National Interest
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There are two challenges when you talk about Pakistan today. First, whether you focus on the history, geography or politics. And second, whatever tack you choose, where do you begin? I could have begun this National Interest, for example, with 2019, today, as Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman returned home. I could have also chosen 2009, 1999, 1989 or 1979.

I am taking you back, instead to 1969, don’t worry, you will be back soon to Friday, 1 March 2019.

It was in 1969, that Muslim countries, smarting under Israel’s spectacular victory in the Six-Day War of 1967, decided to form the Organisation of Islamic Conference (now Cooperation). Indira Gandhi wasn’t about to stay out and decided to send minister Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed (later President of India) as the head of the Indian delegation.

Her move was thwarted by an outraging Pakistan. It found sympathy in the Ummah. The Islamic world accepted the logic that there could be no OIC without the country with the largest Muslim population in the world at the time. Remember, Pakistan was yet undivided. India was left rejected and humiliated.

Jump exactly 50 years, as we had promised, to 1 March 2019. Watch External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj holding forth at the OIC summit as an honoured guest. She delivered a finely-crafted speech, which underlined India as a home to the third-largest Muslim population in the world. She said they were integral to India’s diversity, and less than 100 of them had joined ISIS.

Of course, there will be many valid arguments and qualifications here, over her party’s marginalisation and “otherisation” of the mainstream Indian Muslim and demonisation of the Kashmiri. But please do not overlook the significance of a top woman leader of a conservative Hindu nationalist Indian government saying this to the world’s Muslims. Even more, you can’t miss the supreme irony of a sulking Pakistan staying out of this OIC summit in protest against the invitation to India.

Fifty years ago, Pakistan had the power to veto India’s presence at the premier Islamic alliance. Today, all it can do is express hollow peeve and humiliation with a boycott. How did Pakistan, which calls itself the “Citadel of Islam” (Islam ka Qila), with its nukes and missiles, 20 crore Muslims, get itself in such a sorry place? Think about it.


Also read: Bilateralism has failed. India can make peace with Pakistan only with big-power guarantees


I will now drag you back 40 years, to 1979. Pakistan lost the 1971 war and broke up. It was still rebuilding itself — and quite well — when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. This brought in America and its allies, including Saudi Arabia and China, and what is now called the Af-Pak region became the hottest battlefield of the Cold War. Pakistan was their willing, capable and indispensable ally. This started the process of easy and free re-arming of the Pakistani military, strengthening new dictator Zia-ul Haq who, over time, began to see himself as the true commander of this jihad.

The new power had gone to his head. If they could lead this war against a superpower, why couldn’t they do so against India? This grew into a kind of national hubris. Please note again that militancy began in Indian Punjab in 1981, the AK-47s appeared the following year, and then the RPG-7 grenade-launchers. These were standard Afghan jihad weapons.

I made my first visit to Pakistan as this phase was peaking, in the summer of 1985, to cover the trial of Sikh hijackers of an Indian Airlines aircraft. I was awed by the difference in the levels of ordinary people’s prosperity, quality of life, infrastructure, even the quality of telecom services, which were like oxygen for journalists in the pre-internet era. In short, the average Pakistani lived much better than the Indian in 1985. Data tells you why. Pakistan’s per capita income then was about 60 per cent higher than India’s.

Apologies for doing this to you again, but leapfrog to 2019. Now, the average Indian earns about 25 per cent more than the Pakistani. How did the Pakistanis, despite their new-found geo-strategic value for those winning the Cold War, lose a 60 per cent head start and slip so far behind? That gap is increasing almost by five percentage points every year. The Indian economy is growing by about three percentage points faster than Pakistan’s, whose population is rising at twice the pace of India’s. The net result is that near-five per cent, steady differential in per capita GDP.

How did we get here? Zulfikar Ali Bhutto famously threatened a 1,000-year war on India. In the 50 of these since 1969, Pakistan has so lost its pre-eminence that even its Ummah prefers India to it. In the 40 years since it embraced jihad, it has ruined its economy. But wait, this isn’t the whole price Pakistan has paid for this permanent blood feud with India. Keep adding.

