India-Pakistan conundrum – Dr Manzur Ejaz

Dr. Manzur Ejaz

Cortesy: WICHAAR, March 9th, 2010

Pakistan, with a regressing economy, cannot keep up with Indian defence outlays even on proportional basis. Therefore, Pakistan has no choice but to detract and pull India back through other means.

Like many last decades, the recent Indo-Pak talks in Delhi did not make any breakthrough. As usual, they provided the forum for both countries to restate their positions. The US can force the horse to the water, but cannot make it drink. As a matter of fact, Indo-Pak reconciliation is becoming more difficult every passing year because of increasing scarcity of water, a mutual desire to pull the other side down, and conflicts riddling societies in both countries. Sometimes it appears that keeping the tensions up serves both sides.

Pakistan was adamant to put the Kashmir and water issues on the agenda, while India was mainly interested in terrorism originating from Pakistan. For Pakistan, the territory of Kashmir may not be as important as the water issue. If the Pakistani claims are valid, then Indian infringements into the rivers running from its territory into Pakistan will leave major parts of Pakistan barren. Agriculture is not possible in Punjab and Sindh without river water. Therefore, unless Pakistan is assured on the supply of water, it will never abandon the proxies that can keep India on its toes by destabilising Kashmir.

Many world experts have predicted that future wars will be fought over water. States within India, like Punjab and Sindh in Pakistan, are continuously at each other’s throats because of this scarce natural resource. If federating units within India and Pakistan cannot forgo their claims, how will the two hostile nations? Therefore, the Indo-Pak dispute over water in the garb of the Kashmir problem is not unique and will not go away unless credible international organisations provide effective guarantees.

Besides the real issue of water, future scenarios are also an unending source of tension. India is growing fast and may want to leave Pakistan behind so that the competition between the two neighbours becomes irrelevant. Following the Reagan strategy against Russia to raise defence expenditures to the level that your enemy breaks down if it tries to compete, India, by military expansion, is forcing Pakistan to follow suit and economically get destroyed.

Pakistan, with a regressing economy, cannot keep up with Indian defence outlays even on proportional basis. Therefore, Pakistan has no choice but to detract and pull India back through other means. Pakistan’s strategy has not worked very well because, despite the Kashmir issue, India has grown steadily. Probably, Pakistan’s military leadership is aware of its unsuccessful strategy and, therefore, trying to strengthen the state institutions to match Indian economic growth. However, it cannot let go of instruments developed to keep India distracted.

Besides the real geographic and economic issues between India and Pakistan, the public opinion in both countries has hardened. The new electronic media, run by not-so-well-groomed people, looks for the easy formula to dub villains in a situation. The Indian media quickly blames Pakistan for any bomb blast in their country and the Pakistani media reflexively traces the tragic incidents on its territory to an Indian conspiracy. The situation has become so messy that it is hard to tell who is doing what.

The public in both countries accept the media versions because of changing public psyche due to internal conflicts and extreme rightwing forces donning the mantle of patriotism. While Pakistan is fighting the Taliban and other jihadi outfits, India is also mired in communal, ethnic and guerrilla insurgency. The Gujarat massacre of Muslims, the Shiv Sena crusade to cleanse Maharashtra and Mumbai of North Indians, and the Maoist guerrilla war are just a few things that have embittered the public psyche. A psyche born out of a constant conflict-ridden atmosphere can easily be turned against other nations.

The right wing’s monopoly over patriotism in Pakistan, a well-entrenched phenomenon, has been replicated in India. The rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), especially the Narendra Modi brand, and the likes of Bal Keshav Thackeray, founder of Shive Sena, have become the standard bearers of national pride. They have pushed the Congress Party to the right as well in pursuit of patriotism. The decline of communist parties in North India has also been responsible for the unchecked rise of a jingoistic style of nationalism. The dynamics of generating hatred are becoming much more powerful than the forces preaching reconciliation within the country and in the international arena.

Settlement of longstanding issues between India and Pakistan is becoming more difficult than it was in the past. The fight over water with hardening public opinion in both countries is further complicating the situation. No one knows how and where the chips are going to fall.

The writer can be reached at

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