It’s so comfortable, safe and gainful to dismiss even a serious policy statement produced by the Pakistani establishment as a load of rubbish. Old wine (oops, lassi) in old bottle. That’s been the default position on the Indian side for a long time. It is fully reciprocated, if more rudely, by the Pakistanis. Looking at the Pakistani National Security Division’s latest National Security Policy document released Friday, we are avoiding that temptation.
There are three reasons commending a serious read of the document. One, that it is short, just 48 pages in large, legible type. There’s more, but that’s confidential. So, thank you. Second, most of it is just faff, virtue-signalling platitudes. So, easy to skip, and thank you again. And third, it still has nuggets that anyone on the Indian side would find useful to reflect on and debate.
Unless, the only debates you participate in are the ones on our warrior channels. Why even bother reading what that ‘evil establishment’ has written. Who takes them seriously?
We do not have the scholarship to tell you exactly what Chanakya might have said on this. So much is attributed to him, as to Sun Tzu and Confucius, that it is impossible to tell fact from fiction. We will play safe and borrow an idea from former top civil servant and fine thought leader Anil Swarup, who prolifically tweets sharp points hashtagged #Chanakyadidntsay. So here is another thing Chanakya definitely did not say, whisper to Chandragupta, or write in any of his treatises: Never talk to your adversary, never read their lips, and definitely never read anything they publish, especially on their strategic vision. Chanakya, on the contrary, would have wanted us Indians to make a close study of this. Even if it wasn’t a mere 48 pages in large type, with exactly 113 words on Kashmir.
Chaff is easy to discard from this document. Since it is the most of it. But if you do not allow our old contempt for the Pakistani establishment to cloud your curiosity, you might find these five nuggets. Let’s go over these by turn in some detail.
• That Kashmir merits only 113 words and is among the smaller segments in this plan document is curious. And what it contains is less important than what it doesn’t. There isn’t, to begin with, any demand for the reversal of the 5 August 2019 changes made by India in the status of Jammu & Kashmir. Does it mean Pakistan is moving away from Imran Khan’s oft-repeated precondition for any resumption of normalcy? Or could it be, that going by the popular belief in India, Imran is so dim that he hasn’t even read the plan? He has, by the way, written the foreword to it. He had also pushed back earlier last year when his army had supported the idea of resumption of trade with India. First meet my preconditions on Kashmir, he’d said. This document, signed by his National Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf, makes a departure.
Further, what do they want on Kashmir? It takes me back to my first interview for India Today in 1991 with Nawaz Sharif, soon after he became prime minister for the first time. He fielded questions about all issues warmly. But when I asked him about Kashmir, he turned to his information adviser Mushahid Hussain (now a senator), and said with a charming grin, ‘Kashmir par Mushahid Sahib, woh kya kehte hain hum, aap hee bataayein (on Kashmir, Mushahid Sahib, what is the line we always take? You better restate it).” What Mushahid Hussain exactly said, I cannot repeat. But it would’ve fitted in about 113 words. More or less the same words as in this document. From Imran 2019 to Nawaz 1991 is an important walk back. You can read that Kashmir para here.
• The emphasis on the economy as the main bedrock of national security is interesting. We can see Pakistan is hurting economically, with internal instability and global indifference. This comes exactly in the weeks when it is involved in humiliating negotiations with the IMF for further disbursals from the sanctioned loan. Pakistan’s 11th since 1993. Now, now, we know that Imran said earlier this week that Pakistan’s economy was in a better place than India’s, but he certainly isn’t saying that to IMF. Pakistan is finding it much too onerous to fulfil its ‘conditionalities’ fuelling inflation and popular resentment. It has asked for the IMF Board meeting to be deferred to the end of this month, as it weighs the risks in losing this bailout or raising prices of goods, utilities, taxes, and passing a new law guaranteeing the autonomy of its central bank.
This emphasis on the economy, internal stability, threat from sectarian strife and internal separatist movements underlines a much more inward-looking Pakistan than we’ve seen for three decades now.
• It is fascinating how this Pakistani establishment looks at the world. When you start reading, Afghanistan, China, India, Iran, you might think for a moment that this is a straight alphabetical listing of the countries Pakistan considers important. But this list ends with Iran, to be followed by ‘Rest of the World’. That is where the US features. America consigned to the rest of the world? By one it called stalwart ally (George W. Bush). Would you have imagined? Unless you think that’s the price Joe Biden is paying for not having made that phone call to Imran Khan yet.
• And what does it say about America? That much as it cherishes the ties, Pakistan does not subscribe to “camp politics”. Which is a bit rich for the only nation in the subcontinent to have formally become a member of multi-national military-strategic alliances. And all of these, SEATO and CENTO with the Americans. Even now, they are treaty-bound security allies. Again, will this change if there is that phone call from Biden?
Pakistan says that it does not like the current reality where its ties with the US are purely located in counter-terrorism cooperation. This is translated as, must you keep seeing me only as a global migraine? The frustration over the indifference of the oldest ally and patron is evident. It reflects again when the document talks about India, and complains that counter-proliferation restrictions on it have been lifted.
• Which is our fifth and last takeaway. There is more than one reference to the ideology currently ruling and driving India. There is the mention of ‘Hindutva politics’, which needs hostility to Pakistan as the centre-point of India’s internal politics. There is also a fear expressed that an India driven by this ideology could try enforcing one-sided solutions. Or warfare could break out, whether conventional or, interestingly, of the ‘no-contact’ variety. Now what do the authors mean here, they don’t elaborate. It could be a reference to cyber warfare, stand-off weapons (which ultimately would still lead to ‘contact’ of some kind), or political campaigns and pressures as in key foreign capitals and multilateral bodies such as IMF. We can’t say for sure right now. Except that these apprehensions need to be taken note of.
Pakistan is hurting, looking inwards, and needs breathing space. It is realising the loss of global stature and friendship with the US, which is unidimensional and limited to: You better ensure your territory is of no further nuisance to me. And third, that after having pushed back at his army thrice last year, on trade with India, air-space access to the US for operations in Afghanistan and the appointment of the new ISI chief, Imran Khan is listening to it. At least for now, because his politics and popularity have derailed.