By 1989, the defeated Soviets were negotiating their retreat from Afghanistan. A victorious Pakistani establishment instinctively turned its attention east. This is precisely when the ongoing troubles in Jammu and Kashmir began. The self-styled Ghazis in khaki were now going to win the jihad that really mattered to them. The next three years were the bloodiest. Kashmir and Punjab counted corpses by the thousands.

But Pakistan grappled with some internal changes. Democratic forces fought back often, and Zia’s legatees were engaged in an internal tussle with politicians. Nawaz Sharif, originally an army favourite, preferred peace. He dared, exactly a decade after the insurgency in Kashmir was launched, to make peace with Vajpayee, in January 1999. His army responded by infiltrating Kargil that winter.

Pakistan lost that war and two more important things: One, the larger global view that Kashmir was a disputed territory now ended. There was new unanimity that the Line of Control was the de facto border and must be respected. Second, the same year, Pakistan lost its hard-earned democracy again as Pervez Musharraf toppled Nawaz. In those 10 years, therefore, Pakistan lost its moral cause on Kashmir and returned to military rule. All because of that one self-destructive obsession.

We have come a long way since. With the madness of 26/11, Pakistan earned the awful but well-deserved status as the locus of global jihad. Then, as during Kargil and post-Parliament attack standoffs, India had the world on its side by acting responsibly and not retaliating. Today, India has the world, including Saudi Arabia and UAE, on its side even after it retaliated.

Let’s make a balance sheet. In 50 years, Pakistan lost its pre-eminence in the Islamic world. The Arabs are counselling restraint to it, Iran is hostile. In the past 40 years, its per capita income has suffered almost a 90 per cent net deficit relative to India and the gap is rising. In the past 30, it has lost its campaigns in Indian Punjab and Kashmir, and permanently embedded jihadis in its cities and institutions. And in the last two decades, the LoC has become the de facto border in Kashmir, nobody has any patience with terror as an instrument of policy, there isn’t even a token disapproval of India bombing Pakistan’s mainland, and most importantly, India and the world have called its nuclear bluff.

Imran Khan can carry on as in the past, or take fresh guard and begin a new innings. It will be risky, but there is a chance of success if he dares. If he doesn’t, two things are guaranteed: Failure for him, and continuous slide for his nation despite its talented people, strong nationalism, gift of geography and a formidable army. That’s the bottom-line.


Also read: India has called Pakistan’s nuclear bluff again, but Modi cannot become complacent


Check out My543, our comprehensive report card of all Lok Sabha MPs.


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24 COMMENTS

  1. You are being less critical of modi these days.
    What is the reason? Is it to woo modi supporters, who are large in numbers and make ‘The Print’ a leading news channel? Please comment.
    Dont consider me of either of the two blocs viz. Modi and Anti-Modi.
    Thank you.

  2. Locus of jihad. One important fact left out. The fact that Bin laden and others living in its soil even after a global search was in play.

  3. It is futile to keep digging past in the Indo-pak relation. It is time to look forward. First, Imran khan is not capt of Pak cricket team to take his decision.He has been hand picked by Pak army to deliver on India. Yes, believe it or not, Pak army wants Imran to deliver on India because the generous american dollar tap to the Pak Generals ls shut for good. This was the main motive to keep Kashmir pot boiling as also keeping the anti-India narrative alive.Only problem is Kashmir on which they can’t change the stand at least not overnight.So they want Imran with large following in India to resolve on Kashmir too.. Latest Ind-Pak position is that of unstable equilibrium in which though India has successfully set its message across against cross-border terror but the solution is nowhere in sight given rigid irreconcilable position on either side on K..The OIC resolution on K only makes the position abundantly clear and is of no use for India.So what should India do ?Never even for a moment think of or consider dialogue for peace with Pak unless India is ready to compromise on K.Keep Pak at an arms length thru all the different means and let Pak come up with first concrete move on peace. On the part of India ,kep open option of similar Balakot response in case of terror attack in the short run.Long term ?India and China both are nuclear but how India sees itself vis-a-vis China even when China disrespects India ?Now consider Ind-Pak binary. Does Pak sees itself same way vis-a-vis India ? No.The way Pak retaliated next day after balakot certainly doesn’t suggest that..So India must become to Pak militarily what China is to India.Till that time it has to go on like this and there is no solution.

