan and how Gandhi envisaged it,
who said that we should treat Pakistan like the member of a joint family that
has gone away and set up its own home. We didn’t want that to happen, but he is
still a member of the family. That may have been a better way for Indians to
So, what I am talking [about] is a
longer-term interaction in which, on a sustained basis, India gives the signal
to Pakistanis – ‘we accept you. You are our neighbour. We were one country
once, but now we are two countries but we have 5000 years of history and only
70 years of partition’. So let’s celebrate the shared history and let us ignore
the disputes that we have created while we are separate.
The Indian prime minister has committed to
visiting Pakistan for the November SAARC summit. But with Kashmir on the boil,
heightened rhetoric on both sides and a still unfinished probe on Pathankot by
the Pakistani side, how do you think the next few weeks will play out for
Modi’s visit to take place?
Well, positive relations cannot emerge
under the threat of terrorism. That is something I have been saying as a Pakistani
to my fellow Pakistanis. On the Indian side, I think that there is a
realisation that you cannot ignore your neighbour completely. That said, I say
that India and Pakistan should continue to engage, but continue to engage with
less expectations, because there is nothing worse than building high
expectations and those expectations being dashed.
Modi went to Lahore, he held Sharif’s hand
and if that had not happened, then Pathankot would not have the same kind of
impact on the Indian psyche, because now there is a feeling of being let down.
So my view is that even if Prime Minister Modi goes to Pakistan for the SAARC
summit, he should do so with low expectations and he should make sure that
Indians understand that he is going there because it is the SAARC summit that
he is not going there with the expectation or hope of a major breakthrough.
This relationship has gone bad over a 70-year period.
is not going to get better in a 70-hour interaction in a SAARC conference and
that is something we need to tell our people. Because when people [are]
expecting ‘wow, something is about to happen that will change everything’, then
that doesn’t happen, disappoint comes in and that disappointment is really bad
for the prospect of this relationship. Engage, engage but less expectation and
continue to work on the big picture which is to reassure each other and to stop
looking at each other as permanent enemies.