In 1971, Pakistan was truncated. A little over 37 years after that, it has been de-hyphenated. The Subcontinent has always carried the ‘Indo-Pakistan’ epithet. However, the hyphenation is under strain, to the pleasure of many Indians for it places them again in history just by themselves. Whether this is a reflection of reality is not their concern; they are basking in the glory of ‘shining’ and ‘incredible’ India, an India that, more in the media than in reality, seems to have broken with its past and reflects the progress that seems to have taken root.
Over the years, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has begun to reflect the true soul of South Asia with India and Pakistan forming the core of a region, which in many ways identifies the uniformity of challenges that confront each of its members. Fifty percent of the world’s poorest, with attendant complexities of privation, rapidly deteriorating environmental indices, weak human development performance and a dangerous trend of societal schisms create a combustible mix that not only needs dedicated attention but cooperative and complementary mechanisms between the members that can provide indigenous solutions.
In an effort to expand the organisation and lend it wider acceptability, Afghanistan and, later, Iran were allotted slots as permanent members. Afghanistan was baptised in 2008 in Colombo, while Iran awaits its turn in Male in 2009. While the association stood expanded with some benefits, its focus lends itself to dilution from a specific South Asian context to West Asian influences. A certain amount of congruity between the two regions may validate SAARC’s expansion; its restricted domain, however, in only the geo-political security context is far too restrained for it to be salubrious to the overall objectives of shared and supportive socio-economic growth.
It was in 1989 that Rajiv Gandhi, after returning from a European capital, when asked if Kashmir was discussed during the visit, showed a calibrated impatience with the inquiry and advised, possibly for the first time, that Pakistan was but only a small neighbour and India need not see itself only through the eyes of how Pakistan was assessed by the rest of the world. This was a significant strategic move that never found root in people that had grown to view geopolitics only through an obfuscated mindset.
The real break, however, got rooted around the same time in another manifestation: India became a more open society with economic liberalisation. Socio-economic development has altered perceptions to some extent, but the hate for Pakistan lies far from buried. The recent Mumbai experience and surprisingly thoughtless diplomacy lay bare the dynamics of the Indian mind. Rejoicing in the de-hyphenation of Pakistan is yet another symptom of this malady.
What may have only been a latent desire of the contemporary Indian leadership has found unwitting currency with the US coining a new geo-political description — ‘Afpak’ — hyphenating Afghanistan with Pakistan with an implicit effect to erode Pakistan’s natural alliance with her region of birth.
Mired in this rather innocuous deviation is a script full of devious eventualities. The core of Pakistan’s existential interests lies in South Asia and not with West Asia; any effort to club Pakistan with a pervasively unstable Afghanistan because of the spill-over of a persistently degenerating militancy into Pakistan’s tribal region is but a weak attempt at crafting a canvas relevant to global sensibilities and to justify armed action against declared threats.
In so doing, it lays dormant the aspirations of the people of Pakistan, who seek their own independent growth and progress within the boundaries of their territorial existence. Knowing the American system, the coinage may well only be a procedural convenience, though its overuse may grant it an uncalled for relevance.
In and around all this continues to simmer the historic India-Pakistan acrimony. In this backdrop, any amount of de-hyphenation is only a balm to some sore egos. Without each, the other is but only a lost half.
The transnational nature of militancy and its various strands have not only found root in the divisive and multi-ethnic base of South Asian societies, these are now also nurturing under dominant undertones of acutely aware and conscious religious identities. If not attended, these can transform into explosive trends in societal evolution over time for a region home to 25 percent of humanity.
Such trends are not religion-specific, and feed on existing fissures. Legacy issues around territorial definitions need a reviewed approach of adjustment and compensation; this and the contemporary unconventional threats to the region can best be handled by evolving a consensual base when dealt with at the regional level. This would only be possible with Pakistan continuing to associate itself with South Asia as a central focus.
While managing the challenges to her security emanating from the west, possibly in the same manner as the initiative in Swat, the rest of Pakistan and the government must re-establish an alternate paradigm of economic focus that may serve to galvanise the nation towards a more promising and hopeful existence. We cannot let the adversity in the west hold the rest of Pakistan hostage. This is also the key to defeating any uncalled for hyphenation or a backstabbing de-hyphenation.
The writer is a retired air vice marshal of the Pakistan Air Force and a former ambassador. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Reproduced by permission of DT