  4. Excellent read. Thank you. Sadly some people commenting here have such a shallow understanding of India-Pakistan relations, and are so quick to make a judgment as if they know the Pakistan’s PM on a one to one basis, as if Pulwama could have been avoided if Gavaskar and Kapil Dev’s were allowed to visit Pakistan.

  5. Superb., SG..As usual.. Pakistan wants Kashmir to boil.. Present dispensation wants to get re elected.. So, is all these things happening is a win win for both of them ??

  6. Prof PK Sharma, Freelance Journalist,Barnala (Punjab)

    I am impressed with the sub-title and concluding para of this week’s edition of the NATIONAL INTEREST !
    Both highlight two silver linings : One- Take Fresh Guard and the Other One – A Chance Of Success If He Dares !

    Shekhar Sahib, there is a well-known saying, ” It is only the brave who deserve the fair.”

    Pakistan Prime Minister -World Cricket Cup Winning Captain Imran Khan is the harbinger of hope to strive to
    usher in an aura of peace and development in the Indian Sub-Continent ! He is brimming with ideas, vision,
    seriousness and farsightedness to translate his positive and constructive ideas into actuality !

    Why not to encourage and pat his back in this direction ? Things can undergo a change for the better who knows
    when and how ? It is not desirable on your part all the time to be haunted by past record and history of Pakistan
    hammering the same outdated remark that democratically elected Pak Prime Minister cannot overrule the army
    establishment earlier on calling the shots ! Time does not always remain the same !

    We should not overlook the fact that every nation or for that matter any organisation has phases in its annals-
    some bright as well as some bad too ! History bears testimony to the fact that even mighty regimes too had
    their bad patches . The last phase of twentieth century saw the disintegration of world power USSR !

    We cannot expect miracles overnight, but one thing is quite evident that Imran Khan is reflecting signs of positivity,
    innovation and saner thoughts to leap forward taking strides to act in present to better the future !

    In this story, I find a shift in your view-point when you asserted that concept of Jihad has very adversely affected the
    economy of Pakistan but in the Apex Court’s verdict pertaining to Sabarimala Temple issue in the National Interest
    edition in the issue in question you had strongly advocated that issues of faith could not be decided by the courts of
    law ! It can be safely argued that Jihad is Jihad whatever be the plight of economy how does it matter for Jihadis ?

    Then you are amused that Saudi Arabia and UAE have moved on to the side and advantage of India in wake of Mrs.
    Sushma Swaraj ‘s art of eloquence in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Summit .We should not live in fools’
    paradise at all because nothing is hard and fast in the world. As it is very often remarked about the game of politics
    that there are no permanent friends and foes in politics same is also true of diplomacy in the world nowadays !

    It is sans any doubt in the interest of India to strengthen Imran Khan’s hands ! Forgetting black past, Imran be trusted
    and tested because what he says he means too ! He alongwith Pak Army Chief Bajwa did show a gesture of opening the
    Kartarpur corridor towards India ! Blaming Pakistan for all the ills and evils in our polity and society will not serve the
    purpose of coming to terms with the menace of terrorism and insurgency in the Kashmir valley !

    Otherwise, what are the options before India !

    Hostility towards Pakistan, Congress Chief Rahul Gandhi dynasty, Ms.Mamta Banerjee, Mr.Chanderbabu Naidu, Ms. Mayawati,
    Mr. Akhikesh Yadav and what not in India, do we hope to conquer the world in this fashion ?

