Event ReportsPublished on Jan 13, 2014
It is highly likely that the voices from within Pakistan that want greater cooperation with India and greater economic integration with the South Asian region in general will be marginalised.
Voices within Pak for greater cooperation with India will be marginalised

A new government in Pakistan, a possible regime change in India and the impending US drawdown from Afghanistan in 2014 has created speculations about the possible impact of these dynamics on Pakistan’s foreign policy. In light of these changes, Dr. Aparna Pande’s book "Explaining Pakistan’s Foreign Policy: Escaping India" is a critical read.

Observer Research Foundation organised a book discussion on January 13, 2013, where Dr. Pande discussed the contours of Pakistan’s foreign policy and what drives decision making in that country. The session was chaired by Dr. Manoj Joshi, Distinguished Fellow, ORF, and Mr. Wilson John, Senior Fellow, ORF and Dr. Ajay Darshan Behera, Coordinator, Pakistan Studies Programme & Reader, Academy of Third World Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, were the discussants.

During the discussion, it was pointed out that one of the more enduring features of Pakistan’s foreign policy has been its obsession with India. Pakistan perceives India as posing an existential threat to it and it is no surprise that the quest for parity with respect to India has been at the core of Pakistan’s foreign policy since 1947. The roots for this rationale can actually be traced back to the 1920s when Mohammad Ali Jinnah started raising the issue of parity between Hindus and Muslims in the decision-making process of an independent India.

Since 1947, the state of Pakistan has taken various measures to achieve parity with India. This has included invoking external alliances, first with the US and subsequently with China. Similarly, Pakistan’s nuclear programme can also be seen as an attempt to seek parity with India. The fact that Pakistan has continued to expand its nuclear arsenal in an attempt to match India is a clear sign that their nuclear programme is meant for parity and not for deterrence. However, despite the nuclear programme, Pakistan does not have a sense of security vis-a-vis India as there continues to be a fear that India, Israel and the US want to dismantle the country’s nuclear weapons. Moreover, as Pakistan so far has been unable to achieve military parity with India, it has increased its support for Islamic militants in the hope of fighting India from within India. The concept of ’strategic depth’ can be seen in this light as well.

Another objective of Pakistan’s foreign policy has been to ’escape’ any Indian heritage or any Indianness in its identity. It is for this reason that Pakistan has attempted build up its ’Muslim’ identity and build up alliances with the Middle Eastern states. It has attempted to project itself as a Middle Eastern country than a South Asian one. It has supported causes such as that of the Palestinian and Chechen communities in the hope that these communities would, in turn, support its cause.

While, Pakistan’s fears of India are not completely unfounded, a number of other critical factors have come up, especially post-2001 that the Pakistani state needs to address and contend with. These include the issue of terrorism, which poses a genuine threat to the stability and cohesion of the state, increasing radicalism within the Pakistan Military Establishment, a severe energy and economic crisis, growing disinterest from the US as it begins its drawdown from the region and the issue of sovereignty, which have been challenges in recent times by the constant US drone attacks and incidents like the killing of Osama bin Laden. The state in recent times has taken note of these challenges, especially when it comes to the army’s radicalisation. However, the failure of the state to curb the killing of minorities or the assassination of liberals like Salman Taseer (or even condemn his assassinator) clearly shows how huge a challenge this is for the state.

Despite these other challenges, it is unlikely that Pakistan will ever escape India. Geography will never allow it to escape, even if it had the political willingness to do so. However, the army itself will continue to project India as the biggest threat to the state security as it derives its own legitimacy from this threat perception. Thus, it is highly likely that the voices from within Pakistan that want greater cooperation with India and greater economic integration with the South Asian region in general will be marginalised.

(This report is prepared by Aryaman Bhatnagar, Associate Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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