Origins and Nature of the India-Pakistan Conflict
By Tariq Ahsan, former teacher, Political Science and International Relations, Quaid-e-Azam University, Is-lamabad; a freelance writer in Ottawa.
Poverty, exploitation and conflict continue to stifle hopes for progress and peace in South Asia. The fact that over five hundred million live in absolute poverty makes South Asia the poorest region in the world. Malnutrition affects the health of more than half of the regions' children under the age of five. Illiteracy is also the highest in the world. Yet, for the region's ruling establishments, national security expenditures are the greatest priority. The Mahbub ul Haq Human Development Center estimated that the $15 billion earmarked by India and Pakistan to maintain their nuclear weapons, would have sufficed to provide food and education for 37 million children. Instead of having a fair chance to live a good and just life, many children will be dependent on Hindu, Muslim and ethnic extremists for food and shelter, and will be available for recruitment as soldiers to storm historic mosques, to wage jihad and engage in inter-ethnic strife.
Although ethnic and religious strife is widespread throughout South Asia, the conflict between India and Pakistan has contributed the most to the promotion of militarism, state terrorism and poverty in the region. As both countries have acquired nuclear weapons, there is danger of a nuclear exchange killing millions and creating massive ecological damage.
The India-Pakistan relationship can be analyzed as an institutionalized political conflict, whose developmental dynamics can be located at the level of the state as well as civil society in the two countries.
There has been institutionalization of the conflict at the inter-governmental level as the national security institutions of each country engage in long-term strategic planning based on perceptions of the other's intentions. This process encourages the growth in political influence of the national security establishment in each country. Interdependence also develops between adversaries. The security establishments seek to justify their political initiatives, as well as their acquisition and procurement of new weapons systems to match their competitor.
National security institutions favor social and political groups which support political projects that rely on their strength. Political groups that advocate an assertive national security posture and believe that the neighbor country poses a threat, are natural allies of national security institutions and receive their political and financial patronage.
In India and Pakistan, the state, as well as hard-line nationalist and religious political parties have played the communal card to rally support for nationalist and religious political agendas. National security institutions have been direct beneficiaries of the strength of communal forces in society.
In Pakistan, a military regime with a very narrow political base, that ruled from 1977 to 1988, enacted legislation under its program of Islam-isation that legitimized active discrimination against religious minorities and women. It changed the structure of the constitution that severely restricted its ability to uphold the equality of citizenship. The military regime patronized fanatic religious parties, and sought to crush liberal democratic and left-of-center political groups. As a part of its divide and rule strategy, the military also encouraged ethnic rivalries.
In India, the dominant political parties have advocated and practiced hard-line nationalist and religious fundamentalist programs. They have disregarded the federalist character of the constitution and sought to establish the domination of the central government. They have also advocated that India should strive to be a regional great power. The Congress tried to uphold the maximalist British colonial claims regarding its border with China, took a hard line against Pakistan, as it first proposed that the future of Kashmir be decided through a plebiscite, but later decided to annex the portion of Kashmir that it controlled. The Congress laid the foundation for building a huge military machine, and the industrial infrastructure to support it, including the development of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems.
There is a widespread perception that the India-Pakistan conflict is rooted in ancient hatreds and that the national interests of the two are irreconcilable. This leads to passive acceptance of the conflict and its consequences, and creates cynicism regarding efforts to bring about lasting peace.
To gain a realistic understanding of the prospects for peace it is important to understand how the conflict has been carried out. What are the social and political forces that have pushed to intensify the conflict and have an interest in its continuation? Why have there been long periods of relative peace, when underlying tensions remained but without a hot war or conflict carried out through proxies? What social and political forces have an interest in bringing the conflict to an end?
It is the governments of the two countries that have taken initiatives to escalate and de-escalation the conflict. While the governments have often been influenced by forces in civil society and have in turn sought to strengthen those forces in civil society which support their policies, ultimately it is the inter-governmental relationship that has determined the course of the conflict. If political groups committed to the prevalence of peace and citizenship rights acquire influence over government policies in India and Pakistan, and if the international community is supportive of their efforts, a movement towards lasting peace is conceivable.
Source: Written for Press for Conversion! March 2002.