    Prof PK Sharma, Freelance Journalist
    Pom Anm Nest,Barnala (Punjab)

    • Professor,
      I am not sure how much you have read about Pakistani state. If you had done your research, you would know that Prime Ministers in Pakistan don’t matter. They are selected by the Army. This PM Imran Khan too was selected in a massively rigged election in which the most popular leader Nawaz sharief was put in jail prior to elections. PM Khan is a mere puppet parroting out the lines written by the Army and ISI (loosely called the Establishment in Paksitan).
      so, it does not matter if you pat Khan’s back or rear end, it is not going to make an iota of difference.
      I would suggest you to watch videos of Ms Christina Fair who has a good grasp of Pakistan.

  7. Pakistan would gain enormously from better relations with India, something which PM Imran Khan genuinely believes. As a student of the history of modern Pakistan and its democratic evolution, he also understands his limitations and the vested interest of the army in preserving the status quo, short of outbreak of war.2. India too has lost by having two hostile neighbours. It would be difficult to assign all the blame for this to the other side. In recent years, it is almost as if we have begun to feel that this is a desirable state of affairs. 3. If all Mission Balakot has achieved is two craters in the forest, two in a farmer’s field, we need to ask ourselves if such a huge risk, moving beyond restraints / consensus that has been in place since 1971, was justified. We cannot discount or discard the wisdom and patience of previous governments that too have faced provocations from Pakistan. The imminence of the general election was another important factor that counselled patience. Such a paradigm shift is the prerogative of a newly installed government that can see through the consequences of its decisions. 4. As with most of the rest of our foreign policy, a lot of reworking is required in the outreach to Pakistan. That would be a priority for the next government. 5. A very small post script. It is a wonderful coincidence that Pakistan’s Prime Minister was a world class cricketer, who has many friends in India. Not allowing Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev to attend his swearing in ceremony, a small, austere affair, was small hearted. He has goodwill in his heart for Indians. We should build on that.

  8. Dear Shekhar
    I never liked your articles as you were/are biased in favour of certain ideologies and has more often than not tried to keep all your artcles interlinked directly/indirectly to the same ideology.
    However, this article is very different and refreshing . Yes Pakistan has slipped and very steeply…but why Indian growth rate was called HINDU GROWTH rate and ridiculed at every forum needs afresh deliberation and some answering from Nehru dyansty….

  9. Sir do you have a separate app of yours contents only ? If yes pls provide link of it …
    Your balanced yet critical views over the issues are really good.

  10. Well written. Quite a few succinct, valid points made. Except for one. India by it’s two recent actions, surgical strike on terror camps in PoK followed by air raid at Balakot has proved that the story of Pak army being formidable is a myth, it’s more of bluff & blaster than reality.

  11. This is the vintage Shekhar Gupta, the one we grew to admire. Take a bow, SG, your article’s facts and fluency had me on the edge of the chair all through. Good day.

  12. What you mean by dare is if he can tame the army…. Something both Nawaz and Benazir have tried and failed! A very long shot but something everyone hopes happens.

  13. India’s “Hindu” “woman” addressed OIC. Mr. Gupta nothing to gloat about it. It neither says that Islamic countries allowed a “woman” to address the gathering means that these countries have made huge compensation to India as women in Islamic countries have made great strides as they have done in rest of the world.
    And if a “Hindu” from a hardcore Hindutava government is allowed to address IOC it is plain good business. Condition of Muslims in India are worse than the worst as brought out in Sachar Committee Report. Human Rights violation against Muslims have increased under the present regime and this government tries to score a brownie over it’s numerical strength. Nothing could be more ironical and painful and yet you are eulogizing it. Kudos. Of course you need to survive and thrive.

    • There is not even the smallest evidence that “Muslims” in India are or were prevented from studying or progressing. Nobody forced Muslims into poverty. Everyone has to work hard on their own to come up. Look at the UR class Hindus who are subjected to all kinds of discrimination and atrocities in the name of Social Justice. Yet they work hard and try to compete. Just take one example – the Pre and Post Matric Scholarships, which poor Minorities get but is denied to poor UR class Hindu children. Have u ever heard of a single politician condemning such brazen discrimination? Not once in the past ten years.

