In the aftermath of yet another abortive attempt to reach a rapprochement with Pakistan this July, a time-honored debate has again been resurrected in New Delhi’s foreign and security policy circles.
The debate revolves around the question of whether or not it’s in India’s interests to have a stable, secure and prosperous Pakistan. Yet the question in its present form misses the point. The real issue isn’t whether or not such an outcome is desirable. Instead, the more pertinent issue for India’s policymakers is to establish how such a Pakistani state would behave toward India. Would it be a benign and fair-minded neighbor willing to cooperate on a host of outstanding differences? Or would it remain truculent as ever, determined to remain at odds with its neighbor?
Much depends on how things unfold on the domestic political scene. As long as the Pakistani state remains under the firm thumb of the military, even a civilian regime will maintain its implacable hostility toward India. Under those circumstances, it would be almost pointless to discuss whether or not a stable, secure and prosperous Pakistan would serve India’s national interests. After all, a state that enjoys prosperity and order, but refuses to countenance an end to terror against India—and one that continues to exploit India’s internal ethnic and religious fissures and nurtures an age-old claim on Kashmir—is obviously not in India’s interest.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Indeed, far from alleviating Indo-Pakistani tensions, such a stable but military-dominated state would be more prone to undertaking risky ventures against India, and would also likely be tempted to resort to asymmetric warfare, given India’s greater conventional military capabilities.
In effect then, such a stable, secure and prosperous state could turn out to be quite hubristic and could even conclude that it was in a position to unravel India’s troubled social fabric, to hobble its steady economic growth and to stultify its basic democratic ethos through small-scale but constant provocations. Such a state, far from being at peace with itself and its neighbors, could easily prove to be inimical to the prospects of regional and even global security.
But would the opposite, as some of the more hawkish members of India’s strategic community are inclined to argue, be any better? For example, is an increasingly unstable, erratic, weak and insecure Pakistan really in India’s national interest?