Pakistan’s Concept of Strategic Depth, Can Obama make a Difference?

  • Can we learn from Europe’s experience?
  • Internal peace in Pakistan essential
  • Can Obama cement peace in South Asia?

(Vithal Rajan)

Vithal Rajan PhotoMilitary planners in Pakistan have landed themselves in an existential mess by backing their American allies a few decades ago to convert free-living tribals into the Taliban. They took this dangerous step to help create strategic depth in Afghanistan against any Indian offensive. Now, a flaming frontier has appeared on the western border of Pakistan, and extremists from these border regions are eating away the integrity of the state through uncontrollable terrorist incursions even as far east as Lahore. Undoubtedly the people in the heartland of Pakistan, in Sind and Punjab, wish to stabilize their western frontier and bring internal peace to their country. Can the military do this swiftly enough without moving the compass 180 degrees to the locus of threat in the west? Can this be done without refiguring Pakistan’s strategic depth as lying to its east, in India? What will it take the governments of both countries to achieve this shift in policy and military thinking?

The political animosity of over sixty years cannot easily be forgotten by anyone, and so-called confidence-building measures will be blocked from time to time by bitter memories and fears that the enemy now coming in the guise of a friend is cleverer than he really is. However, history affords some heart-warming examples, notably the cemented friendship between France and Germany in a new Europe after several centuries of warfare, conquest, and counter conquest. The leaders who cautiously built up war-torn Europe with the beginnings of the European Economic Community would, if called to account today, quickly disown having held any intention of building the future European Union. But what is an undeniable fact today is the wealth and security of Europe. So, can we hope for a coming rapprochement between India and Pakistan?

Money matters after all

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What moves perceptions around quickly enough is money, or the prospect of more of it. Undoubtedly, the leaders in both countries, as well as leaders in countries selling arms, have a lot invested in the present military face-off. It would be impossible to bring peace to South Asia without holding out the real prospect of the leaders being immeasurably better off by peace breaking out. The roadmap for such a consummation, however devoutly to be wished, is unclear, muddy in parts, and most of it is trackless. But none can deny its potential as none can deny how wonderful life would be if there were no poverty in South Asia.

An economically vibrant South Asia could achieve the dual blessing of peace and prosperity. The second most powerful man in the world, in terms of the assessment made by Forbes, and its greatest salesman visited India, primarily to sell arms and create jobs in America. Six years ago, the world looked to Obama to create the miracle of change in the world’s most conservative country. Failing in that attempt, can he accomplish a greater miracle by cementing peace in South Asia to bring about an economic upturn? Can cross border trade be vitalized through American initiatives to further enrich the rich of both countries, and incidentally relieve the poor of abject misery? Obama should go for this tantalizing objective, for not only would he bring many more jobs home, but he would end the menace of terrorism and become more popular in American memory than FDR himself! The only other option he has to end terrorism he has already tried, of bombing some unfortunate people!

Do our leaders read history?

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Even if the American President on his momentous visit to India’s Republic Day celebrations in 2015 could miraculously come out with a plan for peace and prosperity in South Asia, someone is bound to raise the question of Kashmir. Oddly enough, Bollywood, even after Haider, its latest offering, reminds everyone that Kashmir is very like Switzerland, to which mountainous country its filmmakers have shifted their crew under present unsafe circumstances. Now, Switzerland was war-torn at the end of the Napoleonic period, riven by two religions, divided by at least three languages, dirt poor, and an environmental disaster. Wise leadership, hard work, and above all community cooperation have made this little country a heaven on earth within a century. And French and German leaders must be blessing their own good luck that they did not try to hold on to Switzerland. Do Indian and Pakistani leaders ever read history? So let us present this thought to Obama and hope he can make something of it.

(vithal.rajan@gmail.com)

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