  14. What the hell you are talking about Mr SG….. No civilian government has any say in Pakistan……. The monster ISI, and Army have the total sway over the economy, foreign affairs etc…. Then how come you think that Imran Khan, the first Non Punjabi, supported by Army, can come out of the shadows of the powerful Army……

    • @rajiv bhai,IK is one of the important pieces on the Chessboard and we have to depend on it, how so ever weak it may be.
      Mr SG simply superb analysis. Each sentence is worth a Gold Guiny.

  15. You miss the point by a mile! It was during the Afghan campaign under Zia supported by CIA that the Pakistani Army discovered the key to a good life: riches without risks. Forget all statistics about per capital income, infant mortality etc and try to find out the net worth of each Pakistani general. Corner plots are a cliche, they have villas in Dubai, apartments in London, large overseas bank accounts. Spend their time either on the golf course or handling too jobs in Fauji Corporation. They live in luxury with large retinues of orderlies to fetch their evening tipple. Their children study in the UK or USA… most have or are working towards Green Cards. You seriously expect to give all this up for peace with India?

    • Well said. And very true, too — Park Lane in London, one of the toniest addresses, is actually Pak Lane.! So many Paki generals have bought apartments there.

    • Absolutely correct. And this is also the reason why Pakistan’s nuclear threat is hollow. The present status quo suited them best. Carrying out sub-conventional war, with no retaliation from India, due to a so called nuclear war threat. Hopefully India’s response has changed for good.

  16. 1. If Kashmir is flash point, we should be able to find a solution to move forward. But what I feel is that no one is having any solution to solve the Kashmir issue, as it is not at all an easy task. 2. There is no denying that situation in the Kashmir valley is serious. Who is responsible for worsening situation in Kashmir? It is of course easy to blame the Indian Army but no one knows how to control violence in Kashmir without use of force. Former chief ministers of Jammu & Kashmir and many other politicians, political analysts think that without a dialogue with Pakistan we cannot solve the Kashmir issue. Kashmir’s separatists who have formed the Hurriyat Conference too wish to get Pakistan on board for such a dialogue. 3. I believe we have to accept certain ground realities before we could think of finding a lasting solution for the Kashmir issue. Realities are: (a) No Indian government, not even formed by the Secular Third Front will be able to discuss the Kashmir issue with Pakistan without taking into consideration past armed conflicts with Pakistan and the Simla agreement (b) India may not be in a position to ensure that terrorism is eliminated from Pakistan as terror outfits like JeM, JuD, LeT and Pakistani Taliban are freely used to create disturbances in India and for this purpose even innocent Kashmiri youth are being used. 4. If we really wish to avoid confrontation with Pakistan on the Kashmir issue, we must be in a position to end bloodshed in the Kashmir valley and for that we must make efforts to minimize impact of the Pakistan funded terror. 5. One wishes that former chief ministers of Jammu & Kashmir like Ms Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah accept risk of being overpowered by fundamentalists, whose agenda is not Kashmiris’ ‘azadi’, but making Kashmir part of Islamic nation called Pakistan. 5. It is said that ‘azadi’ for Kashmir is ordinary Kashmiri’s wish. It is fine. I say that if such azadi is within our Constitutional framework, case for grant of such azadi can certainly be considered. 6. I wonder if there is no presence of our Army in Kashmir valley, what can happen. Ordinary Kashmiris will be targeted and thrown out of their homes and they will have no place to go except other safer regions rest of Kashmir, including Jammu and neighbouring states like Haryana and Punjab. Hence, I think the earlier the political leaders, former chief ministers, etc of J & K recognise this possibility, better it will be for return of peace to Kashmir valley.

  17. I suggest Imran Khan to “take a fresh guard and ” begin a fresh innings”. That is better for both the countries, India as well as Pakistan. The Indian sub-continant would become a world model in all respect – social, economical and political. Hope Modi and Imran would jointly start a new innings.

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