Does Pakistan need an Indian threat to keep its unity?
Pakistan’s leaders have a deep mistrust of New Delhi and India’s reassurances that it recognizes the existence of Pakistan are not taken seriously in the country’s policy making circles. The arguments of Indian accommodation of Pakistan hold little sway in the country’s civilian as well as the military circles.
Pakistan’s threat perception regarding India includes a strong ideological source which generally serves as a façade in Pakistan’s geopolitical dealings. It has had a direct bearing on the shaping of Pakistan’s foreign policy objectives, and equally important, the manner in which these objectives would be pursued. While partition is widely symbolized in Pakistan as a success of Muslim nationalism, many in Pakistan live with the idea that the division of India’s subcontinent is grieved as a tragedy – a sore reminder of the collapse of Indian secular nationalism that could only be redeemed by bringing Pakistan back into the fold. This inherent dilemma of Islamic identity over the decades has shaped Pakistan’s internal political dynamics, strengthened religious forces, and has given the military unprecedented power to shape and control an anti-India discourse.
Moreover, in the dominant national narrative, Pakistanis take a more ideological approach to the function of the military. Furthermore, Pakistan’s army’s role in relation to shaping the threat discourse regarding the India has been central. The military regimes in Pakistan have regularly cited India’s problem with Kashmir as a civilizational and ideological issue and have used it as a pretext to keep its role central in relation to India and crush the articulation of ethnic differences. Unlike India, Pakistani army remains a central force in politics and strategic policy making.
Arguably, to some extent, Pakistan needs the Indian threat to preserve its own unity. For instance, mistrust of India and the Kashmir dispute do work as a national rallying cry for Pakistanis, and thus as a way to smooth over differences between different provinces. India as an enemy is also effective to divert the public from other imminent issues, such as social inequity, sectarian conflict (Sunni-Shia), ethnic divide, and the lack of social and economic progress in many quarters of Pakistani society. These issues do comprehend Pakistan’s fear of India in part but there exists some real strategic security issues, led but not confined to Kashmir.
While the use of Indian threat to mitigate the differences do exist, many have made a more compelling case that draws upon the military’s tradition of geopolitics at the same time citing ideological rationales to explain the conflict between India and Pakistan. The dominant view of regional infringement held by Pakistan’s strategic community is that from the inception of Pakistan there has been a determined Indian effort to destroy their state. The trauma of East Pakistan, which further deepened this thinking, has been cited as an example. An additional complication is that the 1971 defeat in East Pakistan was of fundamental importance to the Pakistani military which it has still not recovered from.
While there is an element of perception in Pakistan’s fear projection, Pakistan does have some serious genuine grievances with its bigger neighbor to the east. For instance, India has refused to undertake any substantive concessions on the issues of Kashmir and water resources and in addition to Kashmir, India has continued to chip away at Pakistani territory, as in the case of the Siachin Glacier. Therefore it follows that Pakistan for its part sees Indian inroads in Afghanistan with fear and vigilance and attempts to avert India’s presence there. Regardless of the legitimacy of New Dehli’s threat to Islamabad, it is unlikely that the latter’s threat perception in this regard will go away soon.