Nov 21

Revisiting Nehru’s India

Posted on Friday, November 21, 2014 in The Friday Times (Editorial)


India’s Congress Party is in soul-searching mode after its unprecedented loss to the BJP in the last elections. Its favoured option is to try and revive the memory and legacy of Jawaharlal Nehru as the great freedom fighter and founder of modern India. A recent conference in New Delhi presided over by Mrs Sonia Gandhi attracted VIP delegates from all over the world to commemorate Nehru’s fiftieth death anniversary, extol his virtues and stress how he had laid the foundations of a great democracy on the basis of an independent economy, a non-aligned foreign policy and an assimilative secular ideology of the state. It is significant that Narendra Modi, the BJP superhero who has taken India’s rich and poor alike by storm, is opening up the Indian economy to foreign investment, aligning with the West and is publicly hostile to the notion of secularism.

Most Pakistanis see Nehru through the angry prism of Kashmir. He is the villain who annexed it forcibly and then reneged on his pledge in the UN to hold a plebiscite to determine its future. It is the “unfinished business of Partition” that remains the root cause of conflict between the two countries. But we also grudgingly acknowledge that without Nehru India would not be the enviable democracy it is today, while we are still struggling to anchor ourselves firmly in it. After all, in 1947 both India and Pakistan were “fraternal twins”, in the sense of an overlapping genetic and linguistic heritage, a common struggle against colonialism, a post-colonial state-bureaucratic system and a common Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence. Both started off in quest of democracy. But India is a democracy today because it was a democracy yesterday, and the day before, and the day before. Each year of uninterrupted democracy has strengthened it. And it is Nehru who laid the foundations of freedom and democracy in India. But we in Pakistan have, from Day One, floundered on the rock of military-bureaucratic rule and autocracy. And that has made all the difference.

Broadly speaking, the choices made by Nehru in the first critical months and years sowed the seeds of democratic India. As prime minister he governed with a cabinet of elected civilians. In Pakistan, we opted for a non-elected, military-bureaucratic oligarchy. Nehru laid the foundations of an independent India on the basis of an independent economy (the Mahanalobis model). In Pakistan we opted for a free-market economy (the Harvard model) and became dependent on US aid. Nehru built a politically independent India without becoming part of the Cold War. Pakistan joined various defense pacts with the US and gave it military bases against the USSR.

Nehru scripted the story of India as a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-regional, multi-linguistic state comprising many “nations” and peoples. The bedrock of the state was secularism. The bedrock of the nation was assimilation – internal unity in diversity. The bedrock of democracy was a consensual constitution, free and fair elections, regional state autonomy and economic and political independence externally.

But we were unlucky. The Quaid, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, didn’t live long enough to practice his vision for a secular Pakistan in which Hindus and Muslims and Christians would cease to be Hindus and Muslims and Christians, not in the religious sense but in the sense that all citizens of the new state would be equal. The bedrock of the new state became centralization under a military-bureaucratic oligarchy. The bedrock of the new nation became a form of non-assimilative and exclusivist Islam in which Muslims were more equal than non-Muslims. The bedrock of the new political system became a “guided constitutional democracy” with rigged elections and a dependent and indebted economy.

Modern Indian generations take India’s democracy and economic and political independence for granted. Therefore the Congress is not likely to cut much ice with them by harping on Nehru’s achievements fifty years after his death. Nor will he serve their purpose if they deliberately choose to block out the core element of his democratic vision – empowerment of the masses through alleviation of poverty, disease and illiteracy. This is precisely the “development agenda” that has caught the imagination of half a billion Indians on the margins of society no less than its middle classes and catapulted Modi to center-stage.

Another Nehru legacy has also fallen by the wayside. That is an enduring settlement on Kashmir. In 1962, Nehru sent Sheikh Abdullah to Pakistan but nothing came of it. In 1973, his daughter Indira Gandhi signed the Shimla Pact with Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto but bilateralism didn’t get anywhere. The BJP tried to smoke the peace pipe with Nawaz Sharif and then General Musharraf (1999-2004) but Nehru’s Congress blocked progress despite the promise of an out-of-the-box solution that tilts in India’s favour. Now Modi’s BJP has frozen the process all over again.

Nehru’s Congress Party remains wedded to the Nehru dynasty. The irony is that this core strength of yesterday has become its core weakness today.

Nov 14

Welcome President Ghani!

