(Originally appeared in the 1990s in the Times of India, as published in M. D. Nalapat's book "Indutva", Har-Anand Publications, 1999)
Years ago, a friend was challenged by others to jump onto another bogie from a moving train. After a few jeers at his reluctance, he obliged, lost his balance and lost both his legs. Reading the reports in a contemporary newspaper on the Pakistan elections, the incident came back to mind. They suggest that western mediamen incessantly taunt Pakistani politicians about their new "softness" on India.
It would be unfair to posit that western newspersons are merely articulating the anxiety of their chancelleries that Pakistan continue baiting India. Tensions between the two have evolved into a profitable industry, with individuals and institutions competing for money from various foundations and sheikdoms for studying or supporting fundamentalism and terrorism.
However, just as it is possible that the CIA has such incompetent personnel in Pakistan that they are unaware of the Chinese missiles coming in, it is possible that the Robin Raphels genuinely believe that the dominance of the armed forces in Pakistan protects rather than subverts democracy, or that opening the Pandora's box of states' integration will not adversely affect India’s stability. Such options have to be viewed a little more realistically.
Should the modicum of sanity evident during the Pakistan elections—where the focus appears to have been on economic issues—develop into a help the process of mending relations between the two countries. This is possible only if the two major political groups in Pakistan—those led by Nawaz Sharifand Benazir Bhutto—join hands in order to ensure that the legal foundations for genuine democracy are built. If true democracy were to evolve in Pakistan, there would be virtually no support for the current Islamabad policy of attempting to undermine India’s unity. Instead, the voters would push for normal cultural, economic and political ties.
An India-Pakistan entente would make South Asia one of the major strategic regions in the world. Together with the undoubted muscle of the Pakistan armed forces, the region would have a military machine that could challenge just about anyone. Indian and Pakistani technology could jointly work to develop new markets in the Gulf and the CIS states for high technology items that could be jointly manufactured. SAARC could develop business ties with the Gulf, with the CIS states and with ASEAN even while maintaining cordial links with other major players
such as the US, China and Russia. Above all, the entente would generate support for a multicultural, multi-religious society such as is seen in Indonesia, Singapore or the US. There is no doubt that India would gain substantially from cordial ties with Pakistan.
As for Pakistan, its gain would be even greater. Should Islamabad continue with its policy of support for extremist elements, the resulting financial and social drain would, in the next decade, further balkanise that country. After that, India could develop friendly links with the Sindh and Punjab regions of Pakistan, while Iran would establish alliances with Baluchistan and the NWFP. Should Islamabad continue with its policy of obliging those who promote tension with New Delhi, it could well find itself unable to hold together in the long-run.
Little Doubt However, there is little doubt that a united and friendly Pakistan would be preferable to a vivisected one. If the two political leaders who together command the support of the Pakistani people, can put aside their differences over detail and come together on matters of substance, they could pass laws that would make it technically impossible for another army-inspired attempt to topple a democratically-elected government. While there may be differences over Bhutto's policies, the fact remains that She was removed from office in a questionable manner, just as Sharif had been earlier. Despite the support the Pakistani generals are getting from many countries, western public opinion in the US and Europe would find it difficult to accept the toppling of a government once the laws that permit such deeds are scrapped. Western and Asian public opinion can be an effective ally of Sharif and Bhutto as they work together to put in place a constitution that is genuinely democratic. Such a system should also ensure that the minorities in Pakistan get a fair deal.
Just as Mexico accepted that there was little to be gained in trying to wrest Texas and California from the US, perhaps even the Pakistani fundamentalists will realise that India will never agree to a plebiscite in Kashmir. The reason is that a reopening of the states mosaic may generate demands from splinter groups all over India for similar action. On at different footing, but illustrating the same point, is India's silence over Aksai Chin, which is based on the reality that a war with China would be an option too expensive to undertake. Sadly, the security establishment in Pakistanis as yet unwilling to accept that tension with India because of the obsession with Kashmir is taking Pakistan on a ruinous course. However, the politicians appear to have become more realistic.
Should the only legitimate democratic force in Pakistan - the major political parties - get together in defence of democracy and ensure that the men in uniform are confined to the barracks the way Bangladesh has done, international opinion may militate against the type of action; Farooq Leghari took. The question.whether Sharif and Bhutto have the good sense to act in concert to usher in a democratic system accountable. only to the law and the voter. It is ironic that while President Leghari claims he is fighting corruption, most of his appointees are people of dubious repute. And what logic is there in his assertion that democracy is being protected giving unelected generals and officials an effective veto over decision-making?
A united Pakistan will be a natural ally of India. Instead of remaining a satellite of faraway countries, Pakistan can join the rest of the SAARC developing this region as one of the major players in international geopolitics. India by itself cannot undertake. such a role. It needs the cooperation of other SAARC countries and this includes Pakistan. While that country would risk its very existence by continuing its confrontation with India, India would lose several crucial points in its rate of growth for at least a decade as a result of continuing tension on its western order. This apart from the fact that an India-Pakistan alliance would generate a massive synergy for economic and social progress. Will the political class in Pakistan remain subordinate to the generals? Or will they create a democracy that calls for better reactions with India? The months ahead are decisive. If Nawaz Sharif and Bhutto lose this chance, there may not be another one for a long time to come.