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India’s Pakistan Conundrum

Published : Saturday, 17 September, 2022 at 12:00 AM  Count : 514
Sharat Sabharwal

Stability in Pakistan will serve India better, argues a former diplomat
India’s Pakistan Conundrum

India’s Pakistan Conundrum

Sharat Sabharwal offers a sober and realistic assessment of Pakistan's trajectory and attitude towards India in India's Pakistan Conundrum: Managing a Complex Relationship. The book, written by a former Indian High (and Deputy) High Commissioner to Pakistan, is a welcome addition to strategic literature on how to deal with Islamabad.
Sabharwal, who looks at the nature of the Pakistani state in the first part of the book and India's bilateral policy options in the second, likens dealing with Pakistan as a game of snakes and ladders. Every time you climb a ladder and feel you are making progress, the snake intervenes and you are lower down the rung than before.  
The former diplomat believes that Pakistani security agencies and their terror proxies made sure that the relationship hit one of the longer snakes each time the bilateral relationship with India appeared to be looking up.  
Holding that Pakistan would continue to be a "highly dysfunctional state with widespread lawlessness", Sabharwal, unlike many of his more hawkish colleagues, rightly feels that the break-up of Pakistan is not in India's interests.  

Points of tension
Increased chaos in Pakistan, the book argues, would not leave India untouched. Pakistan, Sabharwal says, continues to pay a heavy price for having "caused instability" in Afghanistan. A Pakistani state collapse would also present India with a humanitarian crisis of "gigantic proportion".  
Referring to a dossier on the 26/11 Mumbai attacks he received as High Commissioner from then Interior Minister Rehman Malik, the veteran diplomat points out that the Pakistani government admitted that the Mumbai strikes were planned, financed and committed by a "defunct" Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).  
"I often told my Pakistani interlocutors that if a defunct group could commit such a large act of terror, I wondered what a live terrorist outfit based in Pakistan could do," he writes.  
Expressing dismay at the way Pakistan enabled the accused in the 26/11 terror strikes to go free, Sabharwal is correct in his diagnosis that there is  no "silver bullet" to put an end to terrorism emanating from Pakistan.  

Call for vigil
"Therefore, India will have to continue to count on its counter-terror capabilities and deterrence, combined with turning as much heat as possible on Pakistan in conjunction with its international partners," he says.  
Sabharwal examines closely the claim that the February 2019 missile strike at a Pakistani "terror camp" called Islamabad's nuclear bluff and makes the point that the possibility of escalation was built into the Pakistani response.  
He poses "the" question: can a responsible Indian leader authorise a "consequential conventional military strike" on the assumption that it will not escalate to the nuclear level by accident or otherwise? My answer would be a resounding no. Imagine the Pakistani response if Kargil had been done in reverse.  
Sabharwal takes the view that direct engagement with Pakistan's Army and its leadership would not lead to behavioural change given its hostility towards India. However, this reviewer would argue that maintaining multiple - front and back channels with the Army - would at least provide a window into the thought processes of the day in this key institution.
In sum, the book under review provides a practitioner's insight into tackling a different country and relationship. A must read for those who follow India, Pakistan and their many challenges.
Courtesy: THE HINDU











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