Posted on Friday, November 14, 2014 in The Friday Times (Editorial)


Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s visit to Islamabad is critically important for one reason: given the burden of geography and history, there can be no peace, security and stability in Afghanistan without the active support of neighbour Pakistan. Therefore the visit should be aimed at ending the mutual distrust and hostility that has marred their relationship and paving the way for truth and reconciliation in cobbling a peaceful and stable Afghanistan.

On Islamabad’s part, it is clear that without a stable and neutral, if not friendly, Afghanistan, there will be no end to the scourge of terrorism that overflows the Af-Pak border and poses an equal existential threat to Pakistan. The new civil-military leadership in Pakistan understands this imperative and is keen to negotiate mutually beneficial solutions to national security problems with President Ghani.

There are some positive signs. Both countries have newly elected leaders who do not uncritically subscribe to the policies of their predecessors that sustained an environment of distrust and hostility. Pakistan has a new military leadership that is more responsive than its predecessors to the terrorist threat to Pakistan originating in Afghanistan. That is why Pakistan’s foreign minister, Sartaj Aziz, and army chief, General Raheel Sharif, were the first to visit Kabul and meet President Ghani. President Ghani has returned the compliment by visiting Pakistan before visiting India. President Ghani has also toured two of Pakistan’s closest friends and allies – China and Saudi Arabia – before going to India, clearly with a view to activating all the important variables in the equation. Most significantly, he has not tripped over himself in accepting the offer of Indian weapons for his army by India’s new national security advisor, Ajit Doval, who met him in Kabul last month.

Clearly, both Pakistan and Afghanistan have legitimate security concerns involving the policies of the other. So there has to be give and take, step by step.

President Ghani wants an end to the civil war and foreign intervention that has plagued his nation so that he can stabilize, unify and rebuild his country; he wants foreign investment to tap his country’s natural resources and fund his development budgets; and he wants a strong army to provide the framework for his country’s security. On the plus side, he has won an election to gain legitimacy, shared power with Abdullah Abdullah, a Tajik (Chief Executive) and Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek (Vice President) and is on the lookout for a new head of Afghan Intelligence who can start on a new slate with his new Pakistani counterpart. He has succeeded in persuading China to launch massive development projects worth billions of dollars in the next ten years. He retains the support of the international community, especially the US, in terms of economic aid and military umbrella. What is critically missing is a plan to end the civil war and terrorism that has laid Afghanistan low.

This is where a solid relationship with Pakistan is critical to President Ghani’s mission. The Taliban want to fight, not talk. They control large swathes of Afghan territory. And they have sanctuaries in Pakistan’s borderlands with Afghanistan. The Pakistani national security establishment has protected them for political leverage in Afghanistan aimed at forestalling any significant Indian footprint in Afghanistan that would put the East-West border squeeze on Pakistan. Efforts by the Afghan government and US to erode and break-up the Afghan Taliban/Pakistan “alliance” have failed to yield fruit. In fact, Indian and Afghan support for Baloch insurgents/separatists with sanctuaries in Afghanistan have hardened Pakistan’s resolve to “use” the Taliban to hurt Indian interests in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s refusal to help Afghanistan’s broken economy by way of opening trade corridors between Central Asia and India is also a direct result of its “enemy-India” outlook.

The problem is that until now the US and Afghanistan have refused to heed Pakistan’s India-related security concerns, which has made Islamabad all the more desperate to hang on to the Taliban as a means of redressing them. This is accentuated by the fact that India refuses to move forward on conflict resolution with Pakistan even on less contentious issues than Kashmir.

However, the outcrop of Taliban terrorism inside Pakistan has compelled a rethink of national security strategy by the new civil-military leadership. This is based on establishing better relations with India as a prelude to better relations with Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, the Modi government has dashed hopes of forward movement by heating up the Line of Control and calling off the foreign secretary talks scheduled last August. This has compelled Pakistan to hold off giving MFN status to India. Under the circumstances, any attempt by India to buttress its leverage with the new Afghan regime is bound to antagonize Pakistan further. President Ashraf Ghani knows that foreign relations are all about quid pro quos. If he wants to reset ties with Pakistan to his advantage, he has to start by making sure that Afghanistan’s ties with India will no longer be to Pakistan’s disadvantage.

Nov 9

Apas Ki Baat 09 Nov 2014

Posted on Sunday, November 9, 2014 in Aapas ki baat with Najam Sethi on Geo

Nov 8

Apas Ki Baat 08 Nov 2014

Posted on Saturday, November 8, 2014 in Aapas ki baat with Najam Sethi on Geo

Nov 7

Apas Ki Baat 07 Nov 2014

Posted on Friday, November 7, 2014 in Aapas ki baat with Najam Sethi on Geo