India seems almost as excited by Pakistan’s election results as Nawaz Sharif
By Rajesh Rajagopalan
New Delhi seems almost as excited by Pakistan's election results as Nawaz Sharif. Manmohan Singh's gushing letter to Sharif was probably to be expected. Even the BJP has joined the general consensus that the strengthening of democracy in Pakistan would improve India-Pakistan relations. But the India-Pakistan dispute was not caused by military rule in Pakistan and the strengthening of democracy, which this election surely indicates, will have only marginal effects on improving India-Pakistan relations.
FOND HOPE OF LIBERALS
The belief that democracy will bring peace is the fond hope of liberals everywhere. Unfortunately, there is little support for such hopes. Of the four India-Pakistan wars, two (1947-48 and 1999) were fought when the military was not in power. And in 1971, while General Yahya Khan was hardly innocent, it is often forgotten that it was the democratically elected Bhutto who was egging him on. Liberals often cite the case of France and Germany, which had fought for a century before making lasting peace after World War II, but this had less to do with democracy and more to do with the alliance they joined together in fear of the Soviet Union. There are many reasons to hope that democracy takes roots in Pakistan but to hope that it will bring peace between India and Pakistan might be expecting too much.
What is most disturbing is the widely prevalent belief in New Delhi that making peace is simply an act of will power. The India-Pakistan conflict is seen as a failure of leadership more than anything else. All it takes, then, is for good people on both sides to work hard at peacemaking. Military dictators in Pakistan were seen as the problem though General Musharraf is usually given a pass because he did come to Agra, despite his Kargil misadventure.
The problem with this argument is that both sides have had leaders who genuinely worked to improve relations for much of the last decade with little to show for their efforts. Both AB Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh have walked the extra mile and they were joined by Musharraf and Asif Ali Zardari on the other side. Sharif has made the right noises too, and he may very well want to make peace but that is not sufficient. The main reason for Indo-Pakconflict is Pakistan's insecurity, caused by the disparity in military and economic power. But New Delhi does not recognise or acknowledge that. Since independence, Pakistan has proportionately spent twice as much of its national wealth on trying to keep up with Indian military power, but even such sacrifice has been insufficient. This disparity affects not just Pakistan but all of India's neighbours because South Asia is one of the most unbalanced regions in the world. All of India's neighbours have attempted to balance India at one time or another. The difference is that Pakistan has had the capacity to do so much more systematically and continually than the others. Unfortunately for Pakistan and the region, India's rapid economic growth over the last decade has only increased the disparity.
All said and done, surely Pakistanis will be better off under an elected government than under a dictator. And there are obvious reasons to be open to resolving some of the disputes between the two countries. But New Delhi needs to temper its irrational exuberance with some realism about what can be achieved.