United with a rope of sand


AJAI SAHNI, India Today

Published 03 March 2017


We live in an age of jingoistic ultranationalism, and a book on Pakistan by a former top Indian intelligence officer raises expectations of a high measure of rancour and stridency. Instead, Devasher approaches his subject with extraordinary calm, but is unblinking in his gaze on Pakistan’s endless courting of the abyss.

Devasher touches upon India, Kashmir and Pakistan’s ‘war of a thousand cuts’, but these elements do not overwhelm. With an absorbing abundance of anecdotage, detail and an urgent realism, the book goes beyond the transient, to look at the ‘multiplier effect of successive crises’ pushing Pakistan towards ‘multiple-organ failure’. The deepening engagement with Islamism and terrorism are widely known, but Devasher also details the relentless evolution of ‘WEEP’ factors-water, education, economy and population-that embody Pakistan’s most enduring dangers.

Compounding Pakistan’s many suicidal follies is a false narrative of India’s imagined vulnerabilities and an irrational quest for parity. A stereotyping of Hindus as “presumptuous, persistent and devious” and “unable to exist as a single unified state” – there is a hotchpotch of prejudice and wishful thinking that underpins Pakistan’s strategic doctrines, galvanising it to embark on murderous and suicidal missions.

Pakistan has sought to offset its vulnerabilities through relationships of dependency with major powers. As ties with the US approach breaking point, a quality of triumphalism has marked Islamabad’s orientation towards Beijing. Devasher, however, sees the China-Pakistan connection as complex and jagged, and argues that China will not bail Pakistan out if the US abandons it. Crucially, he notes, “Pakistan would find the Chinese far harder taskmasters than the US.”

The penultimate chapter, ‘Looking Inwards’ culls out a treasure trove of quotes from Pakistani writings, including some rational trends. Thus, Roedad Khan laments that the country is “united with a rope of sand”, Ayaz Amir excoriates the army’s acquisitive rapacity, declaring “that unknown wag deserves a prize who first said that F-16 was a corner plot”; and Yaqub Khan Bangash notes, “more Muslims live in fear in Pakistan than in India and thousands more Muslims have been killed in Pakistan on religious and sectarian grounds than in India since Independence”.

Strategic writers through history have warned that to know oneself and to know the enemy are critical to success in war. It is equally necessary to know one’s friends and allies. Pakistan demonstrates an abysmal understanding on all counts.

Author Ajai Sahni is the executive director of Institute for Conflict